Our work is guided by the UNESCO Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (2016-2021). This strategy is intended to align with SDG 4, to ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. It aims to support the efforts of Member States to enhance the relevance of their TVET systems and to equip all young people and adults with the skills required for employment, decent work, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning, and to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a whole. The Strategy has three priority areas: (1) Fostering youth employment and entrepreneurship; (2) Promoting equity and gender equality; (3) Facilitating the transition to green economies and sustainable societies
Fostering youth employment and entrepreneurship
Rising youth unemployment is one of the most significant problems facing economies and societies in today’s world, for developed and developing countries alike. Globally, 1.44 billion workers are in precarious and ‘vulnerable’ forms of employment. Over the next decade, 475 million new jobs need to be created to absorb the 75 million youth currently unemployed and the 40 million new annual entrants to the labour market. The TVET strategy aims to support the development of youth employment and entrepreneurship through three key activities: supporting Member States to conduct policy reviews and TVET reforms; mobilising cooperation of different stakeholders in the TVET network; and supporting Member States to design efficient and effective TVET funding strategies.
Promoting equity and gender equality
Despite technological progress and economic growth, inequalities and poverty persist in many parts of the world. On average, for countries in which data is available, the wealthiest 10 per cent earn 30‑40 per cent of the country’s total income. By contrast, the poorest 10 per cent earn around 2 per cent of the total income. In addition, there are gendered inequalities in labour force participation: women are more likely to be unemployed, and they are often concentrated in precarious forms of employment. UNESCO’s efforts to address these issues focus on promoting targeted policy measures for disadvantaged groups, and enhancing women’s and girls’ access to relevant TVET programmes and providing equal opportunities in the world of work.
Facilitating the transition to green economies and sustainable societies
Global climate change represents an imminent and potentially irreversible threat to the planet’s life support systems. However, it is estimated that as many as 15-60 million new jobs could be generated over the next two decades, in the transition to a greener and more sustainable economy and society. Activities in this priority area will focus on promoting green skills for the smooth transition to greening economies, fostering cross-sectoral approaches of TVET, and closing the ‘digital divide’ and reducing inequalities of access to digital technologies so that all Member States are able to take advantage of sustainable development.
21st Century Skills
21st century Skills (Source: World Economic Forum (2015) New Vision for Education: Unlocking the Potential of Technology)
There is an increasing focus, in policy, education, and community discussions, on the apparent skills and capabilities that young people will need to develop and demonstrate in order to ‘thrive’ in the complex, changing, precarious and uncertain labour markets of the 21st century. In its 2018 report The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030, the OECD argues that ‘education needs to aim to do more than prepare young people for the world of work; it needs to equip students with the skills they need to become active, responsible and engaged citizens’. In the context of the unprecedented social, economic and environmental challenges and changes of the 21st century, schools must be able to prepare young people ‘for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems that have not yet been anticipated’. The OECD argues that curiosity, imagination, resilience and self-regulation are the qualities that young people will need to develop to successfully navigate these uncertain futures. The World Economic Forum offers a similar assessment, suggesting that complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity are becoming the most significant and in-demand skills and capabilities, in the context of an impending Fourth Industrial Revolution in which ‘developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology, to name just a few, are all building on and amplifying one another’.
In Australia, the Melbourne-based youth advocacy organisation the Foundation for Young Australians has attempted to put the concept of ‘enterprise skills’ at the forefront of the education and training policy agenda. The FYA suggests that the New Work Orders that current generations of young people confront are being shaped by three fundamental forces: automation, globalisation and collaboration. Whether they are termed ‘21st century skills’, ‘enterprise skills’, or ‘generic’ or ‘soft’ skills, what all of these skills discourses seek to do is to advocate for young people to develop in-demand and transferable skills and capabilities – such as problem solving, communication skills, and critical thinking – and to pursue careers in areas of the labour market that are considered least vulnerable to the effects of technological change.
