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Opportunities and Challenges Ahead for Unemployed Youth

“The youth unemployment epidemic has no easy solution; the disruptions emerging today can either exacerbate the problem, or we can harness them to improve the lives of young people.”

Today, IFTF and The Rockefeller Foundation announce the release of the Future of Youth Employment report. The report offers an in-depth look at the changing nature of work in the United States—from microwork, to new coordination and automation technologies, and beyond. The report explores challenges and opportunities these changes present for poor and vulnerable youth, and suggests policies and actions corporations, governments, and nonprofits can take to ensure positive futures for them. In 2013, 22.5 percent of workers aged 16-19 were unemployed, compared to 5.1 percent of workers aged 55-64. The youth unemployment epidemic has no easy solution; the disruptions emerging today can either exacerbate the problem, or we can harness them to improve the lives of young people.

We are in the midst of a historic transformation in the nature of work and structure of American jobs. A host of technologies—including automation and the development of digital platforms for coordination of tasks such as Uber and Shyp—are transforming not just what people do to earn their livelihoods, but at a much deeper level, how we organize to create value. New types of worker archetypes are emerging, among them micro-taskers—people signed up on multiple digital coordination platforms, such as Uber, Lyft, Gigwalk, MobileWorks, and many others, whose work experience does not involve stable 9-5 jobs, but rather a series of tasks performed in flexible windows of time.

At the same time, companies such as eLance and LiveOps, using similar online coordination platforms, are able to assemble and coordinate teams in the cloud to provide sales and customer support, help with editorial work, conduct research, design and prototype products, and perform many other tasks and organizational functions. As a result, many workers in the U.S. feel the impacts of global labor arbitrage more keenly than ever before. It’s easy to find the best programmers, the best editors, the best designers from anywhere in the world. New digital platforms are beginning to act as real-time online staffing agencies, bridging borders, orchestrating complex tasks across teams of micro-workers, and integrating the global workforce at unprecedented levels and speeds.

The Future of Youth Employment report helps us understand this fascinating new world from the perspective of strategic opportunities for creating positive change for vulnerable young workers—a lens sorely missing from current discussions on the future of work. For instance, the coordination platforms like Lyft and Uber enable workers to set their own schedules, something invaluable for students or parents with family obligations. At the same time, non-formal work structures undermine long-standing policies for workforce protection, pay equality, and social benefits. The report outlines different scenarios illustrating how real workers struggle with the challenges changing nature of work creates, and outlines policy recommendations to address this dilemma, including:

  • Promote employer acceptance of alternative credentialing to level the playing field for workers without a four-year college education.
  • Improve the school-to-work pipeline to facilitate more effective search, hiring, and tracking of job candidates.
  • Incentivize companies to deploy online and on-the-job upskilling curricula as a tool for finding, vetting, and promoting new workers to greatly reduce costs and hiring risks.

The report is the product of research supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, and leverages IFTF’s existing expertise in scenario development and futures research. In the process of doing research, IFTF conducted an expert workshop at the Foundation’s headquarters in New York City, attended by senior corporate executives in HR and strategy, professionals in education and labor, and policy experts and practitioners.

We are pleased to release this report to the public and hope that governments and NGOs will take this opportunity to read through and explore their own strategic responses to the changing nature of work.

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