State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Helping Youth Develop Skills for a Global Economy


By Tara Stafford

Today, on July 15th, we celebrate the first annual World Youth Skills Day, which recognizes that young people need technical and vocational education to excel at both the local and global level. For the past five years, Connect to Learn has been working throughout Africa helping students, especially girls, to get a quality education and connecting them to the global community using the latest technology. Now Connect to Learn is expanding its scope and working to ensure that young people have the skills they’ll need to succeed in our ever-changing and globalizing economy.

Across the world, young people face unprecedented rates of unemployment and underemployment, and if business continues as usual, those rates are set to rise. Earlier this year, the International Labor Organization released a report showing that the unemployment rate among 15-24-year-olds worldwide is 13 percent, or 74 million young people. This number — already three times higher than the general population’s unemployment — masks an even harsher reality where many youth in poorer countries are underemployed or underpaid.

Though poor countries have made huge strides in getting young people enrolled in schools over the past decade, adequate provision of trained teachers and quality learning materials has lagged behind, and student learning has suffered as a result.

The International Labor Organization estimates that the real figure is likely six to seven times higher. This issue is compounded by the rapid rate at which youth populations are soaring in many of the world’s poorer regions. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, the population of youth aged 15-24 is predicted to grow from 205 million to 302 million by 2030.

The solution to this challenge is complicated. Youth need practical opportunities for technical and vocational education, yet many schools lack access to computers and the Internet for teaching and learning. If however, the schools do have the tools, they tend to lack teachers trained in how to effectively use them. Youth also need a strong foundation in basic literacy and math skills to learn effectively in other areas.

Though poor countries have made huge strides in getting young people enrolled in schools over the past decade, adequate provision of trained teachers and quality learning materials has lagged behind, and student learning has suffered as a result. It is estimated that 250 million young people globally are unable to read, write or do basic math, with 130 million of them already enrolled in school (Education For All Global Monitoring Report, 2014). Finally, young people, especially girls, from remote areas need more exposure to a greater array of career paths beyond those traditional modes of employment common in their communities.

That is why Connect To Learn, a partnership of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Ericsson and Millennium Promise, is equipping young people with a foundation of strong literacy skills by training teachers in teaching methods based in cognitive neuroscience. We’re also availing rural, resource-poor schools with technology tools, quality educational content and teacher training, and providing extra-curricular programming in vocational and life skills that are targeted to the needs of local communities.

In the communities where we work, we’ve recently begun hiring young high school graduates and training them in mobile data collection and community outreach to help us collect program impact data, and to recruit local entrepreneurs to provide vocational skills trainings to students.

In Kenya and Tanzania, recent graduates working for our program are reaching out to local professionals to organize in-person and virtual career guidance Q&A sessions for students. In Nigeria, students are already earning income from newly acquired skills in soap making, candle making and textiles that they are using to help pay for their school fees and support their families, while at the same time continuing to improve their academic performance.

There are many other examples of organizations doing great work to advocate for greater access to and quality of technical and vocational education globally, and to implement programs for young people to build their technical and vocational skills. But more work needs to be done.

For the post-2015 development agenda, the Open Working Group of the United Nations has proposed a goal for education to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Within this proposed goal, there are specific targets to increase the number of young people equipped with technical and vocational skills, and to ensure that all youth achieve literacy and numeracy.

We hope that this first annual World Youth Skills Day will help rally governments, civil society and the private sector to come together to embrace this goal and back it up with adequate funding to implement programs that are relevant to the needs of local economies and to the education readiness levels of the young people they are intended to benefit.

Join this campaign today by sharing examples of how you’re helping to promote youth skills with the hashtags #wysd and #worldskills, and learn more about Connect To Learn’s work building youth literacy, technical and life skills at

Tara Stafford is senior education technology specialist, Connect To Learn at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. 



Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Danny Myers
8 years ago

I think this is the vital thing the government must perform right now. Not only the poor countries, but the whole world also has to help young people overcome various stages of education into the workforce. They face many hurdles to secure gainful employment and career opportunities.

4 years ago

Educating the youth is the need of the hour in this time of whooping rate of unemployment in the world. The organizations which are supporting this cause are doing the great help of this unemployed community. More of the other youth problems should also be highlighted to solve the issues faced by the youth.