Navigating Uncertainties: Youth Unemployment And COVID-19

Covid-19 has altered the considerations individuals make when caring for themselves and loved ones, but young people are among the most vulnerable when speaking about financial stability. Check out highlights from a UN panel on youth unemployment and the pandemic

UN graphic

The impact of COVID-19 in 2020 has been global and affects quality of life across the board, including on mental, physical, and financial health. The pandemic has altered the considerations individuals make when caring for themselves and loved ones, but young people are among the most vulnerable when speaking about financial stability.

According to the 2020 World Youth Report released last month by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, unemployment among the world’s 1.2 billion young people is far higher than for adults. COVID-19 has worsened their outlook for job prospects. The International Labour Organization reports that in the first quarter of 2020, about 5.4% of global working hours, equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs, were lost relative to the fourth quarter of 2019.

To address these issues, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs brought together an international panel of professors, entrepreneurs and researchers to discuss protecting and strengthening youth employment during COVID-19 as well as considering entrepreneurship in a tough job market. The panel was moderated by Lyanne Alfaro, Supervising Producer at Nasdaq.

The future of job searches and job creation will be an uphill struggle due to the losses seen this year. Estimates dating from before the pandemic suggest that 600 million jobs would have to be created in the next 15 years to meet youth employment needs.

Some good news is that social entrepreneurship can provide a viable path forward for young people to earn a living and help address their communities’ needs, while also advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The World Youth Report also found that social entrepreneurship can enhance the social inclusion of vulnerable groups.

This was one of the main topics addressed by Jeph Acheampong, founder of Blossom Academy in his keynote open to the event. His organization, which recruits and develops African data science talent, was born out of the need to pursue his calling. Acheampong aimed to pursue entrepreneurship and bridge the gap between academia and the data science industry while stimulating job creation.

Since Blossom Academy was founded in 2015, there have been new competitors in the ecosystem created by alumni of his organization. He took this as a positive sign.

“To us this is impact -- the ability to nurture talent and have them carve their own path while creating meaningful jobs,” Acheampong said. “That’s progress.”

He stressed the importance of trading short-term gratification for longer-term payoffs when thinking about work in a post-pandemic era.

In order to prepare future generations of workers globally, speakers said, young people need critical assistance from mentorships, public-private partnerships and grassroots efforts across generations in the short-term as policies are needed to perform outreach in the long-term.

“In addition to (soft) skills it’s very important for young people to spend time developing and cultivating a network of resources, especially mentors,“ said Professor Anastasia Gage from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

In a high stress environment created by the pandemic, economic downturn and instability, panelists also found it crucial to discuss young people’s mental health. To this end, Nolundi S Luthuli, Managing Director at iSeluleko Youth Leadership Development Forum recommended that young people use social media as a tool and create an online environment that is healthy and motivational.

During the second panel focused on challenges around entrepreneurship in 2020, Marija Vasileva-Blazev, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, spoke about the interconnectedness of COVID-19 issues as they relate to job creation. To talk about entrepreneurship, it is important to also focus on social benefits and health, with the private sector and government playing critical roles.

Long-term thinking, and understanding how diverse entities can collaborate together towards stimulating job creation, was a common theme emphasized by panelists across the board. Elliott Harris, UN Chief Economist and UN DESA Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, stressed the importance of young people’s access to capital, social services and adequate training.

Watch the full panel hosted by UN DESA here.

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Lyanne Alfaro


Lyanne is a producer, host and social media strategist at Nasdaq. Her team helps reimage the way Nasdaq tells stories about Nasdaq’s role in the future of technology via video, podcasting and social content. You can find her on social media @LyanneAlfaro

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