Are South Asian Youths Getting Right Skills?

Azaz Zaman

12 November, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Are South Asian Youths Getting Right Skills?

Azaz Zaman

Several factors, including digitalisation, globalisation, demographic shifts and other changes in the work environment, are continuously reforming market skill needs. This can easily lead to tenacious skill shortages—mismatch between acquired and demanded skills, which are costly for individuals, firms, and society in terms of lost wages and lower productivity and growth. And, young people are the worst sufferer of these skill shortages.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), young people—across the world—face real and increasing difficulties in finding decent work. This problem is reasonably visible in the South Asian labour market. Youth unemployment in this region has risen dramatically and has become a particular cause for concern, posing a threat to the social, economic, and political stability of many South Asian countries.

South Asia is home to the largest number of young people of any global region, with almost half of its population of 1.9 billion below the age of 24. Although South Asia has already experienced some of the fastest economic growth rates globally, youth unemployment remains high (at 9.8% in 2018) because of changing labour market demands and over — or under —qualification of job candidates.

Skills Mismatch

South Asia has the largest youth labour force in the world with nearly 100,000 young people entering the labour market each day. Unfortunately, attainment of the highest level of education (tertiary) provides no guarantee towards securing a decent job. Experts call this “Skill Mismatch”. Employers always complain that they are not getting the right skilled youth to offer them a job. Thus, merely increasing the number of educational institutions for the emerging workforce in developing economies will not ensure higher-skilled labour.

Broken-Down Education System

Education is considered as the most essential factor in building human capital. The present education systems are not providing young people with appropriate skills and this starts at the most basic level.


Reports show that many teenagers from rural parts of South Asia are struggling with basic reading and arithmetic skills - even after eight years at school. On top of that, transferable skills that employers are looking for, such as teamwork and communication, are not being taught. Young people without these basic literacy skills struggle to find a job that will provide a decent lifestyle. The unemployment crisis, therefore, is partly being fueled by this learning crisis, which is the result of the broken-down education system.

The following chart shows the school-age children on track to complete secondary AND reach the learning benchmarks, in percentage

In most South Asian countries, the projected proportion of children and youth completing secondary education and learning basic secondary skills is expected to be more than double by 2030. Still, on current trends, fewer than half of the region’s projected 400 million primary and secondary school-age children in 2030 are estimated to be on track to complete secondary education and attain basic workforce skills.


If children and young people aren't getting basic skills, this will have a knock-on effect not only on their employment opportunities but also on the economic growth of their countries. Estimates indicate that by 2030, there will be 1.5 billion school-age children in low- and middle-income countries. If these trends continue, approximately 880 million children will not get the most basic skills they need to succeed in the workforce. Thus, in my view, we should have a separate goal in sustainable development goals to deal with youth unemployment, inspiring policymakers to tailor policies to different country contexts.

Finally, by realising the magnitude of the skills crisis, governments in South Asian countries should invest in market-oriented curriculum development to dramatically transform the skills landscape for the next generation.


The writer is the Founder & President of World Data Review (