The latest ITU report, Digital Opportunities: Innovative ICT Solutions for Youth Employment, carries an important message for youth, the private sector, academia and government policy makers seeking to address youth unemployment: youth need digital skills if they want to get a job or start a business.
Digital literacy is effectively a prerequisite for employment and starting a business in all countries, and ICTs should be prioritized in all national youth employment and entrepreneurship strategies.
Firstly, how bad is youth unemployment?
According to the ILO Global Trends for Youth Unemployment 2013 report , 73 million young people were unemployed worldwide and three times as many are underemployed. A further 621 million youth are said to be “NEET” — not in education, employment or training. Youth make up 17 per cent of the world’s population and 40 per cent of the world’s unemployed.
High youth unemployment not only hampers economic growth, but for youth it can be a debilitating experience that affects their ability to lead productive and rewarding lives. Urgent attention is needed to address the plight of youth and provide them better opportunities for employment.
One of the causes of youth unemployment is a skills mismatch between what the market is seeking and what institutions of learning – both formal and informal – are providing. Many employers claim they cannot find people with the job skills they need. Youth without digital skills are being cut out of a growing number of job and business opportunities.
Policy makers reading this report could draw only one conclusion: To promote youth employment it is essential that youth in their countries obtain digital skills, including how to become ICT creators.
ICTs should be included in youth employment and entrepreneurship strategies for three key reasons:
- More jobs and businesses require ICT skills
- ICTs are transforming the way young digital entrepreneurs do business
- There is an explosion of online learning opportunities and resources for job seekers and digital entrepreneurs
ICTs are transforming old market sectors including farming, manufacturing and the health sector, and creating new market sectors that didn’t exist even a few years ago, like social media management, gaming and the mobile apps economy. The demand for both basic and more advanced ICT skills cuts across all sectors, from agriculture and construction to education and service industries to ICT jobs themselves, in both developing and developed countries. Basic digital literacy is increasingly required just to find job listings and apply for a job.
What kinds of opportunities exist?
Youth with mid-level digital skills can earn wages through offshore services, such as information technology outsourcing (ITO) and business process outsourcing (BPO), crowdsourcing and microwork (task-oriented work opportunities for data entry, coding, tagging and other text-based tasks). Mobile financial services like M-PESA are making it easier for young people to receive payment for services rendered. CrowdFlower is one example of crowdsourcing which hires people in more than 70 countries.
Youth trained as ICT creators are working developing apps, games and social network websites. Since the iPhone was introduced in 2007, the app economy has generated roughly 752,000 app related jobs in the US and 530,000 jobs in the European Union as of 2013, according to Vision Mobile. While currently much of the apps development taking place in developing countries is for export to the US, Europe and Asia, it is expected that in a few years’ time, local demand in developing countries will reach the levels of demand in Europe and North America as smartphone penetration rises. This will give rise to a need for apps development relevant to local languages and content.
New ways of working and learning
The report also highlights new ways digital entrepreneurs are working, such as tech hubs or app labs. These are business incubation spaces that provide solutions to young digital entrepreneurs: they provide Internet connectivity, support structures (including shared office space), mentorship and collaboration. Tech hubs and app labs are springing up throughout the developed and developing world including Applabs funded by the Grameen Foundation in Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia and Uganda.
Despite the fact that digital skills are not systematically being taught in all schools, the report recognizes that youth can obtain vital digital and business skills online. The report documents the explosion of new learning opportunities that can enable youth to get the right skills, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), open courseware and mobile learning as well as hackathons and mobile app competitions. All of these opportunities point to the need to promote collaborative learning in digital skills development strategies.
The report includes a number of policy recommendations, including ensuring digital skills and collaborative learning is part of school curricula, hosting innovation and co-working spaces for entrepreneurs and funding app contests and competitions.
ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector (BDT) has created a new Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Resources Database to assist young people to find and use these digital opportunities. This database contains resources for finding employment, becoming an entrepreneur, learning technical and soft skills, finding a mentor, searching for funding, networking, and many other valuable services.
By Susan Schorr, Head ITU Special Initiatives Division
Susan leads the digital inclusion work of ITU to promote ICT accessibility and use among women and girls, youth and children, persons with disabilities and Indigenous Peoples. She directed development of the ITU report, “Digital opportunities: Innovative ICT Solutions for Youth Employment” and leads the ITU International Girls in ICT Day campaign, raising awareness about ICT career opportunities among young women and girls. Ms. Schorr is the architect of the ITU Girls in ICT Portal, which includes a host of resources for women pursuing tech careers, and leads the joint ITU-Telecentre.org Foundation Women’s Digital Literacy Campaign that has trained over 1 million women at the bottom of the development pyramid to become digitally literate. Her latest project is a model policy report to promote ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities. Prior to joining ITU she practiced antitrust law in Washington, D.C. and was graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center.