Nº 2 2014 > Youth and tech jobs

Youth employment

Harnessing technology for jobs

Kelvin Doe — an inspiring teenager from Sierra LeoneYouth employmentYouth employment
Kelvin Doe — an inspiring teenager from Sierra Leone

Kelvin Doe is an inspiring teenager from Sierra Leone, whose self-taught technical wizardry and abilities attracted the attention of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — one of the most prestigious technical schools in the world. He became the youngest fellow at MIT’s International Development Initiative, demonstrating his impressive skills to more experienced engineers. Kelvin also participated in the “Meet the Young Makers” panel at the 2012 Maker Faire in New York, serving as an inspiration to young innovators.

Kelvin used his hands-on, do-it-yourself “maker” creativity to build a self-powered FM community radio station — with transmitters, generators and batteries made from recycled waste. Kelvin operated the radio station, broadcasting as DJ Focus.

This story from a new ITU report Digital opportunities: Innovative ICT solutions for youth employment, suggests there could be many Kelvins out there. The report was produced by the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) and grew out of the Youth Employment & Entrepreneurship partnership between ITU and Telecentre.org, and was published to coincide with the World Telecommunication Development Conference taking place in Dubai from 30 March to 10 April 2014. Here are some highlights from the report.


Today, 73 million young people are unemployed worldwide, and three times as many are underemployed — often those working in the informal sector, facing low wages, no benefits, and a higher probability of being laid off. A further 621 million youth are said to be “idle” — not in education or training, and not looking for employment. Youth make up 17 per cent of the world’s population and 40 per cent of the world’s unemployed.

The costs to society are huge when young people disengage from school and work. For example, absorbing just 20 per cent of alienated youth into the European labour market would save European Union countries more than EUR 21 billion a year collectively, according to the report. In the United States, the social cost for each young disengaged individual is estimated at USD 37 450 per year.

“When youth struggle at the beginning of their careers the repercussions can last a lifetime. This is not a future we want for the next generation, making it imperative that we take concrete steps to ensure youth have meaningful work opportunities and can lead productive and fulfilling lives,” says Brahima Sanou, Director of BDT, in his foreword to Digital opportunities: Innovative ICT solutions for youth employment.

Digital natives

Advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) are transforming old sectors and creating new ones. For most jobs, digital literacy is becoming as important as reading and writing. People with advanced digital skills can embark on a wide range of business and entrepreneurial careers.

An opportunity open to youth is the ITU Young Innovators Competition, held annually as part of ITU Telecom World. Hosted by Bangkok in 2013 and Dubai in 2012, the event offers young entrepreneurs intensive one-on-one sessions with industry mentors, including ongoing support over a one-year development period. There are training sessions focused on developing entrepreneurial skills, as well as opportunities to network with ICT representatives in industry, government and academia. In Dubai, for example, nearly 400 entrepreneurs aged 18–25 from 77 countries had the opportunity to showcase their ICT-based projects.

As early adopters of ICT, young people are better positioned than their parents’ generation to harness the power of digital technologies in new and imaginative ways. To do so, they need a range of web skills.

How can young people become ICT-savvy? Teachers can act as facilitators of learning, while students can own the learning process and acquire knowledge at their own pace. New ways of interacting in the learning environment are emerging. Three such models are blended learning, self-directed learning and collaborative learning.

Blended learning integrates digital and face-to-face instruction. It relies on digital environments that enable the creation of a virtual classroom.

In self-directed learning, motivated students can choose from the vast amount of free educational content available on the Internet, creating their own learning pathways, and choosing what and when to learn, including in massive online open courses (MOOCs).

Collaborative learning allows peers to share their knowledge, explore new areas of interest, and benefit from the cumulative knowledge of the group. Evidence suggests that working collaboratively improves learning outcomes. Technology hubs, coworking spaces, hackerspaces and makerspaces are popular with young people.

Of course, job seekers need to show evidence of their knowledge or skills, because employers judge candidates based on their qualifications.

Certificates can be obtained online or through certification centres. Technology companies, including Microsoft, Cisco, HP, Samsung, Apple and Google, also offer certificates.

The Mozilla Foundation, through its Mozilla Open Badges initiative, offers “badges” — online representations of skills learned — as a new form of accreditation.

BDT has created the new Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Resources Database (available at www.itu.int/ITU-D/youth) to assist young people to find and use these digital opportunities.

Digital careers

Thanks to ICT, skill-intensive activities can now be performed anywhere. Information technology, business processes and industry-specific services, for example, can all be outsourced. The offshore services industry employs about 4.1 million people around the world, offering good salaries and careers for graduates and professionals, and the opportunity to incorporate unemployed youth, rural women and other marginalized groups into the labour market.

