Bridging the youth skills gap in Jordan

An Op-Ed on World Skills Day

Ettie Higgins
Young women sit at a table with notebooks and laptop in front of them
UNICEF-Herwig

15 July 2019

The dramatic changes in global economies in recent years, matched by transformations in technology, have impacted massively on education and the demands of the private sector. To cope with the increasing pace and changes of modern life, today’s young people will have many new jobs over the course of their lives, with associated pressures and the need for flexibility. 

Yet, young graduates find that they are not prepared for the world of work; and that digital, technical and soft skills related to the key growth sectors of the economy are not covered in the traditional educational system. There is a huge mismatch between the skills acquired by young people and the skills in demand. 

 

Positive skills-building programmes help young people build their creative confidence, believe in their potential and empower themselves to take action on the issues that affect them; all the while helping to give them the resilience they need for the transition to adulthood and economic engagement. 

Youth develop and strengthen critical capacities such as leadership, planning teamwork, problem solving, active citizenship and communication. They can use their capacities to engage their communities at social, civic or economic levels. They can also present their skills and views, engage with the community and policymakers and, in this way, they can ultimately influence decisions affecting their lives and make their voices heard.

Skills-building programmes need to be relevant to the market, flexible enough to meet current and emerging needs, relevant to the context in Jordan but at the same time broad enough to be relevant to different economies. Successful skills programmes should offer access to skills for the most vulnerable young people, leaving no one behind; it should support the acquisition of the skills through learning; and then utilisation through practice, to create the most impactful change. 

The private sector should also be heavily involved in the designing of skills programmes, to ensure the relevance of skills offered and positive employment outcomes; public-private partnerships are needed to develop demand-driven skills packages that respond to reality. 

With these goals in mind, UNICEF has developed a comprehensive skill-building programme with key private sector stakeholders, humanitarian organisations and the government of Jordan, to provide the most vulnerable young people with access to demand-driven skills-building training programmes, and opportunities to apply their skills in the real world through youth-led projects and initiatives — with a specific and sustained focus on girls and women. 

The Youth Engagement Programme focuses on skills in four key areas:

  1. Firstly, transferable skills that are relevant to the current and future economy. This includes essential life skills, such as communication, self-awareness, problem solving, leadership and creative thinking.
  2. Secondly experiential learning skills that foster social innovation — equipping adolescents with the confidence that they will be able to find their own solutions to the challenges they face in their local communities. 
  3. Next are the career readiness skills that will support young people in their search for employment and complemented by career guidance and counselling.
  4. Finally, demand-driven technical and vocational skills that are job-specific and include both theoretical and practical training.

The uniqueness of the programme lies not only in the programme design, but its integration across the Ministry of Education, schools and Ministry of Youth centres. This means that the skills offered to young people are provided through multiple pathways, both formal and non-formal education channels, and are based on a model conducive to lifelong learning. 

As more learning happens outside the classroom, young people will be better prepared for success in today’s rapidly changing and globalised world. It will also have to begin in the very earliest moments — from early childhood development, to quality primary and secondary education and finally the transition from school to work, all the while encouraging children and youth to become active and responsible citizens.

The skills gap will not be bridged without full and meaningful participation of girls and young women.

Continued efforts are needed to address the social norms behind girls’ participation (or lack thereof) and to build environments that foster women’s participation. 

Skills do not, by themselves, lead to work. However, as the future is not set, as economies keep changing and new emerging technologies evolve, as well as new challenges such as climate change, we do not know precisely what kinds of work will be required in the global marketplace in 10, 15 or 20 years. We need to be proactive in upskilling young people with a mix of foundational and transferable skills. 

Focusing especially on those skills that cannot be mastered by a computer — such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, problem solving and emotional intelligence — will enable young people to meet, or perhaps even create, the demands of our future economies.    

 

Ettie Higgins is the Deputy Representative of UNICEF Jordan. This Op-Ed was first published the Jordan Times.