USAID Focusing on Workforce Development in Southeast Asia

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.

Students at Saigon International University in Vietnam.

Students at Saigon International University in Vietnam.

Continue reading

Global Development Forum: Workforce Development Preview

The International Labor Organization estimates that 73.4 million youth were unemployed in 2013, and that youth were three times more susceptible to unemployment than adults. As a result, the role of formal education and training of youth in its influence on the quality and development of the workforce demands urgent attention. Private sector investment, alignment of employment skills, as well as education programs that feed into social stability will play integral roles in creating a more employable youth population and a fortified workforce.

World Youth Day will be celebrated in Krakow, Poland this year.

World Youth Day will be celebrated in Krakow, Poland this year.

Why should the private sector invest?

In 2013, nearly 300 million young people were not in education, employment, or training (NEET). The private sector has a role to play in supporting employment-focused education, but investment in this space should be driven by self-interest—effective workforce development will result in higher profitability in the long run by increasing the overall capability, quality, and efficiency of the workforce. Keeping in mind the relative strengths of both the public and private sectors, there is a clear window to create shared value, allowing both business and communities to jointly prosper. Through increased public-private partnerships and supply of skills training programs, the private sector can offer input where the public sector is unable to through deeper social investment. By financing recruitment, promotion and training, the private sector can better link business and social interests. Moreover, it can make youth more employable by aiding with the management of Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) programs, lowering or removing barriers to entry for disadvantaged students, and alleviating other social obstacles faced by youth in need of further education. Continue reading

Now up on Devex: A push for youth policy

Last week I was among the 700 participants from 160 countries gathered in Baku, Azerbaijan with for the First Global Forum on Youth Policies. Government officials, U.N. representatives, experts, practitioners and young people deliberated policy matters of the world’s youth — a demographic that constitutes a quarter of the global population and represents the largest generation in human history.

The forum, a first of its kind, was co-convened by several parties including the Office of the U.N. Envoy on Youth, UNESCO, UNDP and the Council of Europe to deliberate national and global youth policy: why they matter, what elements they should contain and issues they should address, how they should be implemented.

Why? It is (or should be) a no-brainer. More than 85 percent of our young people live in developing countries, emerging economies and fragile states. Without question, their fate is highly consequential to the landscape and trajectory of international economics, politics and security. At a time when inequality within and between nations is untenable, Magdy Martínez-Solimán, U.N. assistant secretary-general and former Spanish deputy minister for youth, lauded the ability of youth policies to promote inclusion.

“A national youth policy is essential as a social investment that provides opportunity, protects the most vulnerable of our young citizens, and strengthens the community,” she said. “It makes societies more equal.”

Read the full post from CSIS senior associate, Nicole Goldin, on Devex