Lost opportunities and the youth

Published February 21, 2021, 12:22 AM

by Senator Sonny Angara


Senator Sonny Angara

Last week, we wrote about the myriad ways the COVID-19 pandemic has made our youth even more vulnerable than before.  Over the past year, this was manifested in increasing cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC), teenage pregnancies, failure to enroll and the possible ballooning of out-of-school youth, and difficulties with the current blended system of learning.

These are not small issues, and they demand no less than immediate attention and action from both the private sector and the government. However, it appears the pandemic is imperiling the lives of our young people in even more profound, almost existential, ways.  And that relates to the prospects they face of enjoying a better, and brighter future, which unfortunately the pandemic has made dimmer than before.

An August, 2020, joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) highlighted how the pandemic has caused massive disruptions (reduced working hours or layoffs) particularly in the jobs of young people (15 to 24 years old) in Asia and Pacific.

Nearly half of young workers in the region (a little more than 100 million) were employed in four sectors that were hit hardest by the slowdown — namely, wholesale and retail trade and repair; manufacturing; rental and business services; and accommodation and food service. And given the low job tenure of young people, they were more likely to be laid off completely, rather than be placed on temporary job suspension. At the same time, four out of five young people in the region were also working in informal and insecure jobs before the pandemic, which made them particularly more vulnerable to job and income losses once the lockdowns ensued.

These job losses coincided with school closures, which affected almost 90 percent of students worldwide in April, 2020,  and disruptions to work-based training and certifications. For instance, citing a survey of 183 firms operating in the Philippines, the ILO-ADB said that up to three-quarters of firm-level apprenticeships and internships were completely interrupted because of the pandemic.  This in turn prompted a majority of the firms to discontinue giving wages and stipends to apprentices and interns. Such interruptions to learning effectively set the youth back, and forced them into more precarious (i.e. low-paying, informal) forms of work.

Even the youth who’ve finished their schooling will be facing problems, as they will have to deal with fierce competition for scarce jobs, given that the economic slowdown has led to fewer vacancies. Citing what was experienced in previous crises, the ILO-ADB report pointed out that young people who enter the job market during recessions often have to contend with diminished earnings and wages.  And often, youth who’ve faced problems early in their school-to-work transition find it difficult to transition into better, higher-paying forms of employment later.

The findings of the ILO-ADB report resonate with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recent diagnosis that a doubly lost generation of youth is emerging as the pandemic has brought about an age of lost opportunity. In its recent Global Risks Report 2021, the WEF said the young adults of today — dubbing them “pandemials” — are experiencing their second major global crisis in a decade and will be facing serious challenges to their education and economic prospects, as well as their mental health.

According to the WEF report, more than one-third of respondents to the 2021 Global Risk Perceptions Survey (GRPS) identified “youth disillusionment” as a clear and present danger, saying it is one risk that is being largely neglected by the global community, but one that can become a critical threat to the world in the next two years if left unaddressed. Interestingly, younger respondents to the survey — members of the WEF’s Global Shapers program — emphasized that the huge societal gains of recent years could be lost if decisive reforms are not put in place and the youth are not provided enough job and education opportunities.

As discussions continue on what the country needs to do to bounce back and recover, it is absolutely essential that these issues that hound the youth are addressed in tandem.  We will have no real recovery if we are unable to provide for the needs of our younger citizens. Urgent action is needed. Let this be an invitation for others to chime in and share their thoughts on how we can keep the future bright for our youth.

Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 16 years.  He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.

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