Asia must come to grips soon with the growing number of unemployed young people or it risks increasing social problems or even violence, as witnessed in cities in Europe and throughout the Arab world, say labour specialists.
“Seventy-five million youth, under the age of 24, across the world are currently unemployed — with almost half of them in Asia,” says John B. Trew, a youth employment specialist at Plan International.
“This is a very critical problem for the region which may pose a threat to stable development of these emerging economies. Some actions have to be taken now and everyone must see this as a shared responsibility rather than an individualistic concern.”
According to the UN International Labour Organization, the unemployment rate among people under 24 remained high at 12.6% last year and the total was expected to reach 95 million worldwide in 2015. Of this number, 14% will be in Southeast Asia countries alone.
The ILO figures are just the tip of the iceberg. In many countries, underemployment among young people is a bigger problem than outright joblessness. Millions of young people can only find work sporadically, or they’re working at jobs far below the skill levels for which they were trained.
Since the global financial crisis in 2008, both developed countries and developing countries have witnessed a pronounced rise in youth unemployment rates, while vast numbers of young people working much below their capacities could become a problem for society.
“Youth unemployment is correlated with social problems such as crime, vandalism and drugs. Small demonstrations later could lead to social unrest which therefore creates instability for the whole society,” he said.
“What recently happened in Spain and in the Arab Spring was clear evidence of the transformational power of unemployed youth demanding greater attention and recognition of their plight.”
Once unemployed youths have been searching for work for 12-18 months, he added, hopelessness sets in and many of them are unlikely to get back on their desired career path again.
“The assumption of the children is that if they work hard in school and earn their degrees, they will get the jobs they wanted and become successful people. However, once they enter reality, their hopes are diminishing.
“The transition from school to work, together with the mismatch between labour demand and labour supply, are responsible for these. We need someone to play the middleman’s role, smoothing out the linkages of education and work.”
One of the common challenges is the lack of employer surveys to track skills needs, according to a Unesco report titled “School-to-Work Transition Information Bases” in the Asia-Pacific region. In some cases, employers don’t get involved in vocational training as much as they should. As well, many governments fail to reflect the results of labour market surveys in education policy.
The success of REACH, a dynamic NGO in Vietnam, is a good example of how to create strong links between vocational training and employers. It blends job skills training with life skills and work readiness, bridging the gap between the demand for skilled and professional employees. It has trained about 7,000 young people, more than 80% of whom have found jobs. The participants are taught practical, hands-on skills, trained and mentored by industry professionals.
Mr Trew said that in his many visits to training programmes across the region, he found the essential thing all students agreed on was the importance of “transferable skills”.
“It wasn’t learning how to work in food and beverages, it wasn’t how to be a graphic designer, but it is really learning basic skills about how to make the workplace an enjoyable place to be,” he said. “Team building, development skills and interpersonal skills are the things all the kids in the training find to be the most beneficial for them later on.”
Education reforms, constructive corporate engagement together with responsive governments are the keys to improving the job outlook for young people. Particularly in Southeast Asia, vocational education and training focused on a more market-driven approach will give people a better chance of finding decent work.
“We need to make sure that these notions of work and preparing youths for their transition are something that is not just as an individual concern but a shared responsibility across the board,” said Mr Trew.
“If we look at government expenditure, the amount of short-term capital spend each year to educate youth to be employable is significantly less compared to the long-term impact of extreme poverty and the series of social problems that may follow.
“If no serious action is taken at this stage, in five to 10 years’ time, youth joblessness in Asia will pose an unavoidable crisis to the region.”
About the author
Writer: Nithi Kaveevivitchai