COVID-19, Young People’s Health and Well-being, Education, Training and Work Pathways: Scenarios for Young People’s Sustainable Futures

Image credit: (Hannah Norman/KHN Illustration; Getty Images)


UNESCO-UNEVOC is UNESCO’s specialised network for skills and training for the world of work. UNESCO-UNEVOC@RMIT is a leader in applied research, policy-development, and evidence-based intervention in relation to skills, education and training, and employment pathways in times of digital, climate, and educational disruption. We partner with government, industry, and the not-for-profit sectors to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically:

research program image 2

Our applied program of research is focused on the following areas:

  • Young people, 21st Century capabilities, and transitions in the future of work;
  • Building a networked approach to enabling and capturing social impact in TVET;
  • Exploring educational ecologies of well-being, resilience, and enterprise.

From this setting, and with our track record and diverse range of capabilities, we are developing a research program to play a role in responding to the challenges that young people will face – both during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the aftermath of the public health crisis.


The world is currently in the grip of a pandemic that is yet to run its epidemiological course. However, the current, exponentially rising human toll is tragic and potentially devastating.

This pandemic is foreshadowing profound social, economic and political crises. Indeed, many parts of the global economy are in crisis, and the variety of government, business and community responses to the crises hint at their scale and possible duration.

Historically – most recently in the context and the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08, and what, for many OECD countries was a Great Recession and a decade of austerity – young people tend to carry a particularly heavy burden in the downstream of crises (Kelly 2017)[1].

The COVID-19 crisis intersects with, possibly emerges from, the climate crisis and the unfolding sixth mass extinction of life on earth. This intersection is further compounded by the education, training and work challenges shaped by the unfolding of the 4th Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).

 In this context we CANNOT proceed on a business-as-usual course, or pretend that things will just ‘snap back’ (Morrison 2020) —as if by magic— at some point in the near future.

Aims and Objectives

The COVID-19 research agenda is framed by the following urgent questions:

  • How do we use this time productively to produce research informed, place based scenarios for young people’s sustainable futures?
  • What are the key challenges – in the short, medium and longer terms future – facing particular populations of young people in particular places?

To deliver evidence informed, provocative, and disruptive solutions to these challenges, we will facilitate ‘surprising alliances’ of academic, community, business, Third Sector, and government stakeholders in developing innovative scenarios in relation to identified contexts/situations, challenges, and possible futures (short, medium and longer term).

These scenarios will draw on the experience of the GFC and other recent crises. However, they will try not to repeat the most damaging of those responses (austerity, increased inequality, negative impacts on health and well-being).[2]

These scenarios will provide different partners with a number of short, medium, and longer term options for planning and service delivery.


Scenario Planning

We will conduct a series of workshops based on the principles of co-design and ethical innovation[3] in scenario building – drawing on scenario building frameworks such as the following:

  1. Approaching the question and the time horizon of the scenario project;
  2. Identifying and ranking of uncertainties and givens;
  3. Describing the fundamental future alternatives;
  4. Calibrating a ‘future compass’ out of the elaborated results;
  5. Plotting scenario narratives for each quadrant of the compass (basic dynamics, actors, conflicts, story lines and titles);
  6. Reflecting on the outcomes: implications and room for manoeuvre (ETUI 2014).


We plan to develop of a number of different scenarios informed by the research and analysis we bring to the projects, and which we will conduct during the projects.

Scenarios will be developed in collaborative workshops – with stakeholders from industry, government, civil society, and academia – that are informed by, and address the temporal, spatial, and demographic forces and processes that are entangled with the COVID-19 pandemic, with processes of digital disruption and globalisation, and with the histories of the past 30 years which have produced widening health, education and employment inequalities – particularly for different populations of young people in different places.

[1] Kelly, P. (2017) Growing up After the GFC: Responsibilisation and Mortgaged Futures, Discourse, 38, 1, pp. 57-69

[2] Kelly, P. and Pike, J. (editors) (2017) Neo-Liberalism and Austerity: The Moral Econi Benomies of Young People’s Health and Well-Being, Palgrave, London.

[3] Rickards, L. and Steele, W. (2019) Towards a Sustainable Development Goals Transformation Platform at RMIT, p.17

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