Q&A with Bob Moritz, Global Chairman of PwC

Global Chairman of PwC, Bob Moritz, discusses digital connectivity and upskilling for the COVID-19 generation in this exclusive Q&A

Generation Unlimited
picture of Bob Moritz with GenU branding
PwC
01 March 2021

What are the key challenges facing young people in crossing the digital divide?

Let’s step back and look at the broader context of the world we live in today. Around the world, we’re seeing growing disparities among individuals, regions, and generations, and in particular, expanding education and income gaps. The rapid rise of new technologies and digitisation is transforming the world of work, creating a mismatch between the skills people have today and those needed for tomorrow’s workplace. All of these issues are symptoms of a deeper problem: our economies aren't creating inclusive, sustainable outcomes for society.

COVID-19 has accelerated and exacerbated these trends. When the world moved online due to the pandemic, digitally disadvantaged youth – those living without access to technology or who lack digital skills and acumen – were hit particularly hard. Almost overnight, it became more difficult for them to live their everyday lives, from going to school and work, to accessing healthcare, news and leisure, to voting and more. Recent figures illustrate just how acute the challenges facing young people are. Around 1.6 billion children have had their education disrupted by COVID-19, one in six youth have stopped working since the beginning of the pandemic, and millions of young people are being forced to find their way in a weakened job market.

So we really need to act now to create opportunities for young people worldwide. In our report with Generation Unlimited, we identify four stepping stones to help them cross the digital divide: Connectivity, Access, Digital Literacy, and Work-ready Skills. We need to address these challenges urgently so young people can fulfill their potential and fully contribute to society by finding good jobs or starting their own business. The good news is that this, in turn, will lead to economic growth and more inclusive economies and societies, so governments and businesses should be incentivised to help make this happen.

What advice would you give young people navigating the ever-changing scene of digital learning and those approaching employment?

First, focus on identifying and nurturing skills for the future. Make sure you develop a combination of the skills you need technically but also the ones that make you who you are, such as your creativity, resilience and empathy. Second, figure out what kinds of problems you most enjoy tackling, and build the skills to solve them – because problem solving is a transferable skill that will not change with technology. Third, make sure you are a lifelong learner. Read, talk to people, study and gain as much experience as you can through every opportunity you have – never stop learning. You never know where it will take you. Fourth, nurture your network and seek help along the way. A good mentor or sponsor can make all the difference. Last but not least, give everything your best effort. If you do this, people will notice you and trust you, and your personal brand will be better. This means that the next time an opportunity opens up, you’ll be top of mind.

When I talk to young people, I am struck by the fact that they recognise the challenges they face and they are passionate about doing something about them. They want to be changemakers and influencers, and are calling on others to work with them to find solutions. We know that many young people are concerned about climate change, for example, and that we need to invest in skills that will drive green growth and secure the path to Net Zero. This is what makes Generation Unlimited such a strong partnership: it recognises that young people have the innovation and energy to ensure any solutions work for them, and helps create opportunities for them to engage.

World Economic Forum

What role should the public and private sectors have in addressing these challenges?

They all have a critical role to play, but what's really important is that they work together to address this huge issue, otherwise we will never achieve the progress that needs to happen in the limited time we have.

The full engagement of government is clearly fundamental to any successful outcome as it will provide the resources, infrastructure, and regulatory framework necessary for change to happen at scale.

Businesses are equally essential as they are employers, engines of the digital economy, and investors in communities. They have a responsibility to help address the skills challenge; in fact, the demand for business to play its part has never been greater. Broader stakeholders including governments, policy makers, investors, civil society and others increasingly expect business to help lead. Business can make a huge difference by upskilling their employees so they remain relevant and valued in the future workplace, supporting their communities, partnering with other organisations, training educators and helping governments govern. By investing in upskilling, businesses will not only help to create sustained outcomes for society, they’ll build trust with their stakeholders and maintain their license to operate.

Communities – including schools and local NGOs – bring an understanding of local needs and expertise. And, of course, as I said before, we must ensure young people and youth organizations have the opportunity to champion, design, and implement programs.

We have a unique opportunity to build a workforce that is skilled for the digital age and will help drive economic growth and a more resilient economic system. In doing so, we can begin to rebuild the global economy as one that is sustainable and greener, and that works for all, not just for some. But to achieve this ambition, we need to forge a new collaboration and work together to build that future.