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As Thailand’s curriculum reform process is moving onward, talks were being focused on the issue of youth employment as one of the key aspects that need to be addressed in the reformed education system.

At the Quality Learning Foundation’s 3rd Seminar on Youth Employment, academics and youth employment experts raised their concern over quality of the jobs youth are doing, and pointed to broad-based education as one of the key solutions to the problem.

Dr. Supakorn Buasai, Managing Director of QLF

Mr Matthieu Cognac, Youth Employment Specialist of the International Labor Organization, said youth employment is critical issue for the world. It affects every country, rich or poor, to some extent. Worldwide, it is estimated that 73 million young people are unemployed, and 36 million among them are in Asia and the Pacific region. Besides, young people are 5.3 times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

Youth unemployment is a big issue everywhere. In high income countries like Spain, youth unemployment rate is more than 50 percent, much higher than that of low and middle income countries in Asia and the Pacific region where the average youth unemployment rate is roughly at 13 percent.  In Thailand, where the unemployment rate is extremely small, about 2.7 percent, the problem that lies behind is quality of the jobs that are provided.“Often we found that young people don’t have the jobs they want or deserve. The job they usually find is internship that makes them do the work, but do not get paid, or jobs in the informal sector where they don’t have the option to exercise their social rights with employers, or jobs on the construction sites that fail to meet safety standards. These are not decent jobs. It creates discouragement and sometimes leads to other issues, such as mental health problems,” said Mr. Cognac.

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Mr. Matthieu Cognac, Youth Employment Specialist, ILO

In a particular focus on Asia-Pacific region, it is expected that up to 14 million children may still not be enrolled to school by 2015, which is the beginning ASEAN Economic Community.

Mr. Cognac said it is worrying that skills programs still do not reach out to the most vulnerable youth, such as those in remote areas or those living with HIV/Aids. Besides, young people still suffer from the lack of any form of orientation and career guidance that would help them make their decisions for the future of their working lives.

He emphasized on entrepreneurship which should be one of the fundamental jobs for young people, yet it is not always presented as an option for them. When they go to curriculum in high schools or vocational training centers, young people mostly do not have access to information as to what entrepreneurship is all about.

Now in order to promote youth employment, Mr. Cognac said it is important for education to come along with training and lifelong learning.

He cited the ILO Recommendation no. 195 on HRD, Education, Training and Lifelong learning, which says, “Individuals are most employable when they have broad-based education and training, basic and portable high-level skills, including teamwork, problem solving, information and communications, technology (ICT) and communication and language skills. This combination of skills enables them to adapt to changes in the world of work.”

He suggested one direction for every country to go, which is to promote decent jobs. In response to that, the ILO Conference had come up with the resolution that involves six measures, including employment and economic policies, further emphasis on education and training, policies focused on disadvantaged youth, introduction of entrepreneurship in schools, raising youth awareness on their rights at work, as well as ILO action in advocacy, knowledge sharing and technical cooperation.

Dr. Piyanuch Wuttisorn, Director of Social Data-based and Indicator Development Office, National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), noted that although youth unemployment rate in Thailand is small when compared to other countries, the figure is considered alarming when compared to the national unemployment rate which is less than one percent.

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Dr. Piyanuch Wuttisorn, Director of Social Data-based and Indicator Development Office, National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB)

“This means youth are most unemployed among people of all ages, which is worrying,” said Dr. Piyanuch.

Looking into what young people are doing, the 2012 statistics showed that 45% of youth population are employed while the other 41% are in school. Among those who are employed, 49% work in private company, 36% work for their family, 10% are self-employed and 4% work for the government.

Besides, it’s also found that youth workers are usually low educated, and most of them work in agricultural and service sector.  More than that, young Thai women were more likely to be unemployed than men. This indicated gender inequality in youth labor market.

Regarding poverty and access to basic education, the figures showed that youth access to primary and lower secondary education have shown progress over time, but there is still a room to improve for higher secondary and vocational education.

What’s more worrying is that, despite the low unemployment rate, about 40% of youth labor force work in informal sector, which means they are excluded from social protection.

“All the statistics tell us the severity of the problem. We can see the mismatch of supply and demand in the job markets, and the lack of job skills needed. Besides, we need to do something to cope with the lack of career guidance, attitude towards youth work, gender inequality and youth labor force in informal sector,” she said.

Dr. Weerachart Kilenthong, Director of the Research Institute for Policy Evaluation and Design, University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, pointed at the technological change over the past 50 years as a phenomenon that has significant impact on the labor market, and consequently on education.

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Dr. Weerachart Kilenthong, Director of the Research Institute for Policy Evaluation and Design, University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce

Because of that, he noted students need to be equipped with general skills including problem solving, interpersonal and communication skills as they would help for adjustment to the new technologies.

Addressing about youth unemployment in Thailand, Dr. Weerachart said the rate is quite high especially for college graduates or those who graduated from schools or colleges no more than five years. This is because companies generally do not prefer workforce who have no experiences. Besides, this group of young graduates are selective. They are still searching for the jobs that they think they want or are suitable for them.

The statistics also showed that unemployment rate for college graduates is lower than that of the high-school group. Besides, when looking at the earnings, the figures indicated that college graduates earn more than high school graduates. This explains why college education has become more popular among youth.

He mentioned the so-called Skill-Biased Technology Changes which has become a key driving force of an increasing earning inequality in many countries including Thailand. Under this phenomenon, individuals with more education and higher innate abilities will be more able to grasp new and complicated tools, and those who are quicker will be rewarded.

As such, the main question for the education system is “How can we produce our young population with general skills which can readily be adapted to new technologies?”

Dr. Weerachart said this is in accordance with ILO’s perspective that emphasized on broad-based education. Instead of targeting any specific skills, education should provide some basic skills that make young people ready for adjustment to the new technologies and knowledge.

“In my opinion, what young people need are skills such as analytical skills and problem solving skills, not just a skill to memorize things. To be a good labor force, it doesn’t matter whether you are graduating from university or not.  What’s more important is whether you can manage the problems effectively,” he said.

He noted analytical skill and interpersonal skill should be developed since childhood, as they create enthusiasm that will finally lead to lifelong learning. He said the problem today is that the education system has produced graduates with skills that are not wanted in the job market.

“What’s needed now are general skills that can be adapted everywhere, and a person who has these skills will survive in the future,” he said.

Ms. Simrin Singh, from the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, also noted that nowadays the nature of labor force is changing. With so much technological advancement, and the dynamic change of ASEAN, one person is no longer prepared for a single job for life. She suggested life skill training as an effective tool to be integrated into the curriculum. This has to be started earlier even at the primary education level.

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Ms. Simrin Singh, Senior Specialist on Child Labour

“We may need to prepare students for 15 jobs in their productive ends of a lifetime. The model of education should be adapted to the world,” she concluded.

Posted by QLF

Quality Learning Foundation (QLF), a new state agency created under the Prime Minister’s leadership and regulated from the Prime Minister’s Office. It seeks the Promotion of a Learning Society and the raised quality of Youth and Children Education and seeks to take new initiatives in the Thai education system, encourage education reform and accelerate quality learning.