Human capital

Strengthening the knowledge, skills and abilities that lead to personal well-being and improved work opportunities

Secondary school students in Uganda socializing and studying together

Human capital is the set of knowledge, skills and abilities that individuals accumulate towards personal well-being and improved work opportunities. The benefits of human capital extend to future generations — economic growth is dependent on it, as are social capital and networks. Yet despite significant increases in human capital over the past 25 years, serious challenges remain in developing countries, which will limit their economic growth and workforce competitiveness in the global economy.

How can countries strengthen their human capital alongside the technological, demographic, environmental and economic trends shaping the future of work and society? We examine the most effective strategies for supporting human capital accumulation with a focus on childhood.


School to work

When young people leave school, they have high expectations for getting a good job. Three in four believe they will get the kind of job they want and four in five aspire to be in a high-skilled profession. But the reality is quite different. Half of young people are dissatisfied with their jobs and only one in five are in a high-skilled profession.

The issue of skills and employability for young people is an emerging area of interest in UNICEF, and a number of initiatives — including the Global Transferable Skills Framework and Generation Unlimited — are underway. To strengthen our understanding of this issue and enable their integration into UNICEF programming, we are examining key aspects of the school-to-work transition, encompassing both work-readiness of young people and smoothing their access into productive work opportunities.


Labor markets in developing and emerging economies offer limited opportunities for youth. The number of wage-earning jobs do not come close to meeting demand —there are 223 million unemployed or underemployed youth between the ages of 15-24 in developing and emerging economies. And the workforce of young people are growing. Fostering entrepreneurship has become a key pillar of the policy agenda in developing and emerging countries to expand employment opportunities for youth.

We examine the different skills required of entrepreneurship, and how those skills evolve as businesses evolve between stages of gestation, start-up, early development and growth.

Innovations for accelerating learning and skills development

More than half of all children worldwide lack basic reading skills by the end of primary school. The learning crisis in the early years affects skills acquisition in later years, with less than 1 in 3 children and youth on track to acquire minimum secondary level skills.  

It is clear that increases in educational attainment do not yield equivalent increases in skills levels of children and youth. Future success also requires cognitive, social and emotional abilities, but attention on these 21st century skills has been limited.  What can be done to accelerate progress in bridging the learning and skills gap among children and adolescents?

We are interpreting new and emerging approaches in learning and skills — what works,and where, why, how, and for whom — to enable informed policy and programming choices by UNICEF and partners. Initial areas of focus include personalized learning, use of technology in developing transferable and employability skills, and STEM education for girls.