ASEAN youth place increasing importance on internships, OJT for skills development

Young people in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) want more lifelong learning, on-the-job training (OJT) and internships, and will often change jobs in order to learn new skills, according to a new survey by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The survey of 56,000 citizens aged between 15 and 35 from six ASEAN countries including the Philippines found that ASEAN youths understand the potential for technology to disrupt job markets and place a high value on skills development and training.

Some 9% of respondents say their current skills are already outdated, while 52% believe they must “update their skills constantly.” Only 18% believe their current skills will stay relevant for most of their lives.

They also believe that on-the-job training and internships are either equally important or more important than training in school.

This suggests a healthy approach among ASEAN youths to having a “growth mindset,” and the need to embrace lifelong learning in place of receiving education and training only in their early years, according to the research paper released last month.

However, the youths reported only limited opportunities for formal on-the-job training. “Youths working for big multinational companies (MNCs) say they are more likely to receive formal on-the-job training than those who work for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or family businesses,” said the research.

Moreover, asked for their reasons for changing jobs, the number one reason given is “for better opportunities to learn and develop.”

For businesses, providing more on-the-job training and internships is clearly both an imperative and a big opportunity to attract and retain workers, said the report.

“For policy-makers, it suggests that the current focus on providing education primarily at the start of a person’s life (i.e. at school and university) will not be enough. The whole approach to education needs to shift to one that is based on lifelong learning all the way through adulthood.”

Further, asked where they would like to work in the future, ASEAN youths show a strong preference for entrepreneurial settings as well as for foreign multinationals, and look less favorably on SMEs.

“Traditional SMEs are the backbone of ASEAN labour markets, but the survey reveals that small companies may face recruitment challenges. While 18.3% of respondents work for SMEs today, only 7.5% want to work for one in the future.

“For businesses, especially SMEs, these findings suggest a strong need to increase investment in human capital development-both to ensure a high-quality workforce and as a source of competitive advantage to attract workers,” said the WEF report.

It also suggests that to address potential recruitment challenges, as well as prepare workers for the future, public-private projects should be undertaken “to help SMEs equip their workers with the skills they need.”

On what sector of the economy they would choose to work in, ASEAN youths show a preference for technology companies, seen as a worrying development for other sectors. (For Filipino youths, this “could be due to the strong presence of the business process outsourcing industry,” said the report.)

“Certain more traditional parts of the economy may struggle to recruit young workers in the future. In manufacturing, for example, 15% of youths work there today, but only 12% want to work there in the future. In construction, 4% work there today, but only 2% aspire to work there in the future,” observed WEF.

“Government policy and business practices need to catch up to what is happening on the ground. Advances in technology will continue to impact labour markets into the future, and this requires ongoing education and skills training,” it added. “Anything less than a systematic shift in our approach to education and skills risks leaving people behind.”

In the Philippines, linkages between government, private sector and the academic community continue to be strengthened to address the skills gap of workers and prepare them for the future of work.

The WEF survey was conducted online in July 2019 in partnership with Sea, a Singapore-based consumer internet company. Responses were collected from young ASEAN citizens from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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