The meaning behind ‘Meaningful Work’

Date: 06 July 2022

Panel 2 – Meaningful Work, Tuesday, 5 July 2022

By Maggie Franzen


“Youth unemployment is on the rise now more than ever. There is a clear gender gap affecting young women far more than men in almost all regions of the world,” said Kevin Frey, CEO of Generation Unlimited, as part of the Meaningful Work panel at the YMCA’s 20th World Council.

For example, the female youth unemployment rate in North Africa is nearly double that of men. Lucy Murdoch, managing director, Global Corporate Citizenship, pointed out how “connection is key” in bringing together private and public organizations and efforts to create meaningful work for the youth.

Pedro Fueyo, National General Secretary of YMCA Spain, discussed one of the primary reasons for the lack of youth work in Spain: the significant lack of education, especially for females and the less privileged youth. “We want the solution to work for everyone”, said Pedro. He believes you always have a chance to move forward no matter your education or financial situation. Pedro hopes to make the system work for everyone and wants to encourage other YMCAs to work together for solutions.

Y-Care CEO Graeme Hodge believes that young people need space to be who they are. Young people know what they need and what they want, so they should be the leaders. “We should be the support riding on the back seat of the tandem bike” was the phrase used by Graeme to describe the part he believes Y-Care should be playing in this process of job creation. Kevin elaborated on Graeme’s statement, stating that its goal is to support the youth in creating challenging jobs that will prepare them for the actively changing workforce.

This topic of meaningful work is relevant because of the massive impact on the new and younger generations that are now entering the workforce. So what does meaningful work mean?

Among the conclusions of the panel: Meaningful work refers to work which makes people feel as though they are part of something larger than themselves, that their work is significant and has a real impact on the world.

As a young individual, I found this topic impactful and exciting as this applies to my generation. As time begins to change and the workforce continues to move forward with its advances in technology development, automation in the workplace becomes significantly more relevant and impactful concerning the youth and their efforts.

Young workers- who typically possess less work experience than more senior workers- are most impacted by automation, it was stated. As a result, young workers today are most likely to have multiple careers throughout their life, not just multiple jobs.

Young people tend to be well-versed in technology, and, now more than ever, these skills and knowledge are essential; as a result, a lot of young individuals hold their focus on technology understanding and development, though it’s necessary to be well-rounded to create meaningful work.

According to the panel, there is an urgent need to ensure that young people are allowed the opportunity to acquire both the hard and soft skills needed for this future of work. Research shows that the demand for these skill requirements remains consistent around the world, regardless of the development of a given country.

A few examples presented during the discussion:

  • 84% of surveyed businesses intended on accelerating digital work processes
  • 83% intended on increasing opportunities for employees to work remotely
  • 94% of business leaders expect employees to pick up new skills while working, compared to 65% in 2018.

How the YMCA is helping take steps: the YMCA movement believes that all young people deserve the right to learn, engage in flexible, dignified and meaningful work, and build sustainable livelihoods. The YMCA is also committed to creating, expanding and advocating meaningful, just and equitable education, training, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the transition to the new economies.

This is exemplified through Vision 2030, with meaningful work being one of the core values. The specific questions being presented to the different YMCA organizations around the world include:

  • What is the unique role YMCAs can play, enabling young people to prepare for, and thrive in work?
  • How are YMCAs engaging today with young people, school entrepreneurs, and employers to help build pathways into decent work?

During the panel, there were some impactful propositions on how to solve this problem, including creating meaningful and impactful partnerships to bring innovative jobs for youth, said Graeme.

The audience asked engaging questions, such as, “how can all work be meaningful?” to which there were no easy answers. Many audience members stated they left the panel feeling more educated on the problems of the lack of meaningful work in the workforce and feel inspired to help make a change.