Youths in Asia and the Pacific should learn skills in four key areas -- communication, technical, leadership and ICT knowledge -- to get them ready for the labour market.
This skills set is the result of a recent poll on the Asian Development Bank (ADB) blog and was published just days ahead of the World Youth Skills Day.
World Youth Skills Day was on July 15 and the United Nations observed the day with a special event under the theme 'Skills Development to Improve Youth Employment'. In a blog poll in June, the ADB asked its readers what they believe are the top skills that the youth of Asia and the Pacific need to find jobs today.
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 earlier this year, cannot keep up with the current employer demands.
The blog said skills alignment is crucial for the future of 754 million young people in Asia and the Pacific, where a 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,” wrote Richeline Tan Mascarinas, communications consultant for ADB's Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, on the development agency's blog site.
Communication and language skills took the top spot as 38 percent of the respondents favoured the skills, according to the poll.
“This is not surprising, since cognitive skills have always been considered as general requirements for employment, regardless of type of occupation,” wrote Mascarinas.
Also, as Asian countries become more integrated and globalised, a young person's level of skills in effective communication undoubtedly impacts his/her chance in landing a job.
Running second is technical skills at 22 percent. 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 20 percent.
“This is noteworthy, since like communications, leadership skills are a 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,” Mascarinas said.
ICT being acknowledged as equally necessary reflects the changing labour market perceptions. The need for ICT skills will grow in coming years, as industries become increasingly digitised 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 do not 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 labour supply and demands,” said Mascarinas.
She said looking at the current challenges to youth employment, it is not enough to know what skills are deemed necessary for the youth to acquire, or even to know what skills the labour market actually demands.
Mascarinas said skills alignment should be a priority among governments and the private sector.
Besides, she said, civil society, including the youth, should monitor government-led activities on this front to help identify gaps and strengthen efforts. Likewise, development organisations must also innovate and lead in skills training.
The UN says understanding what works to support young people in today's and tomorrow's labour market through training and skills development will be key to the achievement of the 2030 agenda.
"On this World Youth Skills Day, let us renew our resolve to invest more in empowering young people. When we do, they can better advance the broader mission of the United Nations for lasting peace, sustainable development and human rights for all,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the occasion.
The ADB blog poll might also help Bangladesh chart its strategies on how to equip its vast youth population with skills that can allow the country to reap demographic dividend.
In 2015, the size of labour force was 6.14 crore. Of them, 5.87 crore are above the age of 15 years, according to a budget document submitted in parliament by Finance Minister AMA Muhith in June.
The document says the skills level of the labour force is not at the satisfactory levels. According to data from 2010, 40 percent of the workforce was illiterate and only 23 percent passed primary education.
This prompted the government to take a number of steps to enhance the skills of the labour force. In 2015-16, the government took up four projects worth Tk 428 crore for skills development.
The government also gave a roadmap on its plans on outbound migration so people going out of the country for jobs are trained.
According to the budget document, there are about 70 lakh Bangladeshis currently working abroad. Of them, 31 percent are skilled, 14 percent semi-skilled, 2 percent professionals and 52 percent low-skilled.
The government plans to raise the number of skilled migrant workers to 50 percent by 2030.