Written by Ponce Ernest Samaniego, ADB Youth Partner
The world’s first global generation, my generation, is popularly called “Generation Y.” We have also been called Echo boomers, Millennials, or “Generation WHY” (you would understand if you happen to be one of our parents). However, these labels have not been used as often lately by the global community. Instead, the world has started calling us a new name: “The Lost Generation.”
This new tag refers to the escalating levels of global youth unemployment at a scale unseen before. In Asia Pacific, 350 million workers aged 15 to 24 years provide huge potential for stimulating economic growth and fuelling the region’s continuing development. However, while only 20 percent of the region’s total workforce falls into this age bracket, these young people account for almost half the Asia-Pacific's jobless. At around 36.4 million, the region has the biggest portion of unemployed youth.
At the same time, the 152 million young people in middle and low income countries who do find work are paid, on average, less than US$1.25 per day, making them part of the working poor. Forced out of school due to economic reasons, 24% of working youth in Asia are stuck in low paying jobs in vulnerable conditions. Left unassisted, these young people are likely to be trapped for the rest of their lives.
How we prepare the next generation
Despite great advances in primary schooling in developing countries, education policies largely remain focused on increasing the number of people who go through the system, rather than the learning that takes place in the classroom. This begs the question: if the kind of education that we are getting does not prepare us for the world that we will face, is it necessarily progress?
Education must evolve in order to prepare our generation for the challenges ahead. It must mold us to be entrepreneurial. It must empower us to seek opportunities ourselves and enable us to find different ways to earn during the course of our lives. We, students, must be prepared by our educators to thrive in uncertainty and to embrace the failures that may come. We need students who are not afraid to make intelligent mistakes, who will eventually become risk-taking entrepreneurs and innovative leaders.
Investing in the next generation
Despite the overwhelming numbers, the youth unemployment crisis can, and must be seen, as an opportunity. Of the 1.5 billion people aged between 12 and 24 years old, 1.3 billion live in developing countries. If they can be successfully engaged in the formal economy through the right policies and investments, we have the capacity to substantially boost growth in developing economies. Our generation is an untapped, valuable resource worth empowering and investing in to ensure sustainable development.
While we have been described as impatient, narcissistic, and easily-distracted, ours is, arguably, the most educated and technologically equipped generation to have ever walked the planet. We have learned to value independence and autonomy and we believe in our duty to improve our communities in the areas of race, gender, environment, faith and politics. We have an unquestionable belief in human potential and an innate desire to save the world.
The next few years will be crucial as the global community makes decisions which will determine if we will continue to be the “lost generation” or a generation whose vast potential can be unlocked to tackle the enormous social, economic, and environmental challenges that lie before us all.