Photos by Branko Stancevic and Mimi Thian on Unsplash
Crisis and disruption – economic, labour market, climate, ecological
The demand that young people develop 21st century skills has emerged in a context in which multiple earth systems – oceanic, atmospheric, terran and capitalist – are in deep crisis. In the 21st century, automation, algorithms, Big Data, and artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly significant as drivers of economic growth, and of processes of social, cultural, political, and governmental change more generally. And as these processes advance, they threaten to make precarious and risky labour markets even more precarious and risky, through increasing casualisation and technological unemployment.
The OECD’s 2019 Employment Outlook estimates that across its 34 member countries, 14 per cent of existing jobs could disappear over the next 15 to 20 years, and 32 per cent are likely to change radically. The report also notes that Australia’s rate of casualisation is currently one of the highest in the OECD. Even as Australia was sheltered from some of the worst impacts of the Global Financial Crisis, the economic conditions which have prevailed in the post-GFC period have had particularly harsh impacts on young people in this country. Australia has witnessed one of the largest increases in underemployment across OECD countries since 2007, with the OECD Employment Outlook observing that young people with medium- and high-level education have seen increases in their probability of low-paid employment in Australia since 2006. But these challenges pale in comparison to the planetary crisis looming on the horizon. If anthropogenic climate change is not averted, then it appears increasingly likely that processes of dispossession, displacement and extinction on a massive scale – of humans and non-human species alike – will prove catastrophic for the future of the planet.
In October 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways. The report warned that major global action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions would be necessary within the next 12 years – that is, before 2030 – if the most severe consequences of global warming are to be avoided. However, massive biodiversity loss, desertification, and sea level rises, among other processes, are already underway, and these climate change impacts ensure that future generations will inhabit a planet that is very different to the one that current and previous generations have known.
Young people’s ‘creativity’, ‘critical thinking’ and other key 21st century skills and capabilities are increasingly framed as the ‘solution’ to the various, emerging crises and disruptions of capitalism and the environment. Through developing and exercising these key forms of ‘human capital’, it is thought that young people can equip themselves with a degree of ‘insurance’ against unemployment and underemployment, allowing them to navigate future working lives that, it is claimed, will be characterised by almost constant churn and change.
However, it is important to recognise that engagement and well-being most often come before skills and transitions, and this is particularly the case for young people from disadvantaged and marginalised backgrounds. It is for this reason that we utilise an ‘ecological understanding’ of young people’s skills and transitions, an understanding that is illustrated in the figure below. This figure is modelled on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s hierarchy recognises that before individuals can achieve ‘self-actualisation’, they must satisfy more fundamental needs, through securing the conditions that support normal physiological functioning, personal security, and healthy relationships.
We support the use of socio-ecological models of student engagement that recognise that the ability of young people to engage meaningfully in education and training, and to develop 21st century skills and capabilities, is influenced by a range of contextual factors beyond the control of many individuals. These contextual factors include the peer, family, and community relationships in which the young person is embedded, as well as the broader social, political and environmental contexts shaping young people’s capacities for well-being, resilience and enterprise.
The work that we do engages with emerging ways of thinking about and responding to social issues and shared value. The concept of ‘shared value’ recognises that, traditionally, corporations have excluded consideration of social and environmental issues from their economic thinking. Preoccupied with the goal of profit maximisation, and accountable primarily to their shareholders, firms adopting this narrow focus have often failed to adequately take into account the needs of the wider communities and ecosystems in which the corporation is embedded. The benefit of a shared value approach is that productivity, competitive advantage and economic growth can be enhanced while simultaneously generating positive social and environmental impact. While the ‘creating shared value’ approach originated in the business world – it was first elaborated in some detail by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in the Harvard Business Review – a range of non-profit organisations are realising the benefits of a shared value approach. Through adopting and pioneering shared value approaches in partnership with the corporate sector, non-profit and community sector organisations are able to leverage the expertise and resources of business in the effort to address pressing social problems. In this way, shared value approaches can play a key role in promoting ethical innovation and sustainable development.