Skills development

Children and adolescents need lifelong skills to build better futures for themselves, their families and their communities.

A young woman in colourful attire smiles brightly at the camera.
UNICEF/UN0306524/Abdul

Children are growing up in a transforming world. Technology, migration, climate change and conflict are reshaping society, forcing people across the globe to adapt to unexpected changes in their lives and work.

To keep up, children and adolescents must be able to seize opportunities and confront challenges. They need skills to become lifelong learners, secure productive work, make informed decisions and positively engage in their communities.

Skills development begins in early childhood. Yet, half of the world’s pre-primary-age children are not enrolled in pre-primary programmes, depriving them of a critical opportunity to develop skills that support lifelong learning. Another 250 million children of primary-school age are failing to achieve basic numeracy and literacy.

Some 800 million children will leave school by 2030 without the skills they need to lead healthy, productive lives.

At these rates, an estimated 800 million children will leave school by 2030 without the skills they need to thrive in the twenty-first century.

Reversing this trend requires concerted investment and coordination to strengthen education systems so that all children, especially the most marginalized, can acquire skills that help them fulfil their potential – to the benefit of themselves, their families and their communities.

Three young boys do research on a tablet in their classroom.
UNICEF/UN0299591/Herwig
A multimedia learning programme promotes literacy, life skills and social cohesion in Jordan. Students use tablets to explore pictures, animations, songs and other things useful for their studies.

Skills needed for success in school, life and work

  1. Foundational skills: Foundational skills, namely literacy and numeracy, are essential for further learning, productive employment and civic engagement.
  2. Digital skills: Digital skills and knowledge support the development of digitally literate children, enabling them to use and understand technology, search for and manage information, create and share content, collaborate, communicate, build knowledge, and solve problems safely, critically and ethically.
  3. Transferable skills: Also called “life skills,” “twenty-first-century skills,” “soft skills,” or “socio-emotional skills,” these allow young people to become agile learners and global citizens equipped to navigate personal, social, academic and economic challenges. Transferable skills also help crisis-affected young people cope with trauma and build resilience. They include problem-solving, negotiation, managing emotions, empathy and communication.
  4. Job-specific skills: Also known as “technical" and "vocational" skills, these are associated with occupations – such as carpentry, accounting or engineering – and support the transition of older adolescents into the workforce.

UNICEF’s work on skills development

UNICEF works closely with Governments and partners to deliver quality skills development programmes and strengthen national systems to expand their reach. We support skills interventions that enhance lifelong learning, employability, entrepreneurship, personal empowerment, and active citizenship for children and adolescents in humanitarian and development contexts.

Because skills development takes place at different stages in life, UNICEF programming is anchored in a multiple-pathways approach that helps us reach children and adolescents where they are – especially those who are most excluded, like girls, those living in poverty, those with disabilities and those on the move.

Our skills development programming goes beyond the education sector to deliver services through other interventions in health; nutrition; and water, sanitation and hygiene.

Resources

The World Development Report, 2018: LEARNING to Realize Education’s Promise

This report explores how to make schools work for learners, and systems work for learning.


The World Development Report, 2019: The Changing Nature of Work

This report investigates how advances in technology are changing the nature of work, and considers best responses, including investing in human capital, for Governments.


Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative, Middle East and North Africa

This initiative seeks to provide diverse stakeholders in the Middle East and North Africa with an evidence-based framework for improving learning for individual, social and economic development.


GirlForce: Skills, Education and Training for Girls now

This brief presents data on persistent gender gaps in labour market outcomes, despite girls’ and women’s gains in education.


Skills for a Changing World

This project from the Center for Universal Education at Brookings and the LEGO Foundation seeks to ensure all children have high-quality learning opportunities that build the skills needed to create productive, healthy societies in the face of global change.