Youth employment in the digital economy

26 Apr 2017 02:00h

Event report

The session focused on how digital transformation is changing the standard business model and how it will affect the types of jobs available on the market, and the skills young people need to acquire in order to enter the labour force. The key elements discussed included: future trends of the labour market in the digital economy, and how the support of young entrepreneurs is a crucial step in driving innovation and job creation all over the world.

Mr James Zhan, Director of Investment and Enterprise at UNCTAD, spoke on the pressing issue of global youth unemployment, which has now reached 13.1%, and the work that UNCTAD and the Commonwealth have been doing in order to develop a Policy Guide on Youth Entrepreneurship. The Policy Guide aims to support policymakers in developing countries and transition economies to design policies and programmes for the youth, establish institutions to promote youth entrepreneurship, and offer training in support of young people creating jobs for themselves rather than waiting for the government to solve the problem.

Mr Pere Molins, Impact Enterprises, spoke about the work they are doing to support young entrepreneurs in Zambia by facilitating programmes which connect young people to job opportunities around the world. With a youth unemployment rate in Zambia of 59%, Impact Enterprises aims to ‘pioneer socially conscious outsourcing in Africa’; with just an Internet connection, one can work for any company in the world. Automation threatens about 85% of jobs in developing countries, which emphasises the need for youth to possess concrete technical skills in addition to softer skills such as communication. Molins also expressed his belief that there is a lack of collaboration globally, and that a multistakeholder dialogue could help to drive innovation.

The CEO of a technology company in South Africa, spoke briefly on the non-academic nature of technical entrepreneurship, and the millennial generation being very process/structure oriented while there is no structured training for entrepreneurship. The need for knowledge such as coding and other skills not typically taught in school is crucial, as it will help make the youth more successful. It is often the case that young entrepreneurs fail to execute their ideas due to their lack of basic knowledge on information technology, which results in them becoming exploited by the venture capital system.

The core of this session was the exclusive interactive dialogue portion with Mr Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary-General, and Mr Jack Ma, Founder and Director of Alibaba and Special Adviser to UNCTAD.

As a well known, successful entrepreneur, Ma said he likes to refer to himself as ‘CEO: Chief Education Officer’, as he views himself first and foremost as a teacher, and he says his job is to support young entrepreneurs in business.  Entrepreneurs talk about the future and they are never worried about what is to come; this is what excites him and drives his need to work with young people. When asked how we can address the main concerns of youth employment in the digital economy, he explained that e-commerce is just the beginning of what is to come. The youth will become the experts of e-commerce and because e-commerce is the future, he is extremely passionate about supporting these young entrepreneurs that will drive this change. He emphasised the idea that people under 30 embrace the Internet and because of that, it is going to be the small start up companies that will thrive in the future economy. It is important to learn from the mistakes of successful people rather than their stories of success, as this knowledge will prepare one for similar challenges in the future; this, he believes will be the driving force of progress. 

Kituyi spoke about the challenges of inclusive prosperity and the need for smart partnerships between companies, the UN, governments and academics. He is confident that the Policy Guide on Youth Entrepreneurship will be successful in achieving these kinds of partnerships and will inspire others to do so as well. E-payment is a political decision, and Kenya is one example of how this kind of partnership has been successful as it currently has the most developed mobile payment system in the world. Today we need awareness from political leaders to do what is necessary to stimulate innovation. He also stressed the need to think of the youth as less of a target audience, and more of a group that can provide input. ‘We can only solve global problems as a global community.’