Mismatch between potential and experience confounds many a job-seeker, say managers

Mun Ching Yap had gone as a journalist to an airline company to interview its executive official, but her excitement, passion and ability to learn earned her a job as the head of the company's strategic planning department.

Ms. Mun, now a columnist and entrepreneur from Malaysia, was 28 years old then.

“In Malaysia, the median age of the population is 27, we are talking about 110 million young people in Indonesia and Malaysia alone. Employers here are constantly complaining that there is no talent and that university graduates are unemployable. Boys are expected to be engineers and girls are expected to be accountants. Attitudes towards women are very stereotypical. Employers have to give young persons a chance. If companies have to survive, they have to be innovative and they can't be that unless they hear the voice of the young,” Ms. Mun says.

A special Leaders' Forum on Youth Employment at the 15th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting (ARPM) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which opened on Sunday in Kyoto, raised the crucial issues of the prevailing mismatch between the available skills and the demands of current employers and the severe lack of options for the youth, who are left out of decision- and policy-making.

Moderator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta from India said the challenges before the youth were huge; close to 60 per cent of the young people in the world lived in the Asia Pacific region, which accounted for 45 per cent of all the unemployment on the planet.

Vocational training

According to Ms. Mun, the Malaysian government, now looking at promoting vocational education for students, had set up institutions, with Japanese and German help, to provide youth with actual work experience.

Along with Ms. Mun, youth leaders from the Asia Pacific region made a forceful pitch to demand that their voice be heard in the backdrop of the serious joblessness plaguing the region.

Noura Saleh Alturki, organisation development manager, Nesma Holding Company, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, says those who were educated were not employable, and were told, after four years of studying, that they did not have a work ethic or that they did not know English.

While both sexes faced challenges, women were worse off, and faced many issues, such as lack of public transportation and discrimination, Ms. Alturki said. As a result, women were seeking jobs in the private sector. Things were changing. “Since the time I joined [the company] in 2006, I see lot more job opportunities and it's a very exciting time to talk about employment in the Arab world.”

However, Ms. Alturki said one was faced with a Catch-22 situation — if you have the skills, you don't have the experience.

“Interviewers should recognise people who have potential, train them and provide them with the skills they need,” she said.

Xiaoshan Huang, 25, an entrepreneur and PhD student from China, said his was the post-80s generation, which was now entering the labour market. In China, 75 per cent of the job-seekers were under 35.

While enrolment was increasing in colleges, there was a mismatch between the skills you learn at school and the requirements in the labour market, Mr. Xiaoshan said.

To overcome this, the career coaching programme in schools invited resource persons as coaches for students — an exchange that created special relationships between teachers and students.

Innovation is the key issue, and young people are the main driving force behind innovation, he feels. Promoting entrepreneurship will increase employment and bring about benefits to economic growth.

Pranav Shagotra, youth-wing president of the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC), Asia Pacific, said policy-makers should understand the problems of young people and involve them in policy-making decisions.

Vocational and skill-level training was low. Women did not get jobs and in the Asia Pacific, he said, while the youth were highly qualified, they did not get the jobs they studied for.

The industries need something else and children of poor families often ended up in the informal sector.

In Palestine, things were more positive with the government taking into account the lacuna articulated by a recent research, according to Bader Zamareh, executive director of Sharek Youth Forum there.

The Arab states reported the highest unemployment rate in the region.

“I was one of a group which wrote about the reality of the young people in Palestine and later it involved the rest of the Arab world. We believed something would happen, there was an indicator that something would explode, and we expected it in three years,” Mr. Zamareh said.

But things snowballed even sooner than expected.

What happened in Tunisia, Mr. Zamareh says, was a revolution for freedom and dignity, against the absence of opportunities, the marginalisation and daily violation of Arab and Palestinian dignity. “Therefore we have to see an end to occupation in Palestine. We will not have a future if everything is in the hands of the Israelis. Internal matters are not simple to handle. The Palestinians also have to think of education. There are 35,000 graduates who can't find a job in Palestine,” Mr. Zamareh said.

“We managed to convey our experience to the Palestine Education Minister and this was taken note of. We diagnosed the problems and provided the solutions as well. We understand the market and what the market needs are. With 24 per cent of educated persons being jobless, innovative solutions were needed.”

(The writer is part of a media facility trip by the ILO to Kyoto to cover the conference)

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