Youth powered: Learning skills to thrive in today’s world

Supporting young people with the skills they need to succeed in school, work and life.

Chizuru Iwata, UNICEF South Asia
Adolescent Centre in the Rohingya refugee camp
Chizuru Iwata
31 August 2023

Enthusiasm for learning.  

That's what captivated me when I visited an Adolescent Centre in the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. It’s here where adolescents learn practical and vocational skills, including tailoring and solar engineering - skills that help prepare them for life and work.  

Despite having gone through so much, the young people I met in the refugee camp were inspiring and full of energy. They were eager to learn because they knew these new skills and knowledge would help them navigate the challenges. 

Adolescents learn at a multi-purpose adolescent centre in Cox’s Bazar.
Chizuru Iwata
Adolescents learn foundational skills, life skills, entrepreneurship and vocational skills at a multi-purpose adolescent centre in Cox’s Bazar.

Young people are full of positive energy and innovative ideas, they always leave me inspired and motivated.  

Generation Unlimited Youth Action Team
Chizuru Iwata
Generation Unlimited Youth Action Team share their experiences and ideas about how the Passport to Earning digital platform can help young people in Bangladesh build their skills.

South Asia is home to the largest youth population in the world, with almost half of the 1.8 billion population below the age of 24.  

This highlights the tremendous potential young people hold to boost their country’s economy and drive social development. That is, if sustainable and tailored investments in youth skills development are made by all.  

I’ve met young people across the region who have told me they are hungry to learn, but face a multitude of challenges when trying to gain the skills needed to secure a meaningful job and support their families.  

In South Asia, more than 80 million adolescents of secondary education age are out of school. According to the Recovering Learning Report, 79 per cent of youth aged 15-24 years are not on track to acquiring the skills they are expected to at the secondary school level.  

With limited vocational training opportunities, the majority of youth are not gaining the job-specific skills they need to join the world of work – a world which is rapidly changing.   

New technologies including the recent progress in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are transforming the nature of work and jobs across the world.  

Climate change is also having an impact on the job market. For example, in the agricultural sector many farmers have migrated to cities because their harvests are not earning them enough money due to the changing climate. At the same time, the evolving situation is propelling many industries to adapt to more environment-friendly and climate-resilient approaches that require a deep understanding and application of green skills.  

To thrive in today’s world, young people need a full range of skills and knowledge needed to work, be an active citizen and live life in the 21st century.  

In South Asia, UNICEF supports young people to develop a wide range of skills, both while they’re in and out of school. These skills are closely interrelated and are integral to making sure young people succeed in school life and work. 

  1. Foundational skills, such as reading, writing and math are the foundation of further learning.  

  2. Transferable skills, also known as ‘life skills’ or ‘socio-emotional skills’, include problem solving, negotiation, empathy and communication skills. These skills work as the central glue which connects all other skills and helps young people to navigate challenges.   

  3. Digital skills, support young people to use and understand technology, which are essential skills in the 21st century.    

  4. Job-specific skills, also known as ‘technical and vocational skills’, support young people’s transition into the workforce. 

  5. Entrepreneurial skills, support business development and social entrepreneurship and include skills like time management, goal setting, innovative thinking, and financial literacy. 

In Nepal, Rupantaran programme is supporting girls like 16-year-old Sahira to unleash her potential. This programme includes social and financial skills training for adolescents. Sahira, who comes from a marginalized Muslim community, never got to attend school, as is the case for many girls in the area. After joining the Rupantaran programme, she learned about entrepreneurship and opened her own tailoring business. She now earns a decent amount of money to support her family. 

“I was learning about many different things, things I had no idea about before.” 

“It’s very fulfilling to know that I am using my skills to help boost my family’s finances,” 

UNICEF Nepal/2022
Sahira from Nepal says her decision to join the Rupantaran programme has “changed her life.”

Similarly, through UPSHIFT – UNICEF's global innovation programme - adolescents and young people in Bhutan, India and Maldives are learning 21st century skills and developing their entrepreneurial mindset to build innovative solutions for the challenges in their local communities.  

“Now for the first time, a programme like UPSHIFT was introduced where we learn different skills - skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and we learn to work with different people.” 

Tenzin Wangchuk
Tenzin Wangchuk
Tenzin Wangchuk, a student in Bhutan, passionately shares his skills building experience through the UPSHIFT programme, using sign language.

Every young person deserves to learn throughout their lifetime. It’s our collective responsibility to make sure they can do just that. 


UNICEF ​​is committed to accelerating the holistic skills development of youth, and building a brighter world together with our partners, teachers, public and private stakeholders, and most importantly with young people.  For more information on UNICEF’s work on skills development, please visit: Life skills | UNICEF South Asia 


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