Some people are referring to today's youth as the "scarred generation." And it's easy to see why. This year, the number of unemployed young people in the United States grew by 836,000 between April and July. At the same time, more than half of their peers in Greece and Spain can't find jobs, sparking street demonstrations that rippled across Europe. Meanwhile, growing civil unrest and violence are spreading across the fledgling Arab Spring democracies, fueled greatly by lack of economic opportunity. To make matters worse, there is no immediate relief in sight. Recent studies reveal that youth jobless rates worldwide will continue to rise through 2014. Whether you live in Baltimore, Athens, or Buenos Aires, the challenge is similar: millions of young people who desperately desire to participate as productive members of society can't find a decent job and are quickly losing all hope in the future.
As overwhelming as this youth unemployment crisis is, there is evidence that progress can be made. Recently, a number of high profile public/private collaborations reflect a rising sense of urgency and commitment to act on behalf of today's young people—particularly within the private sector. If we can succeed in mobilizing more businesses and governments to invest in programs that help close the skills and opportunities divide, we have a fighting chance to solve what may be the most pivotal challenge of our time.
I recently joined top government officials and corporate leaders at the US Department of State to launch a new effort to mobilize resources and encourage innovative solutions to the global youth unemployment crisis. The Youth Livelihoods Alliance (YLA) is just getting out of the starting blocks, but it is built on the core belief that the private sector, working with governments and the non-profit community, is the most productive approach to prepare today's young people for the jobs of the 21st century. In its first weeks, the Alliance has recruited some powerful members, including the US Department of State, the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank, Hilton Worldwide, Microsoft, MasterCard Worldwide, Caterpillar, Manpower, Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and Laureate International Universities.
YLA's membership reflects the growing recognition that the root causes of joblessness are global, not local, and that the private sector in the United States and around the world has a huge role to play in developing the solutions. Speaking at the launch event, Chief Human Resources Officer at Hilton Worldwide, Matt Schuyler, noted that the travel and tourism industry is adding US $6 trillion to the global economy, and 360 million jobs around the world. "For us, youth employment is a critical business matter and key to our future," he said. More and more companies are not just recognizing that their bottom line is directly linked to expanding job skills training for young people in their communities. They're doing something about it by ensuring that training being offered is linked to local market needs—including the critical "soft skills" such as communications, teamwork, and time management.
They know that filling a job vacancy with qualified entry level employees means a lot more than doing good business. Young adults who enter the workplace, or become entrepreneurs, are able to help their families thrive; send their children to school; pay taxes; become consumers; and play a positive role as active citizens. The young person who gets and successfully maintains a job in 2012 and can grow some kind of career path will be economically and civically engaged for 40 or 50 years. Their children will also have a far better chance of finding success. If we get it right—that's a 50 year return on your investment from this generation. Not bad.
Here's another reason I believe we're moving forward. This Spring, we helped launch a coalition of business and government leaders across Latin America and the Caribbean—known as the New Employment Opportunities (NEO) initiative. NEO's goal is to prepare one million youth for decent jobs across the region over the next decade. Once again, the private sector is joining forces with governments to expand job training and entrepreneurship opportunities for unemployed youth. Asked why her company joined NEO, Martha Herrera-Gonzalez from CEMEX, a leading global cement company based in Mexico, explains: "We want to grow as a company, and to do that we need a prosperous community and motivated youth."
Today, more than 3 billion people below the age of 30 occupy our planet, and that number is increasing—particularly in developing countries. The World Bank just announced that to simply keep pace with this growth, we must create 600 million new jobs in the next 15 years. We can ignore the needs and aspirations of this younger generation—at our peril. Or we can turn this youth "bulge" into an historic youth dividend—by investing in their extraordinary potential to become productive workers, successful entrepreneurs, good parents, and active citizens. It's up to all of us to decide, before it's too late.