“In­cred­i­ble re­source­ful­ness”

The tec­tonic shifts in the la­bor mar­ket are af­fect­ing young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar. The busi­ness com­mu­nity and pol­i­cy­mak­ers need to help them – but for­tu­nately mil­len­ni­als are tak­ing charge of their own des­tiny.

Bulletin - - Jobs Of The Future - Photo: Stephen Voss / Redux / laif By IMF Man­ag­ing Direc­tor Chris­tine La­garde

IMF head Chris­tine La­garde talks about “young peo­ple to­day.”

T“The old,” as Os­car Wilde once re­marked, “be­lieve ev­ery­thing, the mid­dle-aged sus­pect ev­ery­thing – and the young know ev­ery­thing.” That’s why I ap­pre­ci­ate hear­ing young voices – from stu­dents to budding en­trepreneurs to newly elected lo­cal pol­i­cy­mak­ers. Their sto­ries res­onate with me be­cause they are deeply felt, in­sight­ful and in­spir­ing. Young peo­ple’s con­cerns vary by re­gion and cul­ture. But there are some ques­tions that I hear nearly ev­ery­where I go: Can I find mean­ing­ful work that al­lows me to help my com­mu­nity and sup­port my fam­ily? Can I start my own busi­ness – and if so, how suc­cess­ful will it be?

There is much hope in these ques­tions, but they also con­vey a sense of doubt and trep­i­da­tion – and for good rea­son. Un­for­tu­nately, young peo­ple to­day are twice as likely to be un­em­ployed as the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. In France, for ex­am­ple, youth un­em­ploy­ment is nearly 20 per­cent, while over­all un­em­ploy­ment is about 10 per­cent, with coun­tries like Brazil and Egypt fac­ing sim­i­lar prob­lems. Around the world, youth un­em­ploy­ment reached 71 mil­lion last year, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates by the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ILO).

To make mat­ters more com­pli­cated, young peo­ple are con­fronted with tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions that could elim­i­nate their jobs. This trans­for­ma­tion leaves ev­ery­one – es­pe­cially young work­ers – guess­ing which jobs will still be around a decade from now and how they can pre­pare them­selves for them.

Ever New Skills For­tu­nately, young peo­ple have the tools in hand to pre­pare them­selves for these tec­tonic shifts in the la­bor mar­ket.

In my con­ver­sa­tions, I quickly pick up on the fact that this gen­er­a­tion op­er­ates on a steep learn­ing curve. Many stu­dents now em­brace the idea of con­tin­u­ous train­ing and take it as a given that they must add new skills through­out their lives.

I have seen first­hand the in­cred­i­ble re­source­ful­ness of mil­len­ni­als as they try to take con­trol of their fu­ture. Many are not will­ing to wait for a job in the civil ser­vice or in a large com­pany. They strike out and start their own busi­nesses. They de­vise new on­line plat­forms and dis­cover mar­kets that pre­vi­ously did not ex­ist. What I see is a gen­er­a­tion that, if faced with un­em­ploy­ment, in­no­vates to cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties.

But this ap­proach alone is not enough. Gov­ern­ments have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to build an en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows

young peo­ple to fully re­al­ize their po­ten­tial. This means break­ing down reg­u­la­tory bar­ri­ers, sup­port­ing en­trepreneurs who may not suc­ceed on their first at­tempt, and in­vest­ing in men­tor­ship pro­grams. How can this be done?

No Magic For­mula There is no magic for­mula that works in all coun­tries, but I see sev­eral prac­ti­cal solutions. One is struc­tured vo­ca­tional train­ing, which has kept youth un­em­ploy­ment low in coun­tries such as Switzer­land, Ger­many and the Nether­lands.

An­other so­lu­tion is giv­ing young women bet­ter ac­cess to child care cen­ters and flex­i­ble ma­ter­nity ben­e­fits. These ef­forts can rein­vig­o­rate la­bor mar­kets.

In cer­tain coun­tries, a 10-per­cent­age-point de­crease in gen­der in­equal­ity could boost growth by 2 per­cent­age points over the next five years.

At the same time, our mem­ber na­tions need to re­move bar­ri­ers to com­pe­ti­tion and cut red tape. These re­forms must of course be coun­try-spe­cific. In ad­vanced economies, we es­ti­mate that if re­search and de­vel­op­ment were in­creased by 40 per­cent, na­tions could grow their GDP by 5 per­cent in the long term.

How Can the IMF Help? Wise pol­icy de­ci­sions can en­cour­age young peo­ple to work for them­selves or start a com­pany. Our mis­sion at the IMF is to help ad­dress these chal­lenges by en­cour­ag­ing greater public in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion and job train­ing pro­grams – and we are push­ing for such re­forms in our lend­ing pro­grams.

We also need more public-pri­vate part­ner­ships that can make train­ing pro­grams more ef­fec­tive. A good ex­am­ple is Sin­ga­pore’s Skills Fu­ture pro­gram, which of­fers un­con­di­tional grants to all adults for train­ing through­out their work­ing lives.

But train­ing is only one piece of the puzzle. There is so much more that gov­ern­ments and busi­ness can do to har­ness the power of in­no­va­tion. Fin­tech, for ex­am­ple, is a fas­ci­nat­ing field where more in­vest­ment is needed.

A Ca­reer in the 21st Cen­tury If I were en­ter­ing the job mar­ket to­day, I would fo­cus on two things. First, a will­ing­ness to learn through­out your life. There is no “end” to ed­u­ca­tion; there are sim­ply mile­stones of progress.

Sec­ond, open­ness to chang­ing course. We no longer have the lux­ury of be­ing trained only in one field or pro­fes­sion. In my life, I started as a lawyer, be­came a fi­nance min­is­ter, and now lead the IMF. The younger gen­er­a­tion will face even more twists and turns on their pro­fes­sional jour­ney. If they em­brace those changes, they can bring new per­spec­tive gained from each po­si­tion into the next.

To re­turn to Os­car Wilde: He once said, “To de­fine is to limit.” There is no pre­cise def­i­ni­tion of what a ca­reer or job will look like for the world’s young in the new econ­omy. This opac­ity leads to un­der­stand­able anx­i­ety and un­cer­tainty. At the same time, there’s no limit to the pos­si­bil­i­ties. This is the great op­por­tu­nity for the next gen­er­a­tion, and I trust that the en­tire global com­mu­nity will help them seize it.

“Dis­cov­er­ing mar­kets that pre­vi­ously did not ex­ist.”

Chris­tine La­garde, 61, has led the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF) since 2011. A lawyer, she pre­vi­ously served as the French govern­ment’s eco­nomics and fi­nance min­is­ter.

© Chris­tine La­garde, “The Voice of Youth,” Fi­nance & De­vel­op­ment, June 2017

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