As unemployment continues to affect millions of young people and businesses struggle to find qualified employees, the global community has become increasingly attuned to the need to prepare young people for the world of work. Skills development offers a key to smoothing that transition. Adopted by the United Nations, July 15 marks the second annual World Youth Skills Day.

Why youth skills? Persisting in such high numbers, youth unemployment affects impacts individuals, families, communities, international businesses, and whole economies. Put simply, it becomes a pressing issue for everyone, everywhere. At the same time, passionate and innovative young people around the world are showing us the power of youth-led business and social change. Understanding the potential of well trained young people to transform our world for the better, we see at least six key reasons to invest in youth skills:

  1. We can't reach the Sustainable Development Goals without investing in youth skills. Within the Global Goals, skills development figures as part of Goal 4, around quality education. What that framework doesn't say, but what IYF knows to be true, is that this learning factors into how the world can achieve each objective on the ambitious agenda. In addition to being critical to achieving Goal 1, ending global poverty, youth skills development can have a far-reaching ripple effect, as illustrated by other points in this list.
  2. We don't have time to lose. By 2030, the end date for the SDGs, today's 18 year-old will be 32. Our mission is that by that age, a young person is a productive, civically engaged, tax-paying citizen who can support a family, if they have one. We must reach today's young people with the right technical and life skills to unlock opportunity for them and future generations. Our Passport to Success© program focuses on life skills such as self-confidence, responsibility, and respect, and workplace readiness skills including interviewing, time management, and career planning.
  3. Fostering youth skills can drive gender equity and ultimately promote gender equality (Goal 5). When IYF looked at what the world's young people are doing, we saw that 178.2 million fewer young women than men have legal work despite being enrolled at every level of education in higher numbers. That is to say nothing of wage gaps, roadblocks to completing education, and representation in leadership. A holistic package that includes offerings such as life skills, reproductive health education, and money management can prepare young women to secure safer, better paying jobs; enjoy greater self-confidence; find financial independence; and become peer leaders in their communities.
  4. Investing in young people is good for business. With partner Hilton Worldwide, we've seen a real commitment over time to their team members' life skills development and, through efforts like a high school degree equivalency initiative, their continued education. In addition to the satisfaction and opportunity this kind of skills development affords the young person, for the company, this investment can offer returns in the form of staff retention, superior teamwork, and increased customer satisfaction.
  5. Equipping young people with new skills can make communities safer and healthier. Through our Youth:Work Mexico initiative, we proved the value of skills in providing young people, especially young men, with alternatives to gangs and drugs.  "When Youth:Work arrived, it was like rescuing the youth of Ciudad Juárez—to get them out of violence, out of vulnerability, out of the streets," says facilitator Cristina in the video Youth Help Youth Get Jobs. Goal 3 of the SDGs speaks to need to ensure the health and well-being "for all at all ages."
  6. Trained with the skills that augment their passion and interests, young people are powerful partners in solving problems, creating jobs, and leading change. Through our global initiatives, we have seen the way skills training has equipped entrepreneurs like Deddy in Indonesia to grow thriving businesses that employ other youth. As alumni of YouthActionNet, more than 1,350 innovative young leaders are changing how we access affordable and clean energy (Goal 7), fight gender-based violence (Goal 5), and protect ocean resources (Goal 14), just to name a few. To reach SDG Goal 17, we must tap the critical insights of these skilled change-makers.

We must continue to open the doors of opportunity to more young people, who are powerful allies and can be key advocates for sustainable change.