Meaningful Work: Definition, trends and how it impacts YMCAs

Date: 19 March 2023

Second article in a YMCA Vision 2030 series explores how YMCAs can positively impact employment

When we talk about the four Pillars of Impact of YMCA Vision 2030 –  Community Wellbeing, Meaningful Work, Sustainable Planet and Just World – we understand the words. But do we know what they really mean?

Young people at a table working on laptop computers

Researchers from the Geneva Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, have collected and presented definitions and data and analysed trends of each Pillar, and presented those findings to the World YMCA. 

In this second of a series of four articles, we closely examine each pillar. See the first article on Community Wellbeing here.

Kyle de Klerk explored Pillar 2 – Meaningful Work, with research from a variety of sources, including the United Nations, the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank and more.

What is Meaningful Work?

Kyle said work can be considered meaningful when it’s significant, has an impact, and workers feel that they are a part of something bigger. There is a link between work and values, so different types of work may be meaningful for different people.

In contrast, decent work refers to the conditions of the workplace. “Decent work is more about the conditions. fair wages and safety. Decent work is often a necessary precondition for meaningful work”, he said.

Notable trends

As he sifted through the data, Kyle said several trends came to light, including:

Youth unemployment: “This is a big issue, and Covid played a big role”, he said. “Young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults”.

Green jobs: This is work that contributes to restoring the environment, and the demand for green skills is expected to grow.

The Great Resignation: We are seeing a cultural shift, though Kyle said the evidence is unclear and more narrative than fact. “We know that young people are re-evaluating the role of work in their lives”, he said.

Democratization of the workplace: Because of this re-evaluation, workers are demanding more of their workplaces.

Digitalisation: This was probably the top trend, Kyle said, as technology has impacted all aspects of our daily life. “It now is truly pervasive and is only going to become more so”, he said. And while it’s partially true that automation will replace workers, it will create more jobs than it will replace.

This means for young people the future of work will have higher skill requirements. Youth face numerous challenges, including that they generally have less experience and fewer skills than adults. This places youth in developing countries at a particular disadvantage, as they have fewer opportunities to upskill.

What’s next?

For YMCAs, this means becoming an employer of choice, as the sufficient skill mix in employees becomes scarcer. And employers must be proactive in training employees; Kyle found 94 per cent of business leaders expect their workers to acquire skills on the job. YMCAs could look to provide work-based learning and seek out resources like the US-based B Corp., which focuses on transforming the global economy through a certification process.

“And consider, to what degree do YMCA programmes address these emerging trends?” he asked. “An opportunity is programmes that help young people with digital, soft and green skills”.