Priority placed on aligning education systems to address the labor market’s needs

With one in five employers, according to a recent global survey, citing soft skills as a critical—and missing— asset among new entrants to the labor force, the question is not whether to equip youth with these skills but how to do so at scale.

To explore this challenge further, more than 175 representatives of public, private, and civil society organizations convened in Amman this week for the “Skills for Life: Improving Employment Outcomes for Youth” conference. The event was hosted by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The MasterCard Foundation, and The World Bank.

“With youth unemployment continuing to rise across the MENA region, business and government leaders are looking for ways to bridge the gap between employers’ needs and the skills that young people possess,” said IYF Chief Operating Officer Awais Sufi. “While there is agreement that soft skills—such as good communication, creative thinking, and conflict management—are critically important for young people to realize their full potential, comprehensive approaches to scaling up life skills instruction through education and training institutions are virtually nonexistent.”

The conference brought together practitioners, donors, youth, and other key stakeholders to discuss the positive impact of life skills on youth employability and how best to align the region’s educational systems to meet labor market needs.

Sessions were led by experienced global and regional organizations implementing life skills programs, including Youth for the Future (Y4F), a joint initiative of IYF, USAID, and the Government of Jordan. Since 2009, Y4F has certified more than 200 Jordanian professionals to deliver life skills training, reaching over 11,500 young Jordanians.

“We at USAID believe that family and local communities play a key role in shaping young people’s outlook and behavior,” said USAID/Jordan Deputy Mission Director Polly Dunford. “Supporting the family structure, finding local solutions, and building community-based alliances are vital for creating a bridge so youth can take advantage of mainstream economic and social opportunities.”

At the event, IYF also released a new guide for life skills programming developed through the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Youth Employment (GPYE). It provides practical guidance for designing quality life skills programs for young people.

The conference served as both a platform for learning and an urgent call to action for key regional stakeholders to work together to better equip Arab youth for today’s employment environment.