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Benedicta from Ghana was at our ‘Getting By: How will young people make a living?’ workshop with Cambridge University last month. She works on global communities on the Youth Inclusive Entrepreneurial Development Initiative for Employment (YIEDIE) Project, which creates economic opportunities in Ghana’s construction sector for young people.

Investing in youth employment requires a collaborative approach, prioritising decent job creation and engaging young people in policy development.

During the week of April 2nd-4th April 2019, I was one of 6 young #Gamechangers from countries in the Global South who gathered at Murray Edwards College, at the University of Cambridge, to discuss how young people are making a living and how we can address the challenges affecting them.

The highly interactive workshop themed “Getting By: How will young people make a living?” brought together various sector experts and youth delegates. Youth delegates were not only listened to but also given the opportunity to ask challenging questions to other participants and make contributions to the topic of discussion. This workshop was a true example of meaningful youth engagement with us, the #gamechangers, as active participants not tokenistic attendees.

Benedicta (middle) on a panel at Cambridge University at the Getting By workshop

In the next decade, 1 billion young people will enter the labour market and approximately only 400 million of them will have jobs. This estimation by the World Bank gives us an idea of what youth livelihoods will look like in the future and clearly begs the question: “how will the other 600 million young people will make a living?”

During the workshop, it emerged that young people are facing a variety of challenges. However, the quality and quantity of jobs being created were the two main issues that were raised. For example, because of the lack of jobs available, skilled young people are finding themselves in low income jobs that do not fully utilise their skills and expertise.

The main challenge, however, is not the number of jobs created but the quality of those jobs – ensuring that the jobs that are created are decent and create sustainable work for young people. We identified the need to improve the quality of working conditions through better minimum wages regulation, health and safety at work and social security provision.

Another topic we discussed was the rise in the number of young people moving into entrepreneurship. When opportunities for formal employment are limited, entrepreneurship programs try to plug the gap and encourage young people to create jobs rather than seek jobs. More and more young people are taking on this responsibility but they also have to take on the challenges that come with it.

Beneditcta (second from the left) on a panel among the other Gamechangers at the Getting By workshop

Other workshop attendees pointed out that access to financial capital is one of the biggest challenges faced by young people running a business. However, we, the Gamechangers, reiterated that a lack of business development skills were in fact the most pressing challenge.

To solve this, more high quality business skills training and mentorship programs are needed. Undeniably, young people need financial capital to start and sustain these enterprises, but business skills to get business of of the ground in the first place are still scarce.

To get around this, young entrepreneurs often begin enterprises on a small scale and let their businesses grow at their own pace until enough capital is generated to increase in scale. This is their way of ‘getting by’.  

Following young people’s journeys in the Youth Think Tank report on Hospitality and Tourism, it’s worth noting that “work ethics, honesty/integrity and problem solving/efficiency skills”, were also identified as the most relevant skills demanded by employers during the workshop. There was on agreement that skills-based training programs should have curricula which prioritises soft skills development.

Beneditcta (second from the left) on a panel among the other Gamechangers at the Getting By workshop

To conclude the workshop, we agreed that the youth employment challenge cannot be fully understood or resolved without creating meaningful and accessible spaces for young people to engage in decision making and policy development or hold those, who make decisions on their behalf, accountable.

Looking back, the workshop has fuelled my desire to better understand what the future of work looks like for young people and how we as young people are shaping this future.

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