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Empowering youth for a sustainable future

UNESCO-UNEVOC and WorldSkills co-organized an event on empowering youth for the future to celebrate World Youth Skills Day 2023. The hybrid event took place on 14 July in Bonn, Germany and it brought together WorldSkills Champions and apprentices, TVET trainers and trainees, employers’ associations and diverse stakeholders within the skills landscape.

In his remarks, Friedrich Huebler, Head of UNESCO-UNEVOC, noted, “Lack of infrastructure, limited resources and outdated curricula further exacerbate the divide between skills demanded by employers and those provided by educational institutions. Globally, more than 1 in 5 young people are not in education, employment or training.”

Laurence Gates, Board member – Strategic Development, WorldSkills, emphasized, “Change will only happen when educators, industries and policy-makers work together to redesign our VET systems for sustainable human and economic development.”

To wrap-up the opening remarks, Heike Kuhn, Head of Division for Education, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), underscored TVET as “a cornerstone of Germany’s development cooperation, guided by the approach of lifelong learning and the principle of leaving no one behind.”

Youth survey

In the run-up to World Youth Skills Day, UNESCO-UNEVOC conducted a survey to gather insights and perspectives from young people aged 15-29 years on matters related to life, work and education. Priscilla Wanjiku Gatonye, Programme Officer for Inclusion and Youth, UNESCO-UNEVOC, presented the key findings during the event.

Overall, 3710 participants across 101 countries took part in the survey, with a slightly higher number of female respondents. The survey showed that the motivation behind enrolling in TVET programmes was mainly driven by the potential job opportunities that follow training, as well as the desire for more practical training and industrial experience. The young people taking part in the survey said that interpersonal skills and communication were as important as technical skills, followed by critical thinking and problem solving, entrepreneurial skills and digital skills.

Youth focus group

Along with exploring the results of the youth survey, UNESCO-UNEVOC and WorldSkills Germany gathered a youth focus group to hear about their priorities and expectations for the future of skills development.

Aswatha Narayana, gold medalist from WorldSkills Kazan 2019, who competed in Water Technology, said “When it comes to my experience as an engineering graduate, I saw that most often the knowledge is limited to the theoretical aspects, and it lacks the practical approach of the real world. Hence, I strongly believe competitions and apprenticeships can do a lot in bridging the gap of knowledge and skills.”

Roman Steinhart, EuroSkills Champion 2021 and a WorldSkills Champion 2022 in IT Network Systems Administration, called on teachers and trainers to tailor classes to individual needs so that students are not lost along the way and everyone gets what they need from the learning process.

The youth participants highlighted the importance of easily accessible information on in-demand jobs and career paths for young people. “Sharing information on existing TVET careers would have made it easier for me to decide on what course to enrol in TVET,” said Maike Füller, a glazier apprentice in Germany.

Skilling teachers, trainers and youth

The focus group was followed by a panel around the theme for this year’s World Youth Skills Day – Skilling teachers, trainers and youth for a transformative future. WorldSkills Champions Trust representative, Sonya Hill joined from Jamaica to share her experience in transitioning from school to work. She stated that to better support youth, TVET institutions should frequently update their curricula and machinery to match that of industry. Partnerships can provide opportunities for students to develop more practical skills while they are still in school to accelerate their readiness for the labour market.

These sentiments were backed up by Mohamed-Amine Faiz, Technical Advisor, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, who stated that the magic words to enhance practical work experience are ‘Private sector engagement’. GIZ’s Tamheen-II project in Morocco is working to increase the number of young people undergoing dual TVET programmes. Concretely, this involves integrating the private sector at all levels to help in anticipating skills and conducting sectoral studies that define future skills and professions. “We have seen great successes in the automotive, aerospace and textile sectors, with a 90% employment rate in the job market,” he noted.

Providing valuable insight into the teacher’s perspective, Affero Ismail, Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Education, Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM), outlined the results of a study conducted by the institution in 2021 across six countries. It revealed that educators have a strong need for specialized ICT training, specifically in areas such as creating digital learning materials and fostering entrepreneurship skills. Equipping educators with ICT skills is of utmost importance as it enables them to manage their classrooms more effectively and efficiently, ultimately benefiting their students' educational journeys. “We believe that educators should receive training within real business environments, enabling them to enhance their professional development and effectively support their students,” he explained.

Towards inclusivity and equity in skills development

Ensuring equal access to skill-building opportunities for young people from diverse backgrounds is crucial for promoting social and economic equity. This may involve examining factors such as socioeconomic status, race, gender, disability and geographic location to understand the unique challenges faced by different groups. Mohamed-Amine Faiz indicated a successful example from Morocco. “We have a huge drop-out rate of young girls in rural areas due to the lack of public transport. With a special shuttle bus and free meals, rural and community schools managed to significantly decrease the drop-out rate,” he said.

