About the arrival of the World Youth Skills Day – recognized in mid-July – data published UNICEF and the Education Commission highlight the challenge facing the next generation of workers. A survey of young people aged 15 to 24 from 92 countries found that nearly 75% are currently not on track to acquire the skills they need for employment.
It’s a wake-up call that was glaring but long overdue. The acceleration of digital transformation has changed the value and application of professional skills, and while this has become a more important topic during the pandemic, we have been witnessing this transition for the past two decades. We must recognize these trends and adjust the way we prepare young people for the roads ahead.
Creating next-generation change-makers with powerful skills
One of the most significant skill shifts we’ve seen in recent times is communication skills. As businesses increasingly automate administrative tasks, professionals are focusing on new responsibilities that require a combination of skills such as communication, creativity, emotional intelligence, leadership and problem solving. We call these skills that are important to businesses today and tomorrow “power skills”.
Those who develop a strong set of leadership skills are best positioned to become the next generation of leaders capable of turning ideas into reality. These are the individuals we call agents of change. In a world facing demands for transformation – whether it’s going digital or transitioning to a carbon-free economy – people who can make a difference are an invaluable asset to their employees and their societies.
Organizations already recognize this: our data shows that more than half (54%) of agile businesses favor the development of soft skills over traditional hard skills, compared to 42% of traditional businesses. It is important to emphasize that change-makers are not limited to those in leadership positions. It is critical to engage with young people entering the workforce to empower them to make an impact from day one.
This mentality is only born from a solid set of strength skills. Therefore, both employers and educators have a responsibility to ensure that they develop learning opportunities and training for young people to learn and develop effective leadership skills early in their careers. If done effectively, young professionals can have an exceptional impact on the world around them, as shown by the winners of our List of future 50 for 2022. These 50 future leaders, who use bold and innovative thinking to change the world through iconic projects, represent a new generation of fearless change-makers dedicated to creating a better tomorrow.
Presenting design skills through creative channels
When we think about how we introduce these new skills to young people, it’s easy to limit our imaginations to traditional classroom learning. Educators are well aware that everyone has their own learning style.
The key to unlocking potential at an early age will be providing opportunities to learn new strength skills through project-based learning. We need to encourage teachers, tutors and mentors to be creative in how they introduce students to project management. Project management training is now a recognized pathway to upskilling and training for employment. At PMI, we see this as an important part of our mission to empower young people to learn important life and professional skills through project-based principles.
A prime example of this concept in action is F1 in schoolsthe world’s leading STEM competition for young students aged 11-19. The Project Management Institute Education Foundation has partnered with F1 in Schools to integrate a customized project management program into the competition, enabling nearly 1 million students from around the world to learn the basics of project management.
This initiative promotes STEM skills in a practical setting, capitalizing on the growth of F1 fans among young people. The F1 in Schools competition now includes a special category awarding the team with the best demonstration of project management skills.
By requiring competitors to document their project management processes through the creation of a seven-page portfolio – and consider how they can best optimize their actions – F1 in Schools takes the skill set into a real-world scenario that demonstrates its value.
This advantage was on display when we spoke to this year’s project management award winners, University College of Technology Scarborough (UTC) in the UK. Team project manager Libby Atkin, 17, said: “Before F1 in schools, I had a basic understanding of what project management was but no idea how to put it into practice. During this competition, I learned a lot of skills and principles that gave me more confidence to work and start my career.”
Team leader Missy, 18, also from Scarborough UTC, explained how applying her project management training helped her cope with the pressures of work and student life. “I had my A-Levels on the day of the national F1 in schools and the exam the next day. My newly acquired design skills helped me balance studying, revising and doing everything for the competition. Using project management training made the experience more efficient and less stressful.”
Project skills as an important pathway for graduates
The hot topic of employment becomes even more important when young people start to pursue further and higher education. University and college students are under pressure to clarify and decide on their careers. Further education institutions are now beginning to recognize the value of a more skills-based approach to preparing their students for the workforce. This is an opportunity for graduates – regardless of their study path – to develop design skills that they can apply to their chosen path.
Complementing the qualification with additional skills-based learning equips a new generation of young people with important business skills such as team management, goal setting, adapting to new ways of working and time management. These skills can be applied across many roles and industries, arming them with the tools to work effectively and making them more employable.
Moreover, upskilling young professionals through project management training can unlock their potential for collaboration and leadership. Communication and stakeholder management are integral things for project professionals. Let’s unlock these opportunities for graduates to become our next generation leaders through skills-based learning.
At PMI, we believe that today’s leaders can learn from young people. We can learn from their flexibility, drive, motivation to change the world, and the value of fresh perspectives. Coupled with a generation that is even more digitally literate than the last, young professionals bring so much to rapidly changing organizations – unlocking their potential and preparing them for the workplace will be key. There is a clear case for empowering this generation to be the initiators of change.
Turning climate protection into a career
Another area where passion and skills can come together is in sustainable development. UN recently wrote: “youth are not only victims of climate change, but also valuable participants in climate action. They are change agents, entrepreneurs and innovators. At a time when the green skills gap is a major obstacle between governments and organizations and their sustainability goals, how they harness the passion of the next generation can determine long-term success or failure.
The growing presence of sustainability as a boardroom topic has brought with it demand for new roles and skill sets that are scarce in the job market. One example is carbon accounting, which will be mandatory for organizations to accurately track progress toward their net zero goals and identify opportunities for improvement. However, carbon accounting talent is rare and commands a premium in competitive environmental recruiting. This is a gap waiting to be filled by the next generation of sustainability workers.
If governments, education bodies and organizations recognized emerging green skills gaps and responded accordingly – either through curriculum changes, new university course options or stronger efforts to upskill workers – the UK could create a net zero talent hotspot and create experts needed by businesses to meet climate goals. We’ve seen this approach contribute to the UK’s status as a tech hub – with an ever-growing stream of programmers, developers and programmers – so know that it can be effective when done right.
Education professionals know from experience the enormous potential of this generation. Introducing design and power skills into the curriculum is a new way to enhance their talents, giving them practical tools for life and future careers. Moreover, design skills empower this generation to become leaders and change-makers, arming them with practical tools to positively impact the world.
Olivier Lazar, Vice President of Youth and Social Impact at the Project Management Institute Chief Operating Officer of the Project Management Institute Educational Fund
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