How Can We Prepare Young People for a post-COVID Economy?

Younger people have borne the brunt of the massive worldwide recession created by the pandemic. Specifically, our youth have been forced to suffer from high unemployment, dropping incomes, and a significant disruption to their education over the past year.

Further complicating things, the post-pandemic economy will require a skilled and motivated young workforce, so much of the burden is likely to fall on them in the years to come.

While we’re focused on who will get a vaccine and how to reopen, we should instead be thinking ahead in regards to what kind of world we will see after the pandemic, and how young people, in particular, can become better prepared for a post-COVID economy.

1. High-Tech to No-Tech

First, the pandemic has exposed that the gap between tech haves and have-nots is growing wider than ever before. The huge shift to remote working that has occurred in the past year has had some beneficiaries as well as some losers. Specifically, workers with access to technology and the education required to use it – which in reality means already-wealthy workers in the West – suffered the least disruption from the pandemic.

Fixing this inequality will rely on a mixed approach. Last year, a UNESCO report on global broadband access found that half the world remains unconnected and that young people in developing countries will need to be provided with access to high-quality broadband if they are to reach their full potential.

In the meantime, and as the Brookings Institute has noted, educators can combine low- and no-tech options with high-tech learning in order to prepare these young people for a digital future.

Doing so offers great opportunities, both for society and young people themselves. Increasing technical education may help to reduce the cybersecurity skills gap that is still exists in the West. Even a basic education in online advertising can give young people access to jobs in digital marketing that can pay between $135,000 and $200,000 a year.

2. Financial Literacy

The pandemic has also brought an increased focus on the level of financial literacy that young people possess, and how important this will be in the future. We’ve already seen that COVID has impacted the stock market in unprecedented ways, and some analysts are predicting that the pandemic could forever change the way we do business. Stock and bond returns have stayed fairly constant since 1926, for instance, but there is now growing uncertainty that they will continue to be as stable.

In this context, young people with the skills to adapt will have more doors open to them, whether this be through entrepreneurial skills or simply the ability to spot a good, stable investment. This adaptability will also apply to the jobs market, where data from the World Economic Forum show jobs in technology will grow rapidly over the next decade, at the expense of customer service and client-focused roles.

Young people are aware of these shifts, of course – and often more so than those seeking to advise them. One of the positive effects of the virus, if there have been any, is that the period of enforced lockdown has led young people all over the world to develop new, practical skills. Policymakers and educators now need to build on this ambition and enthusiasm and equip them with the knowledge that goes beyond financial education.

For young people, there may be a significant difference between learning about the concept of saving money, and actually developing the attitudes, behaviors, and self-efficacy that enable financial responsibility. To prepare for the dynamism of the post-COVID world, educators will need to help young people develop these habits.

3. New Threats

Finally, we should also recognize that young people will enter the workforce at a time when their privacy and personal information is under much greater threat than ever before. Over the past few decades, tech firms have built surveillance platforms that are without precedent, and have led to a worldwide system that some analysts have gone so far as to call surveillance capitalism.

This is another area in which young people may already be ahead of the elders seeking to “educate” them, and therefore is another area in which peer learning and self-directed study will be important. Young people in the West are already likely to be aware of just how much their personal identity is worth, because they have spent most of their lives selling off parts of their privacy in order to gain access to online services.

Allowing these young people to educate their less tech-savvy peers about the potential dangers of this could be a much more effective way of preparing their peers for the coming post-COVID world than traditional college classes. This is especially true given the spike in COVID-related phishing attacks, as criminals have been eager to take advantage of the chaos created by the virus and thus put the privacy of young people at even greater risk.

4. Challenges and Opportunities

Ultimately, we should recognize that our societies, post-COVID, are likely to be exaggerated versions of our current world. In other words, the pandemic has not caused a discontinuous rupture in our world culture or economy: rather, it has accelerated transformations that were already underway before it emerged.

The world that is emerging is one that is far more dynamic and fast-moving than that of the past. This dynamism can offer young people opportunities that would be unthinkable for their parents, if only in the worldwide reach of their ideas and products. On the other hand, it also presents huge risks, in terms of emerging cyber threats and the rise of surveillance technologies.

Explaining these risks will be as important in the coming years as educating our young people to take advantage of the new opportunities that will come their way.