Younger people will be hardest hit by the economic damage that the pandemic has wrought. Just as the world’s scientists and medics race to find treatments and vaccines for the disease, businesses, governments and NGOs must step up their efforts to give young people the skills they need to recover from the economic fallout.
The theme of this year’s UN World Youth Skills Day is “skills for a resilient youth in the era of COVID-19 and beyond”. The key word is “resilient”. Young people today face a future where uncertainty and continual change may be the norm.
The pandemic is accelerating the transition to a digital economy, while at the same time disrupting opportunities to acquire the necessary skills.
School closures and lockdowns have dramatically reduced educational opportunities for many young people. UNESCO estimates more than a billion pupils and students of all ages have been affected by closures in over 140 countries – more than two thirds of all the world’s learners.
But there is a silver lining – one that would not have existed even a decade ago. Digital technology has, in many cases, elevated remote learning from a poor substitute to a genuine alternative.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has seen dramatic evidence of this with the success of the Digital Explorers programme going virtual. The programme, which is aimed at bringing young people from under-represented communities together to learn about technology and get an insight into careers in the field, has actually been able to expand its reach by moving online. While events have traditionally been attended in person by about 700 young people, more than ten times that number registered for the first virtual event.
As part of the challenge to provide more job opportunities for the young, TCS has a long-term commitment to expanding digital skills, and is working with its partners to adapt its existing programmes to the new post-COVID reality.
The TCS iON™ Digital Learning Platform, which reaches 5 million users worldwide, is at the centre of several initiatives to make access to education and skills training more widely available.
Since March, the TCS iON™ Digital Glass Room has been available for free to schools, colleges and other educational institutions, allowing teachers to interact with students in a virtual classroom.
TCS has also partnered with the Engineering Development Trust to launch our long-standing programme, Digital Explorers, as a virtual STEM programme for school and college students in the UK, including university taster days, experiences of work and activities that can lead to nationally recognized accreditation through Industrial Cadets.
As Venguswamy Ramaswamy, Global Head of TCS iON™ says, “Virtual delivery democratizes access, allowing us to reach more students than ever before”.
Turning training into jobs
Even before coronavirus swept the globe, the challenges were daunting. The International Labour Organization estimated that globally one fifth of those aged 15-24 were not in employment, education or training (NEET). Young people were already three times more likely than those over 25 to be unemployed.
The focus of all the efforts to widen access to digital skills is to prepare young people not just for the jobs that exist now, but for those that will exist in the future. It’s predicted as many as two fifths of the jobs that are lost during the COVID-19 pandemic will not come back – many of them entry-level jobs in sectors that employ large numbers of young people.
Globally, technology companies are concentrating on promoting the skills that workers will need in the world of Business 4.0™: not just the obvious technical STEM capabilities like programming, but also broader skills such as problem solving, teamwork, and project management.
That focus is reflected in the TCS graduate trainee programme, which recognizes the responsibility of employers to continue the education and growth of their young workers, so that they can continue to innovate, flourish, and drive the global recovery.
Young people are indeed facing daunting challenges. But with the right support and skills, they can rise to those challenges and build a stronger, more resilient world.