“Build Back Better has to center youth skills at the local level”

By Jamira Burley, head of youth engagement and skills at GBC-Education
Photo: @ActionVance As the Covid-19 pandemic has increased society’s inequalities, it has also accelerated the transition to the fourth industrial revolution while raising concerns about the widening gap between individuals and communities. Although many have called for the creation of a Universal Basic Income, the conversation on the global implications of the opportunities and threats associated with this era of technical advancement—which will place hundreds of millions of young people around the world at risk – has yet to reach the others. As we approach World Youth Skills Day, there is much to discuss when it comes to equipping students with the skills necessary to ensure a brighter future.

It is no longer a secret that our workforce will be disrupted by improvements made in automation, artificial intelligence and robotics. We’re already seeing examples of that in our everyday lives, from ordering food, paying for services, self-driving cars and 3D printing. This will drastically impact opportunities available to both our aging and coming of age populations – especially in our blue collar industries which will see the most drastic of overhauls. According to the latest predictions in a report by Deloitte Global and the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) over half of the world’s young people – 825 million – will not have the most basic skills for employment by 2030.

The pace of change in the fourth industrial revolution, and the pace at which new technology develops, means that we can no longer overlook the urgent need to reform our educational institutions to enable young people to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and skill development in real-time to meet the needs of today and the future workforce.

While the US spends around nearly 1.3 Trillion on public education – the majority of which comes from local and state taxes – the system as a whole is failing our students. Schools are not only overcrowded and falling apart at the foundation, they are unfortunately still preparing students for the jobs of the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s. Our education system leaves students and communities stuck in a backwards gridlock and unable to fully participate in this growing economy – leading to a widening of the skills gap and broadening the potential life-long economic burdens inflicted on our most vulnerable communities.

If we look closer at the numbers, the US census bureau estimates there are 39 million young people between the age of 16 and 24 in the US and among them, 10% – or close to 4 million – are not in school or currently working. This number reaches 16.5% for African Americans. In fact, the divide starts even earlier with 58.5% of American children aged 3-5 not in preschool or nursery. This means that more than half of our children – often from the most vulnerable communities – are not getting the foundation of cognitive and character skills needed to reach their fullest potential.

At the heart of this is quality education and job skills training is the pathways created for youth to be productive citizens within society and enable them to create a better reality for themselves and their families.

Now this era is not without its opportunities if we plan and work together. The four emerging skills for the future, workforce readiness, soft skills, technical skills and entrepreneurship, have to be more holistically included within our educational institutions, afterschool programs, workforce training and employer retention programs. This work can’t be done in silos without a united front with governments, business leaders, issue experts, community leaders and most importantly young people.

While it might be difficult to get a consensus on Capitol Hill, city and state officials see firsthand the impact of education on communities, and know how to put divisions aside to work together.

We need to enable Mayors to work across industries with youth to help shape collective impact strategies to educate, support and employ the current and next generation of leaders to build and sustain the economic and social liberties we all take for granted.

As the country rebounds from the pandemic, we have the opportunity to build back better and stop an entire generation from falling victim to exacerbated social and economic vulnerabilities. Time it ticking. Taking local action to address the needs of young people may be the fastest way to innovate at scale as we reemerge from the pandemic.  All city leaders should come up with ambitious plans which bring together education, industry and community leaders which place opportunities for young people first.

The Big Ideas, Bright Cities Challenge

Later this year, GBC-Education will launch a nationwide “Bright Cities, Big Ideas” challenge to encourage cities to adopt policies to create skills friendly cities.  Winning cities will receive support to scale existing best practices or launch new initiatives. The initiative encourages collaboration among city leaders, youth-serving organizations and businesses through the application process and access to a learning community.

Please sign up today and we will contact you when the challenge launches.

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