Empowering our young people to face the future confidently
Thailand urgently needs to empower its young people with the knowledge and skills they need in order to shape the future of the nation
Like many countries around the world, Thailand is faced with a critical challenge: how best to empower its adolescents and young people so that they become the healthy adults and future leaders that will lead the country towards a thriving economy in the mid to long term.
Maybe slightly differently from other countries however, is the urgency of the challenge for Thailand specifically, due to the speed at which its demographic is leading it towards a fast aging society.
By 2045, the age dependency ratio will have easily surpassed 50 per cent, from a 2017 ratio of less than 20 per cent. This means that where we have today some five-working people supporting one elderly, the country will rely on less than two people supporting one elderly by 2040.
Thailand thus urgently needs to empower its young people with the knowledge and skills they need in order to shape the future of the nation and contribute to achieving the aims set out in the National 20-year Strategy, ASEAN Vision 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
One way to achieve this would be to develop a national policy ‘compact” that involves multi ministries and stakeholders, as a package of essential services and empowerment platforms for adolescents and young people as they navigate their way into adulthood.
Such a package should focus on promoting healthy lifestyles, well-being and 21st century life skills for adolescents and young people aged 10-24, and should offer a range of explicitly pro-youth, pro-equity policies and opportunities for employability for age group 15-24, which would aim to capitalize on the country’s extraordinary growth in recent years.
For this to be successful, there must be an overall “vision for young people’s future” with an underlying set of coherent policies, services and resources dedicated by the government to address the specific needs and aspirations of this diverse group. This vision must also target those who need support the most; those who are not in education nor employment and training today; adolescents from poor backgrounds, the tens of thousands of teenage mums, and other disadvantaged young people, including those with disabilities. Such a vision for change should be underpinned by a whole-of-government guaranteed budget to ensure delivery of quality and effective services at scale.
The challenge is real. Despite Thailand having made incredible progress on so many areas of child rights over the last few decades, too many young people are still missing out on essential services and support today: Indeed, according to a recent ILO report, some 1.3 million people aged 15 to 24 are not in any form of education system or employment, while some 300 adolescent girls give birth every day in Thailand, with the vast majority of them then dropping out of school, to subsequently struggle to access decent skilled employment opportunities for the rest of their lives.
One of the initial ideas to start with would be to ensure such policy package addresses the current gaps between the skills demanded by employers and the skills currently being taught in schools, vocational and other specialized educational institutions.
The private sector has a key role to play here. It could be instrumental in developing more systematic bridges to work experience opportunities, internship programmes, and on-the-job training for students and young people while ensuring that the labour rights of those students and young people are protected. The private sector can also help deliver skills development programmes and co-create pathways to employment, including reserving or creating jobs for cadres of new graduates.
Strengthening vocational training systems overseen by the Government and making it easier for out-of-school adolescent and youth to benefit from such specialized technical skill training opportunities would also promote holistic and life-long skills development for disadvantaged young people who are not in school today, and possibly allow hundreds of thousands of them to integrate jobs in the formal economy in the future.
Increasing budget support for vocational schools and improving the quality of teaching and resources would produce graduates ready to step into employment. Vocational education would also likely benefit from offering additional sets of knowledge products and tools that look to the future and cater to the new and emerging era of digital, machine-driven and futuristic markets.
Meanwhile, the Thai Student Loan Fund (SLF) should be improved so it is more affordable to disadvantaged students, allowing them to continue their vocational education or skills development.
For young people who are interested in being entrepreneurs, one option would be to establish a specific young entrepreneur banking system, with access to microfinance and young entrepreneur loans. This would fast track their access to decent employment. Enabling young people to access revolving loan funds would help them grow their entrepreneurial skills and start their own businesses, and would likely help boost the country’s overall economic growth.
At the same time, the package of services that specifically targets young people should also include a particular focus on access to health services. Appropriate resources would be needed to promote preventive health care in areas with a high burden of non-communicable diseases, mental health and psychosocial problems, road safety, adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Currently, these are the primary causes of ill health, morbidity and mortality among this age group.
Thailand has an opportunity to become a regional and global leader on advancing agenda for adolescents and young people. With its ageing population, the nation cannot afford to have this crucial population group ‘fall by the wayside’. Investing early in quality services for adolescents and young people, with allocated budgets, would set the country on the right track to 2030 and much beyond.
This article is part of a series of opinion pieces by UNICEF Thailand, in which the organization proposes five priority areas for action and investment for children and young people, for the equitable and sustainable development of Thailand.
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