An estimated 54% of South Asian youth leave school without the necessary skills to get a decent job in the next decade, according to data produced by the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education), the Education Commission, and UNICEF.
According to the data, South Asia lags behind several other regions in preparing the next generation of young people with the skills they will need for 21st century work. Projections place South Asia well below the global average. This builds on the estimates UNICEF produced with the Commission last year on the projected learning outcomes in 2030 for all South Asian countries.
‘The 2030 Skills Scorecard: South Asia Edition’ calculates and projects the percentage of students in each South Asian country currently on track to attain a basic level of secondary education as a measurement for workplace readiness.
The scorecard shows that the most populous countries in South Asia like Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan are projected to improve the proportion of children completing secondary and attaining workforce skills to 55%, 47%, and 40% respectively. The highest learning levels in the region are expected in Bhutan, which is projected to have 81% of young people learning basic secondary skills and completing school, up from 47% today.
“Every day, nearly 100,000 young South Asians – a large sports stadium of young people – enter the labour market, almost half of them not on track to find 21st century jobs,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “South Asia is at a critical juncture, with a limited window during which it can reap significant demographic dividends from its talented and capable youth. Get it right, and millions could be lifted out of poverty. Fail to do so, and economic growth will falter, youth despair will rise, and further talent will be lost to other regions.”
With almost half of its population of 1.8 billion below the age of 24, led by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, South Asia will have the largest youth labour force in the world until 2040. This offers the region the potential to drive vibrant and productive economies. If strong investments in skills development are made, the region is poised to maintain strong economic growth as well as an expansion of opportunities in the education and skills sectors in the coming decades.
However, a recent UNICEF ‘Voices of Youth’ survey conducted among 32,000 young people in South Asia reveals concerns among these under 24-year-olds about how well they are being prepared for the modern economy. According to the poll, many young people in South Asia feel their education systems are outdated and do not prepare them for employment. They cite lack of work experience (26%), inadequate support services to improve employability (23% received no support and most received limited and not comprehensive support), and bribery demands/discriminatory and unfair hiring practices (44%) as key barriers to finding employment even after they have graduated.
“This is a crisis,” said Justin Van Fleet, Executive Director of the Global Business Coalition for Education. “Addressing the youth skills gap in South Asia requires government investments, commitments from the business community, contributions from civil society, and the perspective of young people to best equip the next generation to successfully enter the rapidly changing job market.”
The survey also found that across South Asia, it was observed that males are more likely to choose between education and work, and at an earlier age than their female counterparts. More men started working before the age of 18 and had to work while studying as compared to their female counterparts. Females had a higher likelihood of studying full-time, with Bhutan, the Maldives and Bangladesh being the most favourable countries for female education.
A separate new report commissioned by UNICEF identified major obstacles to addressing the youth skills gap in the region. These include the low quality of education and suboptimal vocational training which do not give students the desired skill levels the labour market demands, among others. Compiled by Ernst & Young India, this report identifies a total of 30 already-in-operation solutions to the youth skills crisis.
The report, Developing Skills in Youth to Succeed in the Evolving South Asian Economy, 2019, found that the employment shares of industry and services have increased at different rates for the eight South Asian nations. Afghanistan, Nepal, and Pakistan have had a slower decline in agricultural employment share than the other South Asian nations. Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Maldives have seen a relatively large increase in the share of employment in the services sector.
The Bhutan country report states that out of the 45,000 who are in labour force (seeking employment), only around 5,000 are employed resulting in an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent. Excluding unemployment, about 10,601 youth are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET).
As on June 2019, over 57% of youth are currently pursuing education while only 1% are with training institutes. Youth unemployment, especially for educated Bhutanese, has remained high with 67% of bachelor’s degrees holders reported jobless in 2016.
Tshering from Thimphu