Expanding Technology Education to Turn the Tide of Rising Youth Unemployment

By Lori Forte Harnick, General Manager, Citizenship & Public Affairs, Microsoft

Despite pockets of recovery in the global economy, worldwide unemployment continues to rise, particularly among youth between the ages of 15 and 24. In the 2014 Global Employment Trends report, “Risks of a Jobless Recovery,” the International Labour Organization states that the global youth unemployment rate rose to 13.1 percent in 2013, resulting in 74.5 million unemployed young people around the world.

This fact underscores the reason that, as we enter the third year of our global, companywide Microsoft YouthSpark initiative, we are steadfast in our commitment to empower young people to do more and achieve more…for themselves, for their families and for their communities.

When we launched Microsoft YouthSpark in 2012, we set out to create education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for 300 million young people over the course of three years. Working together with governments, businesses and more than 350 youth-serving nonprofit organizations, after two years we have created opportunities for 227 million young people in more than 100 countries.

The opportunities are vast and varied. Young people have gained new skills. They’ve been inspired. They’ve found jobs. They’ve started businesses. They’ve mentored others. They’ve made a difference in their towns, villages, cities and countries. Indeed, the opportunities are as vast and varied as the young people themselves. Yet, there is one common element across all: technology. These youth have been empowered with greater access, greater ease and greater knowledge of technology. And, the impact has been nothing less than inspiring.

In Asia, we launched the YouthSpark initiative in March 2013 by bringing together 100 young people from across the region. Since that enthusiastic start, we have held many other youth-focused events, trainings and hackathons, including: 

  • a YouthSpark Dialogue hosted by Microsoft Singapore Director Jessica Tan and Rich Sauer, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Legal & Corporate Affairs, with over 50 young people participating simultaneously from Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam over Microsoft Lync;
  • 14 YouthSpark Live events organized across China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand;
  • over 75 YouthSpark #WeSpeakCode events organized in 13 Asian countries; and
  • Tokyo’s International Women’s Hackathon, held at Ochanomizu University – one of the top female universities in Japan

Individuals across Asia have been touched in countless ways by technology, changing their lives – and those of others. Yutiao Wang found a new path forward from her rural community in China when she learned IT skills at the Fuping Development Institute and secured a job as an office assistant. John-son Oei, founder and CEO of EPIC Collaborative, created a nonprofit that brings together volunteers and Malaysia's Orang Asli indigenous people to make positive, lasting change in their communities by building pre-fabricated homes. Finally, Gigi Adamantopoulos has combined her passion for music and technology by reaching out to young, like-minded music enthusiasts in the Philippines, introducing them to the latest software, online materials and social media to help them achieve their musical ambitions.

These stories and more have encouraged us to expand our YouthSpark programs across the full spectrum of technology education.

First and foremost, for the millions of youth around the world who still face a digital divide, we’re launching our updated Microsoft Digital Literacy curriculum in 10 languages to increase youth access to the foundational technology skills they need to cross that divide.

In addition, for those looking to tap into the growing IT employment market by developing intermediate tech skills, we’re delivering Microsoft IT Academy broadly for the first time through our YouthSpark nonprofit partners worldwide so more young people can acquire the training and certifications that will set them up for a successful IT management career.

Perhaps most importantly, we are expanding access to computer science education on a global scale. As technology has become an integral part of people’s daily lives in nearly all regions of the world, we’re seeing a growing demand – from students, parents, teachers, governments and nonprofits – to teach youth not only how to use technology, but also how to create technology…to become the innovators and drivers of growth and opportunity in their own communities.

And, to celebrate and support this growing global pipeline of innovators, we’re launching Imagine Cup 2015, Microsoft’s worldwide student technology development contest. Students aged 16 and older are invited to register for the Imagine Cup 2015 season now and learn about the many opportunities to compete and win throughout the year while fine-tuning their tech talents for future careers.

It’s no secret that technology knowledge and skills – whether basic, intermediate or advanced – are required for the vast majority of jobs today. To turn the tide of the continually rising youth unemployment rate, we must expand access to these skills for all youth. We are proud of our many nonprofit partners who are creating new opportunities as part of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative. And, we are even more proud of the young people who have seized the opportunities before them and have inspired us with their ambition, dedication and accomplishments.

I encourage you to visit the Microsoft YouthSpark Hub, share its resources with others, and join us all in creating even more opportunities for youth to do more and achieve more this year and in the many years to come. 

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