Putting young people at the heart of a greener post-Covid recovery
At the start of 2020, few of us could have predicted the changes and upheaval that we have experienced together in the first six months of this year. As we emerge tentatively from lockdown across Europe, we now face the challenge of recovery as local, national and global communities, with the many social and environmental imperatives that Covid-19 has brought to the fore.
Amongst the great hardship and challenges, throughout the pandemic, we have seen strength, collaboration and possibilities too. And our role, as industry and businesses, has never been so clear: we can and must come together at this moment to shape a recovery that advances global sustainability efforts and builds a more secure future for our planet and the next generation.
Our children – and our youth – are key to our recovery but Covid-19 has hit their career prospects hard. Almost a third of graduates have had their jobs cancelled or deferred due to the pandemic, and already our most vulnerable children are the ones that are most impacted, with many left without access to the necessary support networks and education opportunities that are key to their development. In parallel, we face a widening skills gap, with industries struggling to recruit the talent they need to grow, and urgent demand to close it.
Improving the quality and access of education and training for young people is a central part of the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainability Development Goals and we have an opportunity to use the collective pledges from businesses to build back better to bring younger generations with us, focusing efforts on strengthening the skills needed to take us from recovery to transformation. Initiatives such as the UN’s World Youth Skills Day, which happened last week, are important in helping not only to put the planet on a more sustainable path but also to highlight the importance of developing skilled youth, in order to help them – and us - succeed.
This is an area close to my heart and one I am particularly passionate about; through my work, I have partnered with great organisations like the JA Europe network that help develop entrepreneurship amongst young people in Europe. It helps to prepare them for the future of work through mentoring and connecting them into our networks, but also develops technical skills to build the confidence and capabilities that are so essential to nurture.
We must take this generation with us: not only because it’s the right and responsible thing to do, but because our survival as businesses depends on it.
For the past couple of years, I have had the privilege of participating in One Young World, a not-for-profit event that gathers young leaders from around the world to hear their perspective and advocacy for how we can do better and strive towards a more responsible world. Their scrutiny is on us: their expectation that companies use the power of their business and brands to help shape a better society for all. If our brands do not resonate and align with their social values and expectations, they will vote with their feet, stop buying our products and we will become obsolete.
Many of the conversations I have had there have come back to me in recent weeks, as we have witnessed the tragic events in the US and the social unrest that has followed, and also celebrated Pride in countries and communities around the world. Both are, in different ways, a reminder that today, as never before we must stand as one, on all facets of social justice.
Our youth are also, for me, the most compelling advocates for urgent action on the environment, rightly calling on us all to move further and faster, to achieve rapid and meaningful change on our targets relating to climate, packaging and water scarcity, as well as sustainable sourcing across our supply chain.
As we work to shape a green recovery and a better future for our people and planet, we must keep asking ourselves the right questions: are we balancing our short-term imperatives to support communities today, with a longer-term view on sustained investment in tomorrow’s world? Are we taking the right actions to equip tomorrow’s workforce and leaders with the skills to take on the social, business and environmental challenges that they will face? Are we listening hard enough to ensure that our own goals and policies reflect all that is expected of us? Am I, personally, making a difference for young people today, by mentoring, building skills and networks, understanding their goals?
Our collective recovery will take time, but if there is one thing I have learnt from this crisis, it is what we are capable of when we come together. My pledge is that I will continue to ask myself these questions, to act on them and ensure that they guide my course. If we want to leave a better world for future generations, it is essential that we don’t overlook our immediate heirs. And as we all adapt to a new and different normal, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that we are creating a positive legacy for our children - and their children - to inherit.Therese Noorlander, Coca-Cola