With focus and creativity the private sector can help bridge the jobs-skills gap for workers across Asia and the Pacific.
When Ren John Lugtu graduated from nursing school in the Philippines four years ago, he was ready to work as a nurse abroad just like many others looking to earn a living in the United States or Europe. Nursing was once viewed as a recession-proof field with a chronic labor shortage. But unfortunately, that reality no longer exists. So RenJohn ended up working at a convenience store in Manila, making minimum wage.
This occurrence is not uncommon in most of Asia and the Pacific, a region where young people find themselves scrambling for low-level jobs despite graduating with a degree from a good university.
"One of the major problems is this issue of mismatch between skills and jobs. On the one hand, we have young graduates who are unable to find jobs. On the other hand, you have employers not able to find suitable talent," said ADB Senior Education Specialist Shanti Jagannathan.
Upgrading the skill base
Asia's robust economic growth will be served well if there is more focus on innovation and productivity increases, Jagannathan adds. This requires skills training designed to upgrade the skill base of the human capital available in the region.
This can be achieved through various types of partnerships. Jagannathan said there is a "need to collaborate with private entities, small businesses, that understand how the market is moving, also what employers want."
"ADB supports efforts to offer better opportunities for training for the disadvantaged because improved skills will give them better prospects for jobs, which in turn contribute to inclusive economic and social development." - Shanti Jagannathan
One such initiative is Kalibrr, an online learning startup that provides free training for those seeking employment in the Philippines' ever-growing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry - i.e., the provision of non-core services like human resources or technology support to companies.
Founded by entrepreneur Paul Rivera, Kalibrr decided to talk to employers to understand the kind of jobs they needed to fill, and find out the skill gaps that were common among the job applicants who went through the hiring process, as in RenJohn's case.
"We start with the industry and the employer first and our courses are directly driven by their needs and their demands so that we can create candidates that fulfill their hiring needs," explained Rivera.
Right-skilling prospective workers
ADB recognizes the important role that initiatives like Kalibrr's plays in helping spur inclusive economic and social growth through skills development. Addressing skills mismatch in Asian countries calls for not just upgrading skills (upskilling) but also aligning skills with industry needs (right-skilling).
ADB puts a great emphasis on the importance of skills training. It has become a key tool for developing countries to achieve goals for economic and social development, as well as address inequality and poverty.
Some of these projects employ public-private partnerships, engaging governments and the private sector in promoting vocational education and matching skills with the jobs required.
For example in Indonesia, ADB funded a 5-year Vocational Education Strengthening Project (INVEST) in 2008 to expand the capacity of the country's vocational schools. Through this public-private partnership model, the school can improve quality and relevance of the education, the industry can get high-quality employees, while students can get work experience at relatively low costs, because the materials are provided by the companies.
In Kyrgyz Republic, ADB is supporting the country's primary vocational education with the help of the Kyrgyz Chamber of Commerce and Industry through the Vocational Education and Skills Development Project. This introduced a competency-based training methodology where skills standards are developed for 18 occupations identified by employers, training providers and government policy makers as priority.
"ADB supports efforts to offer better opportunities for training for the disadvantaged particularly, the women and youth because improved skills will give them better prospects for jobs, which in turn contribute to inclusive economic and social development," Jagannathan said.Stay up to date Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest issues, news, events, jobs and data in your e-mail inbox.