Blog by: Dr. Ilham Mansour Al-Dakheel
An evolving workplace is a constant feature of economies, but the onset of COVID-19 and its profound impact has pushed disruption and the digital revolution to new heights. Even before the pandemic, the latest International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Employment Trends for Youth report showed the number of youth who are unemployed or not receiving education or training has been on the rise since 2017. This trend has only been exacerbated by the crisis.
The pandemic has exposed existing inequalities and failings of labor markets that require urgent attention. Many already-disadvantaged segments of the workforce, including youth, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Over one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the COVID‑19 crisis. Among those who have remained in employment, working hours have fallen by 23%.
A strong revival from this crisis will depend on dynamic and resilient labor markets, with workers having access to a diverse range of forms of work. With 70% of its population under the age of 30 (1), Saudi Arabia realizes youth are the cornerstone of a long-term thriving economy. B20 Saudi Arabia’s Future of Work & Education Taskforce is focused on providing recommendations to ensure all youth have the necessary skills for jobs of the future. Failure to integrate young people into the productive workforce pushes them from ‘generators’ of growth and productivity into ‘drags’ in our future economy.
The consequences are dangerous and costly in terms of the health and mental wellbeing of individuals and of society in general. B20 Saudi Arabia supports targeted initiatives such as UN Decent Jobs for Youth, which seeks to address the youth employment challenge by identifying and promoting effective, innovative and evidence-based strategies and interventions, and believe they are essential to addressing this issue. Vocational Education and Training (VET) is also essential in preparing young people for the world of work, especially as it includes a strong work-based learning component, and they have proven to be successful in European countries. However, there is a need to reorient VET programs to meet the demand for digital jobs (2).
Preparing the future generation of workers with essential technology-related skills is crucial to job growth and economic prosperity. The world has expedited adoption of digital technologies during the pandemic and those without access or knowledge of digital systems are at risk of being left behind. More than half of the population in developing countries lack basic digital skills. The European Commission estimates that 37% of workers in Europe do not have even basic digital skills let alone the more advanced and specialized skills companies need to successfully adopt digital technologies.
Policy responses to technology-led disruption should therefore take into account the impact over different time horizons as well as impact across regions and demographic groups. It is imperative the G20 advance innovative methods of digital education at speed, reforming education systems to be more adaptable to such disruptions and put digital skills at the forefront of their curriculums.
In a post-COVID-19 society, youth worldwide will be relied upon to contribute significantly to economic recovery. Recommendations provided by both the Digitalization and the Future of Work & Education Taskforces encourage businesses, governments and education systems to work together to ensure they are equipped with necessary skills, both through upskilling and reskilling, to successfully manage and adapt to future crises of this magnitude. This is a chance to learn and build a better future.
Dr. Ilham Mansour Al-Dakheel is Chair of the Future of Work & Education Taskforce at B20 Saudi Arabia & CEO of Dur Alkuttab, an educational company established in 2016, following a strategic alliance between the Higher Education Fund of the Ministry of Education and Mulkia Investment Company.