By Elizabeth Melampy
A recent USAID study points out that 80 percent of employers in Southeast Asia want to hire more workers, but only 15 percent think education systems are adequately preparing the workforce for available jobs. This difference between employers’ needs and the workforce’s skills is known as a ‘skills gap,’ and workforce training programs are one of the best ways to minimize this gap. Donors and host country governments have leaned on STEM-AT (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, accounting, and tourism) training initiatives to meet these needs, to meet private sector demand, and to create more competitive economies.
In 2014, USAID established the ‘Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training’ (COMET) program to help meet these needs and help create a more competitive workforce in Southeast Asia. The five-year initiative works closely with the private sector to train students in 12 universities and 90 vocational centers across Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia in STEM-oriented programs to help secure employment in the region. USAID has organized workforce training in the past, but in the last five years has renewed efforts to build a workforce to meet the specific demands of the markets in developing regions. In addition, the initiative builds on the Obama administration’s ‘Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative’ (YSEALI) and the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) to enable job-ready graduates with practical education.