Tap the young to save greying society

Sirawitch Rattanaprateeptong
Nawathas Thasanabanchong

With a rapidly greying population, it is time for Thailand to equip every single youth with proper education and skills so they can help sustain the economy and shoulder the rising costs of elderly care.

Sadly this is not happening. Much attention has been given to the unemployment of new graduates, because it not only reflects the state of the economy and the quality of education, but it also sheds light on the struggles awaiting them in the future.

However, these unemployment figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

In an ageing society, young people are valuable human resources. Yet Thailand is letting more than a million young people fall through the cracks with no education, no jobs, no training and – no future.

According to a 2018 survey, 11.34% of Thailand’s youth – that’s more than a million people – are not in school, have no jobs and no skills. And most of them are women.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), these unemployed youth are called NEET or “not in education, employment and training”.

In Thailand, the NEET population is growing at a rate of 1.16% per year, while the number of young people in Thailand has been steadily dropping at an average of 1.07% over the past decade.

This is bad news. Not just for an ageing society with a critical labour shortage ahead, but also for the young people who fall through the cracks. These people are not just numbers in a labour force, but actual individuals with dreams and aspirations who have been cast aside and left to struggle on their own without support from the system.

This has to change.

As per the Report of the Population Projections for Thailand 2010-2040 by the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council, Thailand will have become a completely aged society by this year, that is one in five people will be over 60, accounting for over 18.76% of the total population. With these numbers, a labour shortage is imminent, as is an increase in the ratio of dependent people.

The need for urgent action is clear. The NEET population require an immediate intervention so they can return to the education system, get vocational training, get jobs and become economically productive with better opportunities.

Work and independence will given them more self-esteem, which will prevent them from being lured into harmful situations.

In Thailand, young people who are outside the education system and the workforce fall into three main groups: 63% are household workers, 21% are taking a “rest” between jobs; and 16% are small children, sick or the severely disabled. Interestingly, 70% of NEET youngsters who are drop-outs or jobless are female.

There are many reasons for this group to be left out of the education and work system, mainly that the mainstream schooling system in Thailand does not support slow learners or those with learning difficulties. So, with such neglect, they eventually drop out of school.

Also, though the labour protection law lists jobs that people under 18 cannot be hired for, it does not specify the type of jobs they can do. Hence, employers overlook young people altogether for fear of breaking the law.

Another big reason for young women to drop out of school is unplanned pregnancies.

A 2018 labour force survey shows that 80% of NEET youngsters are female household workers who have not completed their education and have no vocational training. More than 50% of them are married and have finished no more than high school.

This is in line with findings from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2015/16 in a collaboration between the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and National Statistical Office (NSO), which offers a wide range of indicators on the situation of children and women. It shows that unplanned pregnancy among high-school students accounts for 88% of female dropouts.

One of the reasons why these youngsters have not received help is because there is no database specifying who they are and where they are. However, this should not excuse the lack of support.

 Late last year, the Equitable Education Fund developed a nationwide information system covering over 4 million underprivileged children and youth who cannot be educated due to a lack of funds. This Information System for Equitable Education (iSEE) is linked with each student’s identification number and their location through the geographic information system, thanks to cooperation from various state agencies.

From now on, this system can identify needy children and youth, as well as those outside the education system across the country so they can receive funds and support in line with their needs directly.

Apart from solving disparity at an individual level, this information system will also enable the government to allocate funds to address real needs more efficiently.

This database is a step in the right direction because it helps us to more accurately locate young people who have fallen through the cracks.

However, it is not sufficient, because the causes that push the youth out of the system are manifold and more comprehensive measures are necessary to address the problems of different groups with different needs.

Research called “Adolescent Employability Development Scoping Study” by the Thailand Research Development Institute (TDRI) aims to do just that. Sponsored by Unicef, theĀ TDRIĀ has come up with several policy recommendations to tackle the problem of young people who have been overlooked by schools, employers and vocational training institutes.

Firstly, the government must take charge. Apart from setting up dedicated working group to collect and share data on children and youth, the government must focus on providing vocational training for this NEET group in collaboration with non-governmental organisations and social enterprises, especially those that are working for children and youths in particular.

Secondly, relevant state agencies should come up with a list of jobs legally allowed for under 18s, to bridge the information gap.

Thirdly, effective and flexible mechanisms must be put in place so youth can be drawn into vocational training. This can be achieved through close cooperation between state agencies, non-profit organisations and social enterprises via incentives such as additional funding or tax privileges

Lastly, and most significantly, a culture of gender equality and women empowerment should be instilled in society. Statistics show that female teens make up the majority of young people who have been left out of the system and have ended up becoming domestic workers.

Also a large number of them were forced out of school due to unplanned pregnancies.

The existence of gender inequality is also made clear by the fact that more young women than young men lack opportunities for education and employment, and that gender discrimination is the main reason why young women do not have easy access to vocational training and the opportunity to realise their potential.

As the non-working population grows, bridging the educational gap is now more urgent than ever. Providing equal opportunities to tap every single youth’s potential is one of the key solutions.

To bridge the gap effectively, the youth who are left behind by schools and the job markets must receive immediate help. Waiting until they reach the legal age to enter the job market may be too late, both for children and for an ageing country that is desperately in need of a helping hand.

Sirawitch Rattanaprateeptong and Nawathas Thasanabanchong are researchers at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.

First Published: Bangkok Post on February 26, 2020