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Fast Forward: Pondering Youth Employment in 2026

By Dr. Tessie San Martin

This September marks the 10th anniversary of the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit, convened by Making Cents International. A Silver Sponsor this year, Plan International USA has been a strong supporter of this gathering since its founding in 2006, sharing in the many memorable moments and achievements of previous Summits. 

Plan International USA CEO Tessie San Martin

Now let's fast forward.  What will we be reflecting on at the 2026 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit?  To answer this question, let's start by considering the changing landscape of the global labor market and the external factors that may have a significant impact.

Technology and mass communications have already changed the way young people connect and gather information. In the future, this will only become more accentuated.  From developing social media profiles to job searching from their smart phones, young people in even the most remote areas can now collaborate and access resources as quickly as you can say “Snapchat.” Each of these exchanges provides new information -- and Big Data, increasingly accessible to everyone, will provide new insights into the habits of consumers across the globe and uncover new market opportunities.

From moving to the capital city to access a higher standard of living, to flying across oceans to escape violence, youth will continue to redefine the meaning of home in order to seek new education or employment opportunities. Never-ending news cycles focus on violent extremism - from war-torn Syria to gang-controlled neighborhoods of Central America, meaning that young people could face added stigma from employers. The framework of the Sustainable Development Goals and the international community’s commitment to further supporting social issues such as gender equality and climate action will also no doubt affect the enabling environment within which young people live and work.

Key measures of our future success will include how young people are adapting to this changing environment and leveraging these shifts for their own income-generating potential. We must hold ourselves accountable for supporting youth to counter instability by channeling their energy in positive ways. We must support the increased workforce participation of young women and other marginalized groups. We must invest in innovations created by young people, who will no doubt contribute new ways of operating in our global economy.  Maybe our greatest measure of progress in the years ahead will be how young people will perceive themselves, their opportunities, and their futures.

Plan will continue to support young people’s economic opportunities in diverse ways around the world, over the next 10 years and beyond. For example, through the USAID Bridges to Employment project in El Salvador, led by DAI, Plan will support 200,000 youth to develop critical pre-employment soft skills and technical skills, easing their transition into the world of work. In Uganda, through the A Working Future project, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and Accenture, Plan is working in partnership with the private sector to provide youth entrepreneurs access to agricultural value chains, while supporting the incubation of 600 micro businesses and the employability of 12,000 young women and men.

Plan is even changing the digital landscape as it relates to youth employment through the development of an online Youth Economic Empowerment e-Portal in Asia, co-developed with Accenture. This YES!ME system will allow Plan to further support youth with online learning platforms, locally customized labor market scans, and a dynamic database that monitors the trajectory of youth up to five years after participation in Plan’s programming.

Globally, Plan will continue to work hand-in-hand with employers to create more welcoming work environments for young women, youth with disabilities, youth from communities with high rates of violence, and the LGBTQIA community. Finally and fundamentally, in order to achieve all of these objectives and deliver well on each of these initiatives, Plan must be willing to listen to the voices of youth in all of our program design and implementation. This means that Plan must also be willing to put its own agenda aside in support of youth aspirations. And, in this way, Plan is also seeking to transform itself - from its staff selection and training procedures to its governance and accountability structures.

Plan is looking forward to continuing to work with partners to effectively support young people transitioning to the workplace in the decade ahead. As a result of all these efforts, we hope that at the 2026 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit, we will be celebrating a more inclusive, safe, and supportive global marketplace for young people.

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