Empowering Asian Youth for the Future

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

January 24, 2024

A concerning pattern is unfolding in the diverse landscape of Asia: rising unemployment. India, home to the largest population in the region, is grappling with an escalating unemployment crisis, particularly among its youth. Over the span of a decade from 2013 to 2023, the unemployment rate has surged from 5.42% to 10.05%, nearly doubling during this period. Various factors, including the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009, demonetization in 2016, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to a spike in unemployment as businesses shuttered and economic activities ground to a halt.

The complex interplay of macroeconomic factors is perhaps the most crucial cause of Asia’s unemployment crisis. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that global unemployment will rise to 211 million in 2024, with Asia accounting for a significant portion of this increase – about 104.5 million unemployed Asians. This slowdown can be attributed to myriad factors, including the impact of COVID-19, geopolitical tensions, and the upward trajectory of inflation.

As of March 2023, nearly 50% of China’s 16- to 24-year-olds were neither employed nor at school. In an op-ed article, Zhang Dandan, an associate professor of economics at the National School of Development of Peking University, highlighted that an astonishing 16 million young individuals have opted for the “lie flat” phenomenon. This recent trend among Chinese youth involves voluntarily dropping out of the career rat race, choosing to opt for a more balanced and lifestyle-oriented approach to their professional endeavors.

Beyond its economic consequences, such as diminished GDP output and sluggish growth, unemployment contributes to social unrest, exacerbates inequality and results in the underutilization of human capital. However, amid this escalating uncertainty, a glimmer of hope persists. The advancement and widespread adoption of emerging technologies has created opportunities to skill and empower the disengaged youth of Asia. Providing the region’s young population with the necessary tools to navigate the swiftly evolving landscape will not only enhance their capabilities but also propel the entire region towards a prosperous and future-ready tomorrow.

Skilling the Youth

From artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to big data and the Internet of Things (IoT), these advancements are reshaping industries and creating new opportunities. The key to unlocking a future marked by inclusive growth and prosperity for Asia lies in embracing these technologies wholeheartedly. But the challenge at hand is to bridge the gap between the current workforce and the evolving demands of the future. It is imperative to equip Asia’s youth with skills in emerging technologies, ensuring they are active participants and not left behind in the transformative wave of change.

Foremost, there is a crucial need to modernize the education system. Curricula should undergo a comprehensive overhaul to incorporate relevant technical skills, including coding, data analysis, and foundational knowledge in AI. Achieving this requires a collaborative effort involving academia, industry, and government to ensure practical relevance. Implementing robust vocational training programs that address specific technological requirements will empower youth with hands-on skills directly applicable in the job market. These programs should be easily accessible and affordable, especially for disadvantaged communities.

Moreover, leaders in Asia should prioritize the culture of lifelong learning. Embracing continuous learning and skill development must become the standard to navigate the ever-changing technological landscape. Online platforms, micro-credentials and apprenticeship programs can play a pivotal role in facilitating this ongoing journey of lifelong learning.

Real-World Examples

Singapore is already moving ahead in this journey. Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong announced the second edition of Singapore’s AI strategy, aiming to triple its AI workforce by training locals and hiring from overseas. “We are acutely aware that every leading city in the world today wants to be an AI hub…We cannot compete head-on in terms of size or fiscal resources, but we do have several factors in our favor: a highly skilled workforce, a highly wired-up society and, importantly, a trusted ecosystem, where things work and where we can make things happen,” said DPM Wong.

Singapore’s approach in enabling its workforce for future disruptions is commendable and perhaps an ideal example for others in the region to follow. It is essential for other countries to start investing in skilling its workforce. A recent study by Pearson reveals that India will need to upskill and reskill as many as 16.2 million workers in AI and automation to cover its skills deficit by 2027.

The Road Ahead

Confronting the dual challenges of escalating unemployment and technological disruption demands a unified effort. Governments, private enterprises, educational institutions, and international organizations need to unite and establish a collaborative framework. Public-private partnerships have the potential to stimulate investments in skill development programs, while the exchange of knowledge and technology can narrow the gap between developed and developing economies in the region. By strategically leveraging the synergy between technology and education, Asia can effectively navigate the surging tide of unemployment, ensuring that its young generation emerges as the driving force behind progress and innovation in the years ahead.

Photo Caption: Asian youth must harness the potential of emerging technologies to find gainful employment.