The Skills Asian Youth Need Today

A young worker at an auto repair shop in the Philippines.
A young worker at an auto repair shop in the Philippines.

By Richeline Mascarinas

Skills alignment should be a priority among governments and the private sector in the region to provide young people the skills employers need to give them jobs.

In our June blog poll, we asked readers what they believe are the top skills that the youth of Asia and the Pacific need to finding jobs today.

Although skills mismatch has only recently become a pressing problem in the region, it is likely to worsen if education systems and technical and vocational education training (TVET) programs do not adapt to the new demands of the labor market. This was not the case before, as most education systems in developing Asia were able to meet the skills required for employment, but global trends have altered the picture. Traditional learning methods, according to a World Economic Forum report released early this year, cannot keep up with current employer demands.

Given that the current youth unemployment rate of 13.1% according to the ILO is thrice the adult employment rate, skills alignment is crucial for the future of 754 million young people in Asia and the Pacific, where skills mismatch can result in wasted economic potential for regional inclusive development. It is therefore interesting to know what skills our readers perceive are most necessary for youth to acquire.

Communications and languages took the highest spot at 38%. This is not surprising, since cognitive skills have always been considered as general requirements for employment, regardless of type of occupation. Also, as Asian countries become more integrated and globalized, a young person’s level of skill in effective communication undoubtedly impacts his/her chance in landing a job.

Running second is technical skills at 22%. These skills are occupation-specific; young people have to be adept at current trends and meet the needs of their dream jobs. Schools then should know what the demands of the changing workplace are so they can better equip young people with the necessary technical skills. This is a current global challenge as, according to UNDP it takes 19 months to complete school-to-work transition, and many university graduates do not really use the skills they learned in school.

Leadership and ICT skills are at par at 20%. This is noteworthy, since like communications, leadership skills are requirement that cuts across occupations. In fact, leadership and communications both fall under the so-called ’sweet spot’ – rare skills that companies surveyed by Bloomberg desire but can’t get. ICT being acknowledged as equally necessary reflects the changing labor market perceptions. The need for ICT skills will grow in coming years, as industries become increasingly digitized and new markets emerge. That today’s youth, dubbed as ‘digital natives,’ is proficient in ICT skills is pretty much a given, and this may prove to be disadvantageous for young people who don’t have easy and affordable access to the Internet as well as advanced ICT training.

Surveys and polls on skills such as this give us a peek into people’s perceptions, which help inform strategic planning on how to educate and correct possible mismatches between labor supply and demands. However, looking at the current challenges to youth employment, it is not enough to know what skills we deem necessary for youth to acquire, or even to know what skills the labor market actually demands.

If we want inclusive and sustainable development, we have to provide the youth, a human capital base that has so much economic potential, with effective education systems and TVET programs. Skills alignment should be a priority among governments and the private sector. Civil society, including the youth sector, should monitor government-led activities on this front to help identify gaps and strengthen efforts. Likewise, development organizations must also innovate and lead in skills training; ADB for example has scaled up its TVET projects.

Today’s youth job skills mismatch can only be solved through collaboration. No one wants to settle for a job that he/she doesn’t want, but some of us are seemingly left with no choice. As a young person, I have confidence in the youth – we are more than ready and willing to know more on how we can help come up with solutions.