Forging partnerships to strengthen youth employment in ASEAN

by Mark Pierce, Regional Director, Plan International in Asia | @PlanAsia | Plan International

I believe that we are at the cusp of monumental change in terms of addressing poverty in South East Asia.

In recent years, we have seen progress in addressing what we refer to as ‘income poverty,’ typically expressed as those living on less than $1.25 a day. This progress has been heavily influenced by government policies that has enabled the private sector to penetrate the most remote areas of this region, helping to lift millions out of poverty.

Similarly, due to a greater openness across borders, scores of people, especially youth, are on the move looking for jobs both nationally and internationally.

As a result, many countries in ASEAN are at full employment with several countries reporting unemployment rates under three per cent. While unemployment worldwide is a growing concern, in Asia, we’re experiencing phenomenal growth.

Nonetheless, while unemployment remains remarkably low, opportunities for decent work has not benefitted everyone equally.

The one, two, three per cent unemployment rates in much of Southeast Asia equates to hundreds of thousands of people in our urban centres who are being left behind by the region’s economic development, including minority populations, marginalized people, and to a large extent, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The ILO estimates that young people between 15-24 make up half of Asia – Pacific’s jobless population. And, young people are five times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

Potential reasons that youth may struggle to find work could range from technical skills, work readiness, education requirements, information and knowledge, lack of access.

By focusing on these young people we can fill a major gap, support families with economic stability and address problems like child labour, exploitation, and trafficking.

Plan International has youth employment programs in 12 countries in Asia, and we have successfully trained have more than 80,000 disadvantaged kids with skills to be ready and qualified to work.

But the question is: how do we go from 80,000 kids in these programs to 8 million? How can we achieve quality, scale and influence to reach such monumental challenges? The reality is, we cannot go about this alone.

In Asia, I believe we have the ability to sustain economic growth and create meaningful jobs for young people through increased collaboration and participation from all sectors: government, civil society and the private sector.

Borrowing from our partner – Accenture – let me share three concepts that underpin the key to partnerships: convergence and co-creation; organizational engagement and disruptive innovation for development.

We need a convergence of interests between Business, Government, Civil Society and individuals. Through a diversity of ideas, we can co-create new hybrid business models and programs to solve today’s problems.

In today’s world, there are a number of ways to engage corporate staff to create shared value, and we have done this with companies like Hyundai Motor Company and Citibank Foundation in Thailand. In the best programs, corporate staff are actively engaged, serving as trainers or technical advisors to our programs.

The challenge before us is to reach millions of young people who are entering the workforce. This is where technology can play a vital role. Through the support of Accenture, Plan International has created a digital ecosystem that seeks to provide a platform to reach hundreds of thousands of youth seeking decent work.

The integration of ASEAN countries will bring considerable growth – and will be largely influenced by high rates of migration – as well as an increase of youth seeking employment.

It is estimated that around 200 million new jobs are needed over the next five vears in order to keep pace with the growing working-age population in emerging and developing countries.

In the midst of ASEAN’s rapid growth, we must reach out to those young people who are being left behind; the unemployed youth who are unable to make the transition into the workforce and find jobs that meet their qualifications and skill sets.

Why? It’s a win win situation for us all. If young people can find decent work, we will have more consumers, markets will grow and businesses will prosper.

Forging partnerships with businesses helps to turn current challenges into opportunities; it helps the entire region move forward and brings economic mobility to those who need it – and are seeking it – the most.


This opinion piece is an adaptation of a speech made by Mark Pierce at the 2016 Global Child Forum on Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 5 May 2016. This article originally appeared in Reuters Newswire on May 22. For the original article:

In Asia, I believe we have the ability to sustain economic growth and create meaningful jobs for young people through increased collaboration and participation from all sectors: government, civil society and the private sector.

Mark Pierce, Regional Director, Plan International in Asia