To better understand the issue and develop an effective approach to address the challenges, ASEAN Foundation in collaboration with Plan International recently launched a research report titled “Mind the Gap: Mapping Youth Skills for the Future in ASEAN” with support from Google.org. This deep-dive research focuses on youth groups from minority communities, women, disabled, unemployed and workers with below minimum income. Overall, there were 1,080 respondents as well as 320 focus group discussion participants and interview participants from 10 ASEAN countries involved.
Pandemic Leads to an Increase in Unemployment in Vietnam
Viet Nam has a total population of 97 million in 2020. Of this number, over 23 million (or 25 percent) are youth aged 16 to 30. Young people have been affected by the enforcement of restrictive policy measures as a result of the pandemic. Viet Nam’s youth unemployment rate rose from 6.5 percent pre-pandemic to 7.5% in the second quarter of 2021, which is almost three times higher than the working-age unemployment rate. The pandemic has also disproportionately disadvantaged women in the Vietnamese labour market. In contrast to the decrease in young men’s unemployment rate from 5.7 to 5.2% in the third and fourth quarters of 2020, a slight increase from 9.1 to 9.2% was noted for young women. Compared to men, women are also generally found in lower-quality employment where they earn less despite comparable working hours. They are also overrepresented in vulnerable employment (e.g. family work) and underrepresented in decision-making jobs.
Digital Skill to Improve, Despite Self-Leadership and Interpersonal Skill Being Helpful to Land a Job
According to the research, there is a huge potential gap between young people’s current skills proficiency and the ICT ambitions pursued by Viet Nam. As many as 44% of respondents have none to low proficiency in basic digital skills, 37% are in the low proficiency spectrum in this skill domain, and 43% of respondents have no advanced digital skills at all.
As many as 76% of youth feel skills in the field of self-leadership are more important in supporting them to get a job. Interpersonal skills such as leadership or teamwork are in second place with 73% gain, and cognitive skills follow with 70%.
Underserved Youth Facing Bigger Challenges to Improve Their Skills
If we look further from the study, we found that 66% of Vietnamese youth acquired their skills from formal education or mentoring (54%). Around 1 out of 3 gained skills from on-the-job training (37%), and a smaller proportion of youths acquired their skills from internships (22%) and training centres (13%). It was also found that most young people in Viet Nam have not yet participated in any training activities (62%). Of youths who have done so, 60.5% attended programs offered by private institutions, and 39.5 benefited from government-sponsored training.
The main challenges to training participation being faced by youths are lack of interest (18%), lack of time (13%), and lack of financial capability (13%). Less than 1 out of 10 youths cited lack of devices (8%), distance barriers (7%), and lack of disability-friendly training (3%). The informants also explained that attending training online is perceived to be ineffective due to a lack of practical lessons. Some functionality skills training for underserved youth, such as refrigerator repair services, cooking, and spa services, would require hands-on learning to be effective. Particularly for underserved youth in rural areas, online training remains a challenge due to limited infrastructure and resources such as personal computers.
The Executive Director of ASEAN Foundation, Dr. Yang Mee Eng said, “As the world has started to take a step forward into the post-COVID era, the impact of the pandemic remains. The drastic change taking place in today’s job market requires youth to adapt quickly, either by reskilling or upskilling themselves. This is where the Bridges to the Future: ASEAN Youth Employment comes into play. The programme is implemented with one goal in mind: to support ASEAN youth in not only acquiring the necessary 21st century skills to (re)enter the workforce, but also building a more sustainable and secure post pandemic economy.”
She further added that “In partnership with Plan International Viet Nam and local implementing partners, the ASEAN Foundation has also organized a job fair and the first coaching class to empower 220 Vietnamese youths, with 111 of them youth with disabilities. We expect to benefit 1,600 more Vietnamese youths through our next series of job fairs and coaching classes in Hanoi in June and July.” Moreover, she also wants to invite companies, non-profit organizations, public and private organizations to use ASEANJobs.org as a platform to reach more young candidates to fill job positions, considering that successfully bridging the job gap in the ASEAN Region will depend on the support and collaboration between the public and private sectors.
Entrepreneurs Remain to Be an Aspirations for Vietnamese Youth
Nearly 1 out of 2 young people in Viet Nam aspire to become entrepreneurs (43%), followed by working in the media and communication (37%), education (22%), technology (20%), NGO and government (17%), and financial sectors (11%). Only a small proportion of the respondents seek careers in transportation (8%) and energy (5%).
While there is an increasing demand for digital skills in the country, these were the least cited among the skills needing upskilling. Instead, around half of the young people surveyed would like to further gain self-leadership (53%) and interpersonal skills (48%). This is followed by the demand from youth for reskilling in cognitive and advanced digital skills (37%) and basic digital skills (28%).
Viet Nam is also undergoing a shift from a factor-driven to an efficiency-driven economy, where low-productivity manual jobs are being overtaken by skill-intensive non-manual jobs. However, young people’s qualifications struggle to match employers’ requirements, while firms also tend to value experience over educational attainment.
Upskilling and reskilling through internships, apprenticeships, work placements, and other work-integrated learning are necessary to bridge the skills gap and develop young people’s readiness to meet labour demands.
“Plan International consistently implemented the programme to empower young people, particularly women and young women from marginalised families and people with disabilities to obtain new skills and compete in the new market after the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past two years, in a collaboration with ASEAN Foundation and partners, we have tried to contribute to the solutions through this programme. This programme has also been supported by various private sector communities and government institutions. We need to put the hands together to tackle these issues of unemployment, especially amongst young people,” said Dini Widiastuti, the Executive Director of Plan Indonesia.
Along with the report, the Bridges to the Future: ASEAN Youth Employment also marked another important milestone through the soft launch of its job information centre, ASEANJobs.org. The website will serve as a sustainable solution to help young people in ASEAN to connect with employers from across the region and secure job opportunities.
“Looking at the inclusive approach of this programme, BTF reached a total of 159 young people with disabilities (PWDs) through a wide range of activities and support, including job fair, both in Vietnam and Indonesia”, said Marija Ralic, Google.org Lead for Google APAC.
Marija highlighted that at google.org, they strongly believe that current trend of job market and skill demand should be recognised by youth. They are optimistic that Mind the Gap: Mapping Youth Skills for the Future in ASEAN Report can be a strong vehicle for young generation to get to their destination which is a successful career journey, in spite of all the challenges they have been facing.
“We are proud that we are able to witness the development of a new platform for youth to access career information without barrier through ASEANJobs.org. This job information centre, I believe, can be a great platform for ASEAN youth, not only to be able to find job opportunities and enhance their willingness to reskill and upskill, but also to broaden their networking amongst youth and with various employers,” Marija added.
Youth generation is playing a critical role in a nation’s development. Unemployment among young people indicates unutilised labour potential and negatively affects potential growth. Therefore, addressing this issue by bridging education and access to employment is essential to prepare young people to enter the job market and for long-term employment. Both the research report and the job information centre can serve as a great stepping-stone for this objective.