International Youth Day is August 12, 2017. This article is one of a series this week dedicated to how information and communication technologies (ICTs) can improve the lives of young people worldwide.
Today, the world has the largest youth population in history with an estimated 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 – 24.
Youth are often the drivers and influencers of social change and economic progress, nevertheless they remain one the most vulnerable groups in the digital age.
As the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), ITU works to advance modern technologies and to leverage them as tools to enhance education, promote inclusive social and economic development, reduce youth unemployment as well as promote safety and security of ICT devices and applications.
ITU News recently conducted an informal survey and interviews with several of the 45 interns currently working at ITU. They told ITU News they are proud to help the UN advance ICTs for youth opportunities — and that they are inspired to create an enabling environment for their generation and those that will follow.
The interns pointed out that being born and raised in a technologically-driven era — and considered ‘digital natives’ — puts them in a good position to leverage the transformative power of digital technologies in coming years.
“Young people at ITU come from different countries and are equipped with technical and professional skills. ITU gives us the opportunity to work in a multicultural team to communicate our ideas and make contributions to the field of ICTs,” as one intern from China said.
The interns expressed eagerness to engage and participate in conversations so that their voices are heard and their ideas are incorporated into the political and decision-making processes at the UN.
While many efforts and initiatives are already under way to empower youth through ICTs, the interns surveyed shared some of their top ideas for how ICTs can empower today’s youth. Here are a few:
Through promoting digital inclusiveness across borders, and across gender, socio-economic status — as well as digital skills development — ITU is playing a key role in expanding youth opportunities, they said. But more could be done.
The world’s developing regions have the ‘youngest’ populations in the world. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the youth population is the fastest growing segment with an estimated 60% of the population under 25.
“From the point of view of a developing country, where youth represents a large group of population and Internet and ICT services are being used widely,” an intern from Ethiopia said, “more initiatives and programs should target youth regardless of socio-economic background and gender…”
The interns also shared the belief that by continuing its work on digital skills development, ITU can help prepare millions of children and youth for future employment opportunities.
“ITU is uniquely placed to empower youth on digital skills as well as promote digital inclusion because of its position as an ICT specialized agency within the UN system,” an intern from Nigeria told ITU News.
Among the many imminent challenges that future generations will have to face, rising unemployment may be the most critical one, said many of the interns. The World Employment and Social Outlook 2016 report by International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates the number of unemployed youth will reach 71 million, which translates into a half a million increase from the previous year.
Workplace automation and the emergence of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) may lead to job shortages in many fields. This is one of the reasons why the interns surveyed agreed that youth employment should be a top priority for ITU and other international bodies.
It is important to recognize the power of ICTs to create new job opportunities, drive industry innovation, and build enabling environments for youth, they said. It is equally important to make sure that young people are equipped with the skill sets that meet the requirements of future job market.
Boosting digital literacy would help youth better prepare for the increasingly digital future and the interns surveyed said they believe it is crucial that youth have these advanced skills so that they are not left behind.
“As the world becomes more interconnected and tech-dependent, those who are not digitally literate will fall further and further behind in terms of opportunity and standard of living,” one intern from the United States told ITU News.
The interns agreed that there are many unknown risks and challenges in the near future, and that there should be more initiatives directed to help young people in the digital age to better cope with the disruptions brought by emerging technologies. “New talents would be discovered, and new innovations and new solutions would be found,” as one intern from France said.
Several interns added that they would love see more open courses available online – digital skills development courses, programs that promote innovation and entrepreneurship – especially in unserved or underserved regions. ITU should also continue its support for initiatives that incorporate digital technologies in education in places where resources are scant, they said.
ITU is actively taking part in initiatives to raise awareness and promote digital skills training such as coding bootcamps, the Digital Skills for Decent Jobs for Youth Campaign with ILO, and Girls in ICT.
The interns surveyed expressed that they’d like to see more structured dialogue with policy and decision-makers, like the EU/European Youth Portal, to create spaces for youth participation and more efforts to bring young people into the political processes.
The interns commended ITU for including youth and public voices into their strategic planning and say they look forward to more opportunities to make their voices heard for the empowerment and betterment of all through ICTs.
For more information about the ITU Internship Programme click here.