Youth skills in the era of Covid-19 and beyond
The theme of the World Youth Skills Day 2020 (observed on July 15) is "skills and resilient youth". However, this year it is the resilience of national economies and the broader TVET (technical and vocational education and training) sector that is being tested. The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures in Bangladesh have led to the closure of TVET institutions across the country, disrupting the continuity of skills development and training for millions of young people.
Bangladesh is not alone. Respondents to a survey of TVET institutions—jointly collected by the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNESCO and the World Bank—reported that owing to Covid-19, distance training has become the most common way of imparting skills for TVET centres across the globe, resulting in many difficulties with curricula adaptation, trainee and trainer preparedness, digital connectivity (one of the major barriers here), and assessment and certification processes.
This is not, surprisingly, the first time the sector has had to adapt to a health emergency and adopt new ways of teaching and training. In 1910, in the face of a national typhoid epidemic, Australia introduced its first distance TVET courses to train health inspectors by mail while they worked. Blending distance learning with practical skills development has proved effective in the TVET sector for over a century and will do so again. Necessity, as the proverb goes, is the mother of invention.
Prior to the current crisis, young people in Bangladesh were five times as likely as adults (25 years and older) to be unemployed. More than one-quarter of these young people (27 percent) were classed as "not in employment, education or training" (NEET); the rate among young women was an alarming 47 percent. Millions of young jobseekers faced tremendous challenges to make a successful transition from school to work due to a lack of in-demand skills, experience, apprenticeship opportunities and limited career guidance.
Given the economic slowdown and the loss of jobs in both the formal and informal sectors, these TVET graduates will face considerable challenges once the nation's economy stabilises. It is important that the government, development partners, the private sector and civil society come together to work out an effective response plan for youth employment via a comprehensive, sector-wide approach.
Quality education and training are central to Bangladesh meeting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Access to affordable, quality technical and vocational education and training is often the only route many young people have to employment, decent work and entrepreneurship opportunities.
The TVET model in Bangladesh is built on promoting equitable, inclusive and sustainable access for women, people with disabilities and minority and vulnerable communities. It also strongly supports transitions to green economies and environmental sustainability. TVET can improve responsiveness to changing skill demands by companies, increase productivity and increase wage levels. TVET can reduce access barriers to the world of work, for example through work-based learning and ensuring that skills gained are recognised and certified.
In the post-Covid-19 phase, young Bangladeshis will be called upon to contribute to the nation's recovery efforts. For them to fulfil their full potential, they need to be equipped with the skills to successfully manage these evolving challenges and the resilience to adapt to future disruptions. It is also a path out of poverty for them and their families. In a country like Bangladesh, one good income often feeds many.
The World Youth Skills Day 2020 is an annual opportunity for young people, TVET institutions, and public and private sector stakeholders to acknowledge and celebrate the importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship.
Skilling the nation's youth in modern day, in-demand sectors and digital technologies will help pave the way for decent jobs not just in the present crisis but post-crisis too. The government response to Covid-19 and youth employment must focus on providing income support measures and in-kind cash transfers to affected young workers, particularly informal and self-employed workers, to help sustain household incomes and boost domestic demand. It is complex, it is expensive, and it will be challenging, but it is the need of the hour for millions of young Bangladeshis.
Tuomo Poutiainen is Country Director, ILO Country Office for Bangladesh.