Preparing Today’s Youth for the Workforce of Tomorrow: The Private Sector Response

About the event

20 Sep 2017

From left to right: Kate James, Pearson; Alistair Burt, UK Department for International Development; Tariq al Gurg, Dubai Cares; Bob Collymore, Safaricom; and Jamira Burley, GBC-Education. Photo by Lana Wong/Education Commission.

Today, leaders from the private sector, foundations, and the international community gathered in New York City at the Global Business Coalition for Education’s (GBC-Education) annual breakfast event to discuss youth skills and innovation – along with other critical issues in education – around the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The event was opened by Sarah Brown, Executive Director of GBC-Education, who acknowledged two stalwarts in the education field: Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, and Jakaya Kikwete, former President of Tanzania. After receiving her award, Bokova emphasized that “education is an inalienable human right and development imperative”. She continued by stating that “the ultimate renewable energy is human ingenuity”. With children around the world missing out on an education – the estimated number is 265 million – it’s essential that the business community work with organizations such as UNESCO to provide young people with the ability to innovate and create.

Yasmine Sherif speaking about Education Cannot Wait and why education in emergencies is essential for children caught in crisis. Photo by Lana Wong/Education Commission.

Yasmine Sherif speaking about Education Cannot Wait. Photo by Lana Wong/Education Commission.

After acknowledging Bokova and Kikwete, Sarah Brown turned the floor over to Tom Fletcher, who provided an update on the state of the private sector’s role in education in emergencies. He pointed out the work that Yasmine Sherif at Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is doing to support children caught in crisis; the audience had the opportunity to receive updates from Gus Schmedlen on HP’s work in education in emergencies, such as their new School Cloud initiative that delivers educational materials and apps to students impacted by crisis – including refugees.

Through its Rapid Education Action (REACT) initiative, GBC-Education connects business and humanitarian, on-the-ground actors, finding corporate support for education in emergencies. RELX Group and LexisNexis Risk Solutions – recognized at the breakfast event along with being members of the REACT initiative – have been instrumental in developing REACT’s online platform, planning to be launched later this year. The platform will allow for the private sector, implementation partners, and ECW to forge partnerships in helping children impacted by emergency situations.

Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner of Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, announced £11 million in support for the Education Cannot Wait fund – in addition to committing 8% of the European Union’s budget to education in emergencies. He was followed by Ulla Tornaes, Minister of Development Cooperation for Denmark, who committed $16 million to Education Cannot Wait – with a total of USD $29 million in support coming from the European Union and Denmark.

Roz Hudnell announcing the formation of Youth Skills and Innovation Initiative. Photo by Lana Wong/Education Commission

Roz Hudnell announcing the formation of Youth Skills and Innovation Initiative. Photo by Lana Wong/Education Commission

The topic of workforce development took center stage with Roz Hudnell from Intel announcing the formation of GBC-Education’s new Youth Skills and Innovation Initiative. The initiative has two main goals: 1) identify new models to rapidly enhance the skills and innovation readiness of young people and, 2) inspire collective action among the business community, civil society, government leaders, and youth in order to bolster the skills of the next generation of innovators.

Following Intel’s announcement, Jamira Burley – GBC-Education’s Head of Youth Engagement and Skills – led a panel discussion with representatives from both the public and private sector. One of the panelists, Alistair Burt – Minister of State for the UK Department of International Development – spoke about education as not simply being about “passing exams” but also “solving problems”. Another panelist – Bob Collymore from Safaricom – underlined that “education impacts every industry”.

Participants offer remarks on workforce development. Photo by Lana Wong/Education Commission

Participants offer remarks on workforce development. Photo by Lana Wong/Education Commission

Various audience members had the opportunity to pitch in, including Toni Townes-Whitley from Microsoft, who stated that her company is investing in “predictive and personalized education” to support youth workforce development. The audience had the chance to hear from Tone Skogen – State Secretary of Norway – on how “we do not know what the future labor will need and will look like”. She continued by saying that this “is a good reason to think outside the box and work in partnerships”.

With technological advances and changes in the workforce occurring regularly, the business community – in partnership with governments, foundations, and civil society – must equip the future workforce with the tools needed to operate in an increasingly complex world. Throughout the event, panelists, speakers, and others emphasized the potential that the private sector has in shaping the ways today’s youth can be taught, with projects ranging from business labs to innovation hubs.

As world leaders meet in New York City to look at ways to address major global problems, such as climate change, inequality, and conflict, they should prioritize education and workforce development. Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy on Global Education, says it best: “[Education] is the civil rights fight of our generation”.

To read more about the Youth Skills and Innovation Initiative, check out this booklet laying out what the initiative does, the Youth Skills and Innovation Commission, and other goals.