[INSIGHT] Urgent need to tackle youth unemployment in COVID-19 pandemic

The year is coming to an end, but we still see no end to the COVID-19 pandemic despite some recent good news about vaccines. According to Gadjah Mada University researchers, this pandemic might last until early 2022 in Indonesia.

This obviously calls for more attention to fighting the pandemic, while at the same time calling for a more serious effort to help citizens navigate it safely. This is so, especially, in case of youth, who are facing the risk of unemployment, as economic challenges continue to take a toll within the country.

According to Statistics Indonesia (BPS), the Indonesian youth unemployment rate before the COVID-19 pandemic was already at 13.03 percent. In other words, about 40 percent of all unemployed people in the country were young people.

The number is predicted to increase during the pandemic, especially as the hospitality and retail sectors– two sectors which employ most of the youth in the labor force — are heavily affected. This has, in turn, created an even more restricted and highly competitive job market for young people. Given these conditions, it is no wonder that youth are under a great deal of stress. In a recent youth-led study presentation supported by the United Nations Population Fund, it was reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted young people’s mental health and wellbeing, leaving them feeling isolated, easily angered, or even paranoid. This is especially prevalent among people within the age group of 19 to 24 years.

This situation calls for our urgent attention to ensure the basic rights fulfillment for the youth. As stated in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment. This also applies to the young workers in Indonesia, who equally own the right to live a decent life.

We will need to assist these young people to realize these basic rights to employment for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Efforts to support these youth will contribute to sustaining the income of one-fourth of Indonesia’s population (around 65 million), which may help buffer the overall economic impact of the pandemic.

While the task may be arduous, there are reasons to be optimistic. While some sectors of the economy are seeing a downturn, others are growing during the pandemic, such as e-commerce and information and communication technology (ICT). 

Bank Indonesia (the central bank) predicted that the amount of e-commerce transactions in Indonesia will reach Rp 429 trillion (US$29.5 billion) at the end of this year – double the total of last year. The success of these sectors is reflecting in the job market. Based on a 2020 ILO rapid assessment, there is an increase in demand for some ICT positions, among them are entry-level positions, requiring 0 to 2 years of experience. 

Various sources also identified some other winning sectors, including the personal care and hygiene, health products, food (frozen food and basic necessities) and logistics.

Ideally, this would result in job alternatives for the workers; however, the specific entry requirements and eligibility criteria, are highlighting the need for reskilling. Even before the pandemic, employers struggled to find well-trained candidates, despite the growing number of graduates in Indonesia – alluding to a clear demand and supply gap challenge.

Given the complex nature of the task, professionals from across sectors (including education, business and government), need to come together to create out-of-the-ordinary solutions that motivate, equip and allow young people to enter the pandemic-affected restructured economy. 

To this effect, Plan International Indonesia Foundation (Plan Indonesia), a nonprofit that advances children’s rights and equality for girls, is committed to helping empower the youth in gaining better access to employment. One prime example is the recently launched “Bridges to the Future” program, with support from Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, and co-implemented with the ASEAN Foundation.

This project will deliver market-driven vocational and job-matching solutions, beginning with a two-year pilot that targets vulnerable young people across Indonesia. The goal of the project is to equip approximately 5,000 unemployed youth with relevant skills and help match the trained youth with existing job opportunities. In Indonesia, the project will focus on young women in order to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of equal economic rights for women and men.

Based on years of local experience in youth economic empowerment programming, well-researched job market demand will inform better vocational training and increased job-matching conversion rates. We also know that our solution will need to emphasize digital literacy skills and online safety awareness as young people face major obstacles in accessing in-person training and education and will need these skills to be competitive in the marketplace.  Together, we may turn this challenge into an opportunity to create impact and possibly to build back better after the crisis.

Writer: Dina Mairawati, YEE Advisor

—— The writer is a youth employment and entrepreneurship advisor at Yayasan Plan International Indonesia, a nonprofit organization that ensures the fulfillment of the rights of children and equality for girls. These views are personal.

Originally published in: https://www.thejakartapost.com/paper/2020/12/18/insight-urgent-need-to-tackle-youth-unemployment-in-covid-19-pandemic.html