More recently, other ICT-driven job markets have emerged. For example, microwork refers to a series of small tasks (part of a larger business process or project) that can be completed via the Internet or mobile devices. The World Bank estimates that the global microwork market generates USD 450 to 900 million annually, employing 1.45 to 2.9 million microworkers. Crowdsourcing operates in a similar way to microwork but tends to require higher-level technical skills and to involve larger projects.

The app economy

The app economy has grown in sync with the rise of smartphones, tablets and social media. From 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, up to July 2013, the app economy had generated roughly 752 000 app-related jobs in the United States and 530 000 jobs in the 28 European Union countries.

Apps have inspired a new class of entrepreneurs, spawning a multibillion-dollar industry virtually overnight. The Apple App store surpassed a million apps in October 2013. The number of apps for Android has risen at roughly the same pace.

Games are considered to be the most lucrative apps. Young people around the world aspire to cash in by creating the next Angry Birds. Interestingly, winners of Pivot East’s recent app competitions for the mobile and developer communities in East Africa have both been games — a racing game called “Matatu” (meaning privately owned minibuses mainly used in Kenya) that has been downloaded 150 000 times in over 200 countries, and Tough Jungle, an action game with an African jungle setting.

But will the app economy produce enough revenue in emerging markets to support this new generation of entrepreneurs? That remains to be seen. Sustaining an app in the market requires more than developing and launching the app, and waiting for profits to roll in. It requires continuous investment in development, upgrades and new features.


Young people can become job creators rather than job seekers, although successful entrepreneurship requires motivated people with the right set of abilities — ICT skills are just one component — as well as funding.

“ITU has a long history in helping young people to become entrepreneurs and launch ICT careers. That’s why I am proud to be the Patron of the Young Innovators Programme at ITU Telecom World events, and why, as Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector, I am fully engaged in empowering youth through initiatives such as my flagship m-Powering Development initiative, which seeks to harness the power of mobile phones to promote education, commerce, health, sport and more. International Girls in ICT Day, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every April, is likewise designed to ensure that young women join the swelling ranks of ICT careers,” says Mr Sanou.

Business incubators around the world are seeking to emulate the successes of Silicon Valley. Wired Magazine likens the opportunities in Africa to those of the pre-dotcom boom. Kenya’s Silicon Savannah has become a hotbed for innovation, start-ups and app creation. Google, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia and Vodafone all have a presence there, and IBM recently chose Nairobi for its first African research lab. Nigeria is becoming known as Silicon Lagoon. Amman, Jordan has been dubbed Silicon Wadi (Arabic for valley). Latin America is also experiencing a boom of start-ups, business accelerators and incubators.

Oasis 500, a seed investment company based in Jordan, serves the Arab States. It provides entrepreneurs in the ICT, digital media and mobile sectors with money, training and mentorship to transform their business ideas and start-ups into high growth companies. Entrepreneurs submit a start-up plan, and if selected get USD 15 000 in seed capital. The funded start-ups are required to go through an intensive five-week boot camp in how to build a company, and are given office space for three to six months. For those that manage to grow after their first stage of incubation, there is more funding, legal advice, mentoring and networking opportunities with local business leaders, and possibly investment directly from Oasis 500. Since starting up in 2010, Oasis 500 has received 2000 applications and has invested in 49 companies.

The Internet houses a multitude of resources for entrepreneurs, from online mentoring and networking to crowdfunding and contents which have become new mechanisms for attracting seed funds.

Green jobs

A shift to a greener economy in response to the global environmental crisis could generate an estimated 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades, presenting an opportunity for youth. A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development argues that promoting ICT skills in the green and smart economy pays a double dividend by encouraging job creation and accelerating the transition to green growth.

ITU, as part of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), called for the identification of concrete targets and a specific road map for the use of ICT as part of sustainable development strategies, as well as to mobilize the financial and human resources required to implement ICT strategies towards greener and more resilient societies.

To sum up

The information technology revolution is reshaping established industrial sectors and generating new ones.

The private sector, foundations, non-profit organizations and governments are making a wide range of resources available to help young people get a job or start a business.

Governments can promote youth employability and entrepreneurship by integrating ICT into education, embracing MOOCs, hackathons, contests and other non-formal channels of learning and supporting alternative accreditation schemes. Governments can also foster dialogue with the private sector to overcome youth employment challenges.

Europe, for example, is proposing “Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Youth” as a regional initiative to be discussed at the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Dubai. If adopted, the initiative would be implemented in the period 2015–2018. By creating an enabling environment and building capacities at regional level, the aim is to increase entrepreneurship and innovation in the ICT ecosystem, while encouraging the empowerment of young people.

The goal of this ITU report is to raise awareness about these new trends, share resources to address the needs of youth and support governments in implementing youth employment and entrepreneurship strategies.



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