75 million young people around the world are facing a dire unemployment crisis with the potential of decades-long repercussions. The outlook is bleak: young adults who are out of work or underemployed are more likely to be unemployed, living in poverty or dependent on welfare later in life.
Investments in the full spectrum of technology education -- from digital literacy training to computer science engineering -- play a critical role in tackling the situation. If we do not mobilize to provide these vital tools, skills and education, we will squander the incredible potential of the world's youth and put at risk our future global economic security.
Employers increasingly require that anyone hoping to secure stable employment possess basic digital literacy skills. It's difficult to imagine an entrepreneurial venture in any sector succeeding without a solid grasp of those skills. Technology is no longer niche; it is part of our everyday lives. And it has the profound power to transform our communities.
Digital literacy is part of the answer, but it is not all of it. By investing also in computer science engineering education, we will invest today in the innovators and creators of new technologies of tomorrow. We will open the doors to new business ideas and innovations that span multiple industries and enable job creation across multiple sectors and geographies.
Giuseppe Porcaro, secretary-general of the European Youth Forum (YFJ), stated in a recent op-ed: "Policy-makers, educators, parents and pupils must understand that computer literacy and programming are no longer hobbies for 'geeks,' but a necessity for those who want to profit from the rapid growth of the digital economy."
The benefits of computer science education extend far and wide. It inspires the combination of critical thinking and creativity needed to solve complex problems and societal issues, launch businesses, and bring new industries to life. When four Ukrainian students challenged themselves to improve communication between the hearing-impaired and non-impaired, they did not solve the problem by inventing a new sign language. They embedded flex sensors, gyroscopes, touch sensors and accelerometers into gloves, enabling instant translation from sign language into the written word. Similarly, three young men in Uganda used their computer science education to create a portable, mobile and affordable device to aid with prenatal health in rural areas where quality medical care is too far away for the mothers who need it most.
In the United States, computer science continues to be an engine for economic growth, yet not one of the 50 states requires students to take computer science to graduate. This contributes to the talent gap that companies like Microsoft struggle with, so we have explored ways to partner with the school system. One program, TEALS, pairs high-tech professionals with in-service faculty in high schools to help teach computer science curricula. TEALS is in 70 schools in 12 states with 280 high-tech professionals volunteering to teach basic and advanced placement computer science to more than 3,300 students. The numbers don't tell the whole story. We invest in these programs because of students like Jeremy Moore who saw a future he never imagined unfold in front of his eyes.
And an intensive technology training program convinced Japan's Riri Kawakubo, originally a painter and English culture major at university, that technology is not just a tool for entertainment. The artist-turned-developer has embraced computer science education and the power of being able to create apps that connect and build communities.
Last September, we convened a group of young leaders to discuss the state of the world's youth in depth. The insights shared by YouthSpark advisors from Brazil, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Morocco, Romania, Sweden and the United States reinforced one central tenet of our efforts to reverse the youth unemployment crisis: this is a problem for which there is not one solution; it will require local and regional support from around the world, especially with respect to the role of technology. The private and public sectors must act quickly and collectively to empower today's youth with the skills and education required to build and succeed in the 21st century economy.
When young people see a spark of opportunity, they seize it. We must ignite those sparks and fan the flames of opportunity for our youth today and for our futures tomorrow.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2014 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 22-25). The Forum's Strategic Partner community comprises a select group of leading global companies representing diverse regions and industries that have been selected for their alignment with the Forum's commitment to improving the state of the world. Read all the posts in the series here.