09/19/2013 11:42 am ET Updated Nov 19, 2013

Tackling Youth Unemployment is the Most Important Issue

Building on the first debate to accelerate progress towards the MDGs, the Skoll World Forum partnered with Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Huffington Post to produce another online debate--this time focused on critical issues that do not have enough of a spotlight in the discussions on how to achieve the MDGs or what should be in the next global development framework. As part of that discussion, we asked some of the world's leading experts what's not being discussed during UN Week this year about the post-2015 development framework, but should be? View the full debate here.

Problem: If nothing is done, by 2015 young people aged 16-24 not in employment, education, or training will rise to 660 million.

Barrier to Progress: Not enough opportunities for training, job creation, and supporting innovative ideas.

Solution: Governments should play a role in addressing youth joblessness by incentivizing the training of young people; encourage job creation; support programs for young entrepreneurs; and tap into this generation's desire to give back and build a better world.

The conversation we need above all at the UN today is about how to tackle youth unemployment. Already the number of young people aged 16-24 not in employment, education or training is bigger than the population of the USA; by 2015, if nothing is done, it will rise to 660 million, forecasts the International Labor Office (ILO). No wonder The Economist called the young people who have started reaching working age in the past few years, "Generation Jobless".

Unemployment is bad at any age. But the evidence shows that people who struggle to find work during their first few years in the labor market will be at a serious disadvantage for the rest of their careers. They are likely to earn lower wages and face a higher probability of future joblessness compared to those who enter the workforce more successfully. If we do not make this issue a priority, we risk seeing an entire generation of people cursed to be marginalized at work - and because so much else depends on having a decent job, marginalized in society, too.

This will require every part of society to act and partner, but I am going to focus in particular on the role that government should play.

So what are the solutions we should be talking about? I believe governments need to implement policies in four key areas focused on increasing the employability of young people and creating work for them.

First, we need to train young people better in the skills that are most needed by today's employers. To strengthen the bridge crossing the gap between education and work, we need entirely new types of partnerships between government, academia and the private sector. The private sector can provide employees with opportunities to act as mentors in university- and school-based training programs for young workers-an approach that will yield fulfillment and retention dividends both for the current workers and for potential employees. Institutions of higher education can extend serious invitations to corporate partners to collaborate on curricular design. And governments should hold universities accountable for the extend to which they succeed in preparing youth for the workforce, at the same time that they recognize and reward those companies whose commitment to bridging the skill-gap is exceptional. Governments should also encourage the development of entrepreneurial curriculums at universities, colleges and even for younger people in K-12 education.

Going further, to encourage job creation, governments can provide tax breaks and matching grants to firms that hire young people in high growth industry sectors. They can work with business to develop the sort of apprenticeship schemes that have helped limit youth unemployment in, say, Germany. Companies that do step up to provide work for young people should be celebrated in the media.

Government also can directly employ youth-potentially in large numbers-as gatherers and validators of data of many types, including those that pertain to the effectiveness of government-supported programs. This is an old idea given new life and urgency by the near-ubiquity of mobile phones on a global scale. This will have a dual benefit of creating opportunities for youth and improving the effectiveness of public programs.

Third, governments can play a key role in supporting programs to encourage and support young entrepreneurs. Ultimately, new jobs are created by high impact, high growth entrepreneurs and start-ups. Whilst governments should not invest directly in companies, they can instead be a catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation. In their purchasing decisions, why don't governments commit to spend some percentage of their budgets on buying from youth-run startups?

In addition, governments can encourage and even incentivize large businesses to buy from such startups. Schemes should be created to connect established entrepreneurs with young entrepreneurs, so they can mentor them. And governments should encourage those entrepreneurs who want to support entrepreneurship through their philanthropy by offering incentives or matching grants.

Last but not least, why don't governments, businesses and non-profits figure out how to tap into the widely reported desire of this generation of young people to give back and build a better world by funding new sorts of community service programs, at home and abroad? The Peace Corps model could be reinvented and expanded as part of a win-win solution for the world and Generation Jobless.

You may not agree with all these ideas, but I hope you agree there is plenty worth talking about - and that this is a conversation we can not afford to exclude from the UN this week.