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The Future of Work: Addressing the Global Crisis of Youth Unemployment

The latest entry in a special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace.
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The auditorium inside International House. (Photo: WTMuploader/Wikimedia Commons)

The auditorium inside International House. (Photo: WTMuploader/Wikimedia Commons)

     What happens to a dream deferred?
     Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
     Or fester like a sore – And the run?
     Does it stink like rotten meat?
     Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet?
     Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
     Or does it EXPLODE?”
     —Langston Hughes

When I graduated from Yale 30 years ago, my dream job to become a foreign correspondent was well at hand. I had five job offers—from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Science News, and my hometown newspaper, the Compton Bulletin. I chose the Times and for two decades I traveled the world reporting on major news events and social issues, experiences that led me to executive positions in education and philanthropy. At my recent college reunion, so many of my classmates told similar stories of professional success early in their careers.

Calvin Sims, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Ford Foundation executive, is president of International House, which seeks to foster international understanding by empowering the next generation of globally minded leaders.


Unfortunately, the road to meaningful employment is far bumpier for today’s graduates than the path my college class traversed in 1985. In their search for jobs, this Millennial generation faces a route riddled with potholes, spirals, detours, and forks. Not since the Great Depression has the job market for young people, educated or not, been as difficult and uncertain. We are facing a global crisis of youth unemployment that according to the Economist has left nearly 300 million young people worldwide without jobs and no prospect for work, their dreams deferred.

The consequences of not addressing rising youth unemployment are dire for an entire generation in both developed and developing countries. These 300 million unemployed young adults are called NEETs—not in school, not employed, and not in training.

In my role as president of International House, I cannot afford to ignore this crisis because it directly impacts our residents, who represent the best and brightest graduate students, interns, and scholars from across the world. They will be seeking employment of consequence when they finish their studies.

International House, based in New York, was founded in 1924 by the Rockefeller and Dodge families and has been a home and inspiration to tens of thousands of emerging leaders in the arts, humanities, science, business, technology, government, and diplomacy from more than 100 countries across six continents. For more than 90 years, our focus has been to challenge residents to be the next generation of global leaders by instilling values of empathy, respect, and moral courage through our programs, partnerships, and facilities. Our 65,000 alumni include individuals who went on to become Nobel Prize winners, heads of state, award-winning authors and artists, entrepreneurs, and CEOs.

Our legacy is now being challenged by the youth unemployment crisis. Our residents tell us that universities are not training them for the new world of work. The nature of work has changed drastically and many young people are ill prepared. Long-term employment for one company is a relic, as young people entering the workforce are likely to shift jobs seven to 10 times before they reach retirement and many of those jobs will be as freelancers. This new work paradigm requires increased flexibility and entrepreneurship, adroit social skills and networking, digital competency, and global leadership capacity.

Our residents talk about a Glass Door phenomenon. They tell us that, in searching for jobs, they can see through the glass door to employment, but they can’t get in—even though they are highly educated. Competition for jobs has never been this fierce, as the number of applicants swells while the actual number of jobs in many fields declines with gains in technology. Global competitors offer cheaper workers and there is widespread access to information which translates into fewer ways to distinguish candidates. This generation has to find innovative ways to open the door or someone has to unlock it for them.

At International House, we are designing new programs that better equip our residents to compete. One major focus is on increasing their ability to navigate the digital space, from understanding Big Data to maximizing the benefits of social media. Training in both soft and hard skills is being infused into our programs as well as seminars on networking essentials, how to find a mentor, emotional intelligence, and using entrepreneurship to flourish within a corporate culture.

We offer a seminar titled “Your Digital Profile,” which helps our residents develop a strategy for being found in the digital space by providing best practices for managing profiles, what to include and what to leave out, and how to connect with those with whom they would like to have access. Through a grant from the Ford Foundation, we have established “Generation Jobless” fellowships that provide three of our residents with $10,000 each to develop a project during the summer that creates jobs for young people anywhere in the world. I-House was also chosen to participate in a publishing project with LinkedIn to amplify Millennial voices. Our residents produce a steady stream of content from small posts to op-eds to major articles on issues they care about or are studying.

Most important, however, is our long-term focus on global leadership and our core values. We believe a powerful mix of values, diversity, programming, alumni, and partners enables our residents to develop lifelong skills that are differentiated and highly valued in any academic, government, commercial, or social enterprise, anywhere in the world. One of the most important aspects of leadership is building relationships to inspire others, using such skills as cross-cultural communication, collaboration, influence, and social exchange. We believe this will gives our residents a competitive advantage in today’s ever-shifting marketplace.


For the Future of Work, a special project from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace, and what anxieties and possibilities they might produce.