NEW YORK — Amid consensus that youth unemployment is one of the world’s most pressing problems, a gathering of political leaders, philanthropists, advocacy organizations and media convened Friday to do something about it.
“The consequences of not addressing youth unemployment are dire and have the potential to leave young people around the world without a future,” said Calvin Sims, president of New York City’s International House, a residence for hundreds of university students, which is hosting event, “Generation Jobless.”
More than 300 million millennials globally are NEETs — not employed, enrolled in educational programs nor in professional training, with 1 billion more young people expected to join the labor market by 2030. From India to the Philippines to Brazil to the United States, youth are being squeezed most as the global recession has eased without returning employment rates to pre-recession levels.
“Workers face two tsunamis of globalization and technological change,” said Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s Global Public Square, framing the problem to start the day. “We are trying to create an economy where workers can find a role within that environment. This is going to be a generation-long search for answers.”
Zakaria added that leading US multinationals have created record profits by targeting consumers in growing economies overseas, while also outsourcing U.S. jobs to lower-cost labor markets.
Similar effects have been seen in the European Union and in the developing world, sparking major initiatives by the EU and the World Bank.
“It’s not that people can move everywhere, but the jobs can move anywhere,” he said. “American workers can’t afford to play that global arbitrage game.”
Panelists at the conference also laid out barriers for young people seeking to enter the job market, including lack of affordable education, vocational skills and on-the-job experience. In a hyper-competitive global market, a huge cross-section of millennials is being left behind — “unemployed and unemployable,” as Jamira Burley, co-founder of GenYNot in Philadelphia, put it.
"We need to give these young people a sense that if they take control they actually have a chance to be successful."
“There are always the super strong who will always make it,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans. “But when you talk about youth unemployment, you’re not just talking about the super strong.”
“We have to elevate this issue as a national priority. It ought to be right up there at the top. It’s going to define the future of this nation,” Morial continued, reminding the audience that race plays a driving role on youth unemployment in the United States.
Madhuri Kommareddi, director of program development at the Clinton Foundation, said American companies are increasingly looking for past job experience as a precondition for employment, while at the same time putting less money into training. It creates what is known as an “experience trap.”
So nonprofits, governments, small businesses and corporations must fill the gap by teaming up to offer training, entry-level employment and mentorship, panelists agreed.
Entrepreneurship has been touted as a path to job creation, offering success stories of savvy young people beating the odds with a fresh idea that finds a market. But Amy Rosen of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship said that the entrepreneurial spirit — like workplace behavior and etiquette — needs to be taught.
“Millions of young people have no hope for opportunity,” Rosen said. “They don’t even have a vision of what opportunity looks like. We need to give these young people a sense that if they take control they actually have a chance to be successful.”
Morial of the National Urban League said, “There is no substitute for learning by doing,” highlighting that without sufficient investment from lenders, small businesses simply can’t get off the ground.
The Obama administration has pushed forward policy that creates tax cuts and better access to capital for small business, though youth response to President Obama’s recent efforts to woo back millennial support has been tepid.
In the absence of confidence in national governments, CNN’s Zakaria praised local, “bottom up” innovation and grassroots support for young job-seekers, leaving some room for optimism.
“We're not going to wait for Washington,” he said. “You guys are going to solve the problem."
Kevin Douglas Grant is co-founder and managing editor of The GroundTruth Project, which is co-hosting the "Generation Jobless" conference on youth unemployment in New York City on Oct. 24-25. The event is a solutions-based conference, offering viable, real-world remedies for a critical issue. For more information on the conference, read here. And to follow the conversation on Twitter, look for the hashtags #genjobless and #gentbd.