The number of youth (aged 12-24) in the world is the large and growing. Internationally, there are 1.2 billion young people, making up one-sixth of the population, and in Australia there are nearly four million young people. With unprecedented access to information and technology, Gen Z are forming opinions on what matters to them, and communicating these, on an unprecedented global and digital scale.

International Youth Day, 12 August, was established in 1999 by the UN General Assembly in recognition of the challenges currently facing youth around the world, and the importance of partnering with those youth to instigate positive change. The rapid uptake of technology all around the globe has resulted in the emergence of some common issues for youth between countries, such as cyberbullying. However, several other historical challenges remain constant.

Impacts of COVID-19 on youth

Education and employment the most pressing issues for youth internationally

In a 2018 report, the UN reported the top two most pressing issues for youth internationally as education and employment. Almost one in three (30%) of the world’s poorest 12-14 year old’s have never attended school, while only 14% of youth in low-income countries are enrolled in upper secondary education. Disadvantages in education are experienced most significantly across the globe by females, those in poverty, rural areas, youth with disabilities, and migrants.

Top issues of concern for Australian youth

In Australia, 49% of youth (age 15-19) surveyed by Mission Australia indicated that they experience barriers to achieving their study and work goals after school. The causes listed were academic ability, mental health or financial difficulty. Academic-related challenges, along with body image concerns and stress were among the top cited personal concerns, while mental health issues remained at number one for youth in general for the third year in a row.

Interestingly, the environment was ranked 2nd in the most important issues to Australian young people, increasing from 8th place across just one year. The growth of environmentalist sentiment internationally has been evidenced by the School Strike 4 Climates around the world, where thousands of students attended protests instead of school with the purpose of raising awareness and making a statement. Within a decade, Gen Z will comprise a third of the workforce, however only 7% of youth surveyed believe they have enough of a say in public affairs.

The great value of youth - International Youth Day

The impact of COVID on the emerging generations

A unique set of challenges for youth has also emerged in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our research during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that significant proportions of Gen Z (18-25) were feeling anxious (40%) about the unfolding situation. More than four in five Australians (84%) believe that the experience of the pandemic and national lockdown will play a significant role in shaping the children of today. Australians also believe that the pandemic will mean children expect more flexible working conditions (86%), and technology will become more integrated in their lives (90%). The experience has been a significant and formative part of their youth.

2 in 5 Gen Z are feeling anxious about COVID-19

The children of today are digital, global, and visual. All around the world, they are dreaming, aspiring, achieving, seeking, and learning. While they face a number of challenges, their potential – not just in the future, but right now – is a valuable resource to the world.

 

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