In addition, addressing financial constraints requires the establishment of a transparent, accessible and merit-based platform. The Skillscard Empowerment and Education Transformation Agenda of the Vocational and Enterprise Skills Development (VESD) Management System is one of those systems being implemented in Nigeria. VESD is a smart skillscard with a digital fund instrument powered by blockchain technology, which effectively tackles school fees and training cost constraints by decentralizing the funding pool from individuals and organizations who contribute towards this course in small tokens. “Institutions can leverage AI and digital platforms to access up-to-date equipment through virtual simulations and encourage collaborative learning environments where multiple trainees can interact with each other and virtual equipment simultaneously,” said Rahman O. Mogaji, Member of the Ministerial Task Team on TVET, Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria.

Within the European context, Samira Bührer, Policy Officer, European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE), presented several examples of projects to promote inclusion and integration, including ‘EU CONVINCE – EU COmmoN Values INClusive Education’, ‘European Sectoral Social Partners in Education promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education’ and ‘e-Speed – European Social Partners in Education Embracing Digitalization: Challenges and opportunities for European Education Trade Unions and Employer Organizations in the digital era’.

Environmental sustainability and climate change literacy

Training programmes in TVET should emphasize sustainable methods and practices within their own operations. This includes waste reduction strategies such as recycling, conserving energy and water and adopting eco-friendly technologies. “TVET institutions act as role models for students and businesses, emphasizing the importance of sustainability within the industry and equipping future professionals with the knowledge and motivation to make a positive impact on the environment,” said Sonya Hill, who talked about her training and work experience in the renewable energy sector in Jamaica.

“Green skills should not just be an add-on subject but instead appear as a multi-disciplinary subject within curricula in order to foster transversal skills, understanding and innovative thinking. This requires a re-structuring of the school timetable,” added Samira Bührer.

The Global Skills Academy

The second panel focused on the topic of ‘Global Skills Academy – Delivering youth skills for employability, entrepreneurship and resilience’. World Youth Skills Day marked the third anniversary of UNESCO’s Global Skills Academy and the event was an opportunity to reflect on the progress made since it was launched by UNESCO's Global Education Coalition (GEC) in 2020 as an emergency response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2022, the initiative entered a new phase, aligning its approach and implementation with the recently introduced UNESCO strategy for TVET (2022-2029). This shift involves scaling up efforts and adopting a demand-driven approach. The initiative has made a significant impact, supporting over 839,000 learners globally. With a strong commitment to continued growth, the GSA aims to support 10 million learners by 2029.

Through the concrete examples of the GSA’s work in two countries (India and Grenada), the panel shed light on how the mission delivers demand-driven solutions and connects learners, TVET institutions and ministries with an extensive offer of training programmes. Hervé Huot-Marchand, Chief of the Section of Youth, Literacy and Skills Development, provided an overview of the initiative's launch and how its mission objectives have evolved over time, and Soledad Patiño, Coordinator of the mission, moderated the session.

Donnet Hillaire, a current learner of the Aleph programme in Grenada stated, “I see this training not only as an opportunity that will help me personally and professionally, but it will also put me in a position where I can market my small business.”

Navya Rawal, a former mentee of the joint National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) and KPMG initiative to support young graduates in India, credited the programme with helping to land her current role at NSDC. “I believe that the success of any nation lies in the hands of youth, however, young people today face challenges in securing employment opportunities because they lack practical skills,” she said.

Investing in the future

Building a sustainable future requires a collaborative approach that prioritizes skills development to promote employability, entrepreneurship and personal development. The significance of digital skills cannot be understated, with artificial intelligence emerging as a valuable tool to support learning and problem-solving, and the enhancement of teachers' digital competencies an essential step in providing effective and relevant education to all learners.

The career aspirations shared by the in-person youth speakers, the survey respondents and the online audience all highlighted a need for continuous learning and the desire to make meaningful contributions to society. Addressing the barriers that young people face, such as financial constraints and access to lifelong learning opportunities, is paramount to enabling their success.

In his closing remarks, Borhene Chakroun, Director, Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems, UNESCO, mentioned the increasing uncertainties facing young people – from climate change to jobs disappearing or transforming due to AI. He advised that stakeholders should work on three things: coalition of partners, youth agency articulation and representation, and developing programmes to meet the emerging demands through knowledge sharing.

The event ended with a message from WorldSkills Champion Aswatha Narayana, who encouraged his fellow young people to pursue skills training, take up challenges and be the driving force in the change for a sustainable future.

View the full report and survey results



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