Today the International Youth Foundation has released a report that looks at the growing education and social challenges facing youth around the world.
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At a time when we have more young people – 1.2 billion – than at any time in the planet’s history, there’s an urgent need to provide them with the education, skills and employment opportunities they need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing global economy.

The report, which was commissioned by Microsoft, underlines the emergence of an opportunity divide among young people around the world. A problem Brad Smith wrote about back in January:

“Young people require new skills, better education and stronger connections to real world life and job opportunities. A McKinsey study recently estimated that, by the end of this decade, two-thirds of the jobs that will be created don't even exist today. We have to do a better job of preparing our young people for this future. We have to help close this opportunity divide.

Tackling an issue of this importance will require a collective effort by governments, businesses and the non-profit community. Through our work around the world, we’ve come to the conclusion that closing this opportunity divide has become one of the most important actions we can all take – together – to secure the future of our youth and, as a result, the future of our global economy and society.”

So what are the current conditions for youth around the world?

The global unemployment rate for young people is currently 12.7 percent - more than double global average for unemployment as a whole. While some youth are prospering, many others who lack access to education, skills and opportunities, face growing challenges. As the global youth population grows over time, the gap risks widening even further between those with opportunity and those without.

The Opportunity for Action report reveals that nearly 75 million young people around the world are unemployed, and currently only 44 percent of youth worldwide pursue education as far as the equivalent of the high school level in the United States. This is becoming a bigger issue as more jobs now require higher levels of skill and education. In the United States, for example, it is estimated that by 2018, 62% of the workforce will require some college education, yet today 16% of American youth ages 18-24 fail even to complete high school.

In Latin America youth have greater access to education than ever before, but there are still low education completion rates across the region. Meanwhile in the Middle East and Africa there are growing number of youth with a university education, but they’re finding there are no jobs to match their advanced skills.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where 25% of children are not even enrolled in primary school, young people are grossly under-employed in low-skill, low-quality jobs and 72% earn less than $2 USD per day simply to survive.

Addressing the Opportunity Divide

The factors behind this opportunity divide differ from country-to-country, but the overall global trend is the same everywhere. Unemployment for young people is rising and we need the public, private and nonprofit sectors to work together to provide youth with access to the education, skills, and job opportunities they need.

For the past decade, Microsoft has invested in programs and partnerships to help millions of young people around the world create a better future for themselves through education, skills training and job placement. However, there’s a lot more work to be done.

We are working with governments, nonprofits, industry colleagues, educators and youth themselves to close the opportunity divide. A first step is shining a light on the problem through this report and learning directly from young people, which we’ll do through events taking place around the globe. We plan to incorporate the insights gained from these discussions into our work and use it to help us develop new plans and programs to improve youth access to education, skills training, and communities where they can bridge the opportunity divide and create a better tomorrow for themselves and our world.


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  Read the International Youth Foundation’s ‘Opportunity for Action’ report.  [You can read the executive summary here]

Hear directly from the International Youth Foundation

To watch a short interview with Bill Reese, president and CEO of the International Youth Foundation, read today’s post on Microsoft on the Issues. In the interview, Bill discusses the role education plays in helping to improve the lives of youth all around the world as well as the Opportunity for Action report, which focuses on barriers to opportunity for global youth.