The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the youth hardest – according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) more than one in six young people are no longer working. Even those still employed have lost around a quarter of their working hours, and many are reporting delays in their education and training.
The issue is particularly acute in the Middle East, which even prior to the pandemic, had the highest baseline levels of youth unemployment globally. The situation is equally concerning in Africa where the African Union predicts about 20 million jobs are at risk.
In response to the “lockdown generation” crisis, Microsoft and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) are creating a Global Skills Academy. The partnership, which includes other major organisations like Coursera, Dior and IBM, aims to create opportunities for digital upskilling and enable free access to employability-oriented training materials. The Academy is a result of the UNESCO Global Education Coalition, launched in March to support countries in responding to COVID-19.
“We are proud to be working with UNESCO and the members of the Global Education Coalition to support those who most need skilling in a post-COVID-19 world. Through Microsoft’s contribution of digital curriculum and skills programmes, we will help young people get the IT skills they need to be successful on the job market,” said Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Education at Microsoft.
The Global Skills Academy will reach young people through the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training network, which connects 250 vocational education centres in 160 countries across the world.
“The crisis has highlighted the urgency of equipping youth with the right skills to accelerate the transition to more inclusive, sustainable and resilient economies,” said Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO. “This requires massive investment in education and skills training and expanded partnerships with employers to narrow the gap between demand for skills and the workplace.”
Digital skills are in serious demand around the world, but few vocational organisations are prepared to offer training in cloud computing, AI, machine learning and data analytics. Microsoft Learn for Students and Educators, which is among the digital curriculum provided by the Global Skills Academy, will be a key part of bridging this gap. It offers students engaging, entry-level courses and builds up to programmes that develop professional skills for free. Educators can also access teaching materials to supplement the self-paced learning available on the platform.
The Microsoft and UNESCO partnership has already had significant impact in Africa through the Global Coalition. It’s expected through this new programme that the initiative will have even greater impact across the broader Middle East and Africa region, reaching many more students who are most in need.