Bridging the Gap between Young People’s Career Aspirations & Ability to Succeed

By Brandee McHale, President of the Citi Foundation

Young people today make up the largest youth population in history. Their successes and struggles are as diverse as their personalities and aspirations. However, in all corners of the globe, this generation faces a common challenge: persistent, high rates of youth unemployment. Left unaddressed, the consequences reverberate across our cities and affect us all. When young people don’t see or have a sustainable economic path, our families and communities also suffer. In fact, the futures of cities are intrinsically tied to the economic success of young people.

There is a silver lining, however, and it comes directly from the young people themselves. We know that young people remain optimistic, entrepreneurial, and have an idea for what they need to succeed. We wanted to capture these drivers and learn how municipal leaders, civil society, the private sector, and others can work together to bridge the gap between the economic aspirations – where they want to go – and the reality of young people – where they actually are. Young people believe in a brighter future and it is up to us to help afford them that opportunity. That’s why the Citi Foundation recently announced our commitment to go “All In” for young people – more on that in a bit.

To further flesh out the gap between aspiration and reality, the Citi Foundation commissioned a survey with Ipsos to build on existing research and further gauge the economic prospects and pursuits of youth in 45 cities across 32 countries around the world. The results can be found in our Global Youth Survey 2017: Economic Prospects & Expectations, and is based on the voices of more than 7,000 young people. We learned about what careers they want to pursue, the availability of resources that help connect them to job opportunities, and the obstacles that stand in their way.

Here are some of the findings that stood out to us:

  • Despite uncertainty and change across the globe, 70% of young people are optimistic about their career prospects. Optimism is even higher in cities in developing markets and the fact remains that worldwide 71 million young people are looking for work.
  • More often than not, there is a mismatch in the jobs youth have and what they want to do. Globally, 55% of employed young people are currently working in an industry in which they don’t aspire to work. To find new opportunities, young people are craving on-the-job experience and professional and social connections.
  • 78% of young people believe internships/apprenticeships are critical for success; however 60% say there aren’t enough of these opportunities.
  • Youth have the entrepreneurial spirit but are not starting businesses. Nearly 70% of young people surveyed aspire to be entrepreneurs, yet only 6% are actual entrepreneurs at present.
  • Three out of four young people are willing to work long hours and take risks to achieve their career aspirations.

With a rapidly changing and complex economic and social environment, these insights will help guide our approach to investing in our future leaders, starting with the global expansion of our Pathways to Progress initiative. We’re investing $100 million, over the next three years, to prepare young people, ages 16-24, for today’s competitive job market. Our goal is to connect 500,000 young people to jobs and economic opportunity. This is the largest philanthropic commitment in the Citi Foundation’s history and is in addition to the previously announced $50 million effort in the U.S., which in its first three years helped 100,000 young people become career-ready and employable.

Through Pathways to Progress, we are collaborating with municipal and community leaders working to tackle youth unemployment in cities around the world. Some of these programs include:

  • Expanding Youth Business International’s efforts to provide more than 5,000 young aspiring entrepreneurs across European cities such as Paris, Milan and Madrid with entrepreneurship training, access to capital, mentoring and other business development services.
  • Partnering with Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund and mayors across eight U.S. cities to create summer job and financial empowerment opportunities for more than 2,400 young people this year.

With more than 1.2 billion young people in the world, 156 million working but still living in poverty, and 71 million not working at all, it’s clear we have our work cut out for us. But we all have a role to play in addressing this challenge: we can act as mentors to would-be young entrepreneurs as they start their businesses; we can provide or support a crucial foundation that comes with a first job experience; and we can all share what helped us succeed and fail. Together, we can help the next generation to be the most employable yet, and help them reach their full potential for everyone’s sake.

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