South Asia being home to 28% of the world’s youth population, has the potential to make its economies strong by developing capacities of young people so that they can contribute to the development of just and equitable societies as an agent of economic and civic change. The need to enable the growing youth population to find work and to supply their growing industries with workers, governments in the South Asia countries are coming up with technical and vocational training programs but these programs have their own limitations as domestic financing is insufficient to build and strengthen systems which can equip the youth population with 21st century skills to have a chance of success in the labor market.
Since 2009, budget allocation to education has been above 10% in most South Asian countries, but resource allocation to vocational training is undermined. A high number of graduates are unemployed in Sri Lanka despite having the highest net enrolment in secondary education among South Asian countries which says a lot about the skill mismatch between the education system and the labor market.
South Asian children even face hurdles in entering education. For example, in some countries such as Afghanistan, socio-cultural setup hinders girls to even obtain a primary school education. When the children entering vocational training programs do not have a foundation of basic education, then skill development becomes a “hasty remedy”.
Vocational training programs in South Asian economies are often fragmented and not properly integrated with the mainstream education resulting in less interest being shown by students as well as parents. In all South Asian countries, vocational training in schools is heavily biased towards men, which leaves females at a disadvantage with lower wages and hazardous working conditions in comparison to their male fellows.
There is an urgent need to include aspects of a positive attitude towards work, transparency, trust, and accountability or the soft skills in vocational training curricula in this age of inequality and economic insecurity. The Sustainable Development Goals recognize the crucial requirement to link the worlds of education and employment for effective utilization of the tremendous potential of youth in South Asian context.
It is high time for governments in South Asian countries to adopt innovative models of public and private partnerships for investment in education and skill development initiatives. Schools must teach social and life skills at lower levels, and livelihoods training at higher levels of schooling followed by more in-depth training for specific employment.
Assessment and evaluation of the actual employment outcomes in the region can actually help in the remodeling of workforce development approach to ensure the well being of the youth population as well as the long-term prosperity and stability of these nations.