Preparing youth for the world of work for a brighter economic future
The key findings from the Youth Employability Scoping Study
Fewer Thai youth have jobs than a decade ago, according to a Youth Employability Scoping Study Report by Thailand Development Research Institute, commissioned by UNICEF with technical support from the ILO. In the face of an ageing population and disruptive technology, not to mention a pandemic, Thailand will need to equip all young people with skills to participate productively in tomorrow’s economy.
The report maps the employability landscape for youth aged 15-24 in Thailand. Through conversations with businesses and youth themselves, the study aims to fill in the gaps in our understanding of the labour market challenges facing youth, particularly disadvantaged youth, and the key role public-private partnerships can play in linking all youth to the world of work.
“The report findings come at a critical time when the unprecedented economic impact of COVID-19 is expected to hit young people harder, who are at a higher risk of unemployment and precarious employment than adults. In addition to building a more inclusive social protection system for all, ensuring that young people can gain access to decent jobs will help ensure their access to some form of social protection, now more important than ever,” said Beena Kuttiparambil, Chief of Adolescent Development and Participation at UNICEF Thailand.
At 4.9 per cent, the youth unemployment rate is seven times higher compared to the total population. Some young people are simply staying longer at school more than ever before, but many are leaving education behind for low-skilled jobs, many of which were the first to go during the COVID-19 pandemic and will become redundant as technology transforms the job landscape for 3.45 million agricultural, manufacturing, wholesale and retail workers in Thailand.
With Thai students falling far behind the OECD average in reading, mathematics and science and much less likely to value lifelong learning than their ASEAN counterparts, school curriculums need upgrading to prepare school graduates for the changing demands of the labour market.
“Formal and non-formal educational organizations must stay on top of promoting relevant, quality education for building 21st century skills. The earlier our start in empowering youth, especially the most disadvantaged, the more readily they can meet tomorrow’s challenges of shouldering the growing costs of an ageing population and driving economic recovery,” said Kuttiparambil.
Facing unequal starting points in life and discrimination, some young people are less likely to be employed than others. The number of unemployed female youth in Thailand remains almost unchanged and stubbornly higher compared to male youth.
Dealing with education mismatch, university graduates are much less likely to find jobs than those with primary education, with a 17.22 per cent and 2.43 per cent unemployment rate, respectively. This may be because both highly skilled jobs and qualified young workers are in short supply. More than 300,000 graduates of 2020 will likely be jobless this year, unable to find an entry-level job in the midst of a recession.
Above all, 1.3 million Thai youth lack the skill set and opportunities to even get their foot in the door of the job market and are not in employment, education or training (NEET). This number, of which women make up two-thirds, grows every year. Short on career guidance at school and family support at home, those with learning disabilities, from poor households and in early marriages are at the greatest risk of remaining out of classrooms and work.
“If young people are given a seat at the decision-making table with employers, their perspectives and joint solutions could get at the heart of the root causes of youth unemployment. Why are employers not hiring skilled graduates and young women? What kind of job opportunities can employers create and train young people for? How can these opportunities reach young people with disabilities or young families, and what kind of support will they need?” said Makiko Matsumoto, ILO Employment Specialist.
When youth are able to voice their specific needs and aspirations, the private sector will be better informed in their hiring decisions and creating internship and on-the-job training opportunities for them.
There is no specific law or working group that addresses youth and their needs distinctly, leaving them more vulnerable to the COVID-19 economic shock.
“COVID-19 has dealt young people a tough hand, but it is also an opportunity to trigger systemic reform in education and the labour market that can respond to future crises,” said Matsumoto. “To support a clear strategic path to employability for all young people in Thailand, UNICEF and the ILO will jointly work toward achieving the priorities outlined in Thailand’s Decent Work Country Programme.”
The area of developing skills among youth is just as ripe for collaboration. Social enterprises’ initiatives for upskilling, reskilling, career counselling and entrepreneurship training remain limited in scale and budget, and the Royal Thai government’s iSEE platform, which can identify disadvantaged students individually, is still in the works. Beyond operating solely within the Equitable Education Fund, the government can partner with the private sector and NGOs and share its data with the public to unlock the immense potential of all young people and transform them into the workers of tomorrow.