There is a strange thing happening in the world at the moment. In many countries youth unemployment is at levels rarely seen before, and yet employers are saying that there is a talent mismatch, and they cannot find workers skilled for the jobs they have. It is in this context that UNESCO and Microsoft, along with partners the Open University, Nokia and Promethean are hosting an Education Leaders Forum in conjunction with the Third International Congress on Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

Today one billion people still lack access to information and communications technology.  But it is no longer just about a digital divide. It is now an opportunity divide – an emergent gap between those who have the access, skills and opportunities to be successful, and those who do not.  Many young people are struggling because they don't have the experience, knowledge, inspiration or connections they need to find employment. Young people have amazing potential, yet are more vulnerable to economic hardships and need the right support.

One of the main topics of discussion here in Shanghai at TVET has been how to better align the skills learned by our youth with the demands of today’s employers and the careers of tomorrow. Technology can play a critical role in this. With UNESCO and technology partner beamSmart, we showcased a new mobile- and web-based platform called Innovate4Youth, designed to help connect youth with jobs that match their location, experience and skill sets. This is the latest collaboration in our partnership with UNESCO which started in 2004 to support the use of technology to transform education, reduce poverty and help address the digital divide.

Initially being piloted in South Africa, Lesotho and Zambia, Innovate4Youth seeks to bridge the information gap between job seekers, employers and the government. The platform provides a hub for young job seekers to find jobs, training resources and mentors, for businesses to advertise open positions and for governments to support youth employment by providing information on opportunities, scholarships and training programs, broadcasting events, and offering downloadable training materials, all on the same platform. The digital environment also means that volunteer mentors can help youth in far-flung places, and match their own backgrounds to students looking for assistance.

What makes Innovate4Youth really exciting is how it uses geo-based search. Users can seek employment, identify mentors and locate events of interest through geo-based search available by location, industry, job type, education and experience. Geo-coded content can be easily visualized and searched, and allows profiling so that jobs and events can be matched to a user profile and viewed on a map.

In our current ‘always on’ world of computers, tablets, mobile phones and other devices, now all connected to the cloud, our ability to find, share and deliver information, on any device, anywhere in the world, is greater than ever before. Cloud computing, innovation and global trade are enabling people to make a real impact for a better tomorrow, and will create exciting opportunities for our future.

New industries will be born, new companies will be formed, new jobs will be created and new careers will open up, especially for our younger generation. A McKinsey study recently estimated that by the end of this decade, two-thirds of the jobs that will be created in nine years don't even exist today. For our society to make the most of these new opportunities, we need to make sure that our young people are prepared with the right skills, education and experiences that the new industries and jobs will require. And it is education that is the key to these young people’s success.

Through the Education Leaders Forum today in Shanghai, government leaders and policy makers explore this growing opportunity gap, and how governments, NGOs, intergovernmental agencies and the private sector can come together to extend access, create the enabling environments and promote highly skilled and competitive workforces and populations.

At Microsoft we are committed to supporting skills development and applying technology to enhance education. The time is now to focus on closing the opportunity gap through quality and relevant education for all young people.

Greg Butler, Senior Director, Worldwide Education Leaders Strategy, Microsoft Public Sector
Greg Butler is responsible for education audience and government relations development for Microsoft Education through supporting strategic partnerships and programs that align Microsoft’s Citizenship activities and Commercial efforts.