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The Covid-19 Youth Employment Crisis in Asia & the Pacific

One in six youth have had to stop working since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an ILO report released last year. Credit: Benjamin Suomela, International Organization for Migration (IOM)

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Sep 15 2021 (IPS) - A pre-pandemic report published by the International Labor Organization, ILO, the Global Employment Trends for Youth 2020, offered a sober analysis on the job market prospects for youth.

“The labour force participation rate of young people (aged 15–24) has continued to decline. Between 1999 and 2019, despite the global youth population increasing from 1 billion to 1.3 billion, the total number of young people engaged in the labour force decreased from 568 million to 497 million”.

In addition, while youth are those who can adjust and adapt the most to the new technologies, they are also the ones who are at the most risk of seeing job opportunities earlier available now disappearing.

With the pandemic and the multiple and overlapping crises brought by it, the chances for a youth to get employed are even dimmer especially in developing and low middle-income economies.

While in these nations, a youth belonging to the upper-and-middle class families are likely to navigate the post pandemic successfully thanks to their skills but also thanks to their status and connections, vulnerable youth instead remain stuck in cycle of exclusion and lack of opportunities.

This is even truer if you are living with a disability, be it physical or developmental or a psychosocial condition that deters you from easily finding an employment.

Considering that the vast majority of youth living with a disability in a developing nation are starting their quest for a job at stark disadvantage in relation to their peers without disabilities due to lack of quality education and other opportunities offered by the society, the Covid-19 pandemic really risks furthering lowering their odds at a dignified livelihood.

A joint publication by ILO and the Asian Development Bank, ADB, Tackling the COVID-19 youth employment crisis in Asia and the Pacific, clearly depicts a grim future for millions of youth aspiring to enter the job market.

“Young people’s employment prospects in Asia and the Pacific are severely challenged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Youth will be hit harder than adults in the immediate crisis and also will bear higher longer-term economic and social costs” shares the report.

A job for a youth with disabilities, not only in the Asia Pacific Region but elsewhere, is now even more distant possibility.

A reset that potentially could unleash a positive revolution in the global and national priorities, under the banner of “build forward better”, is what has been sought by experts from around the world.

Such drastic shifts to turbo-charge more sustainable economies can also help turn them into more inclusive ones, ensuring a quantum leap in job opportunities for those left behind before the pandemic.

For a youth living with disabilities, this implies stronger chances at finding a job together with better opportunities in the education system, a prerequisite for the former.

A change of prospective of this proportion would imply not only putting disabilities at the center of government’s actions but also a whole effort to reframe disabilities in the modern society.

Shifting mindsets on the role persons with disabilities can have is a sine qua non if we really want to create a level playing field.

Positively, in the last few years, there is no doubt that a lot of progress has been made towards more inclusive job markets but we are only at the beginning.

Despite positive signals, we need go deeper and wider and bolder.

The Return on Disability Group created by Canadian Rich Donovan, author of Unleash Different, has been a pioneer in pitching the business case of focusing on disabilities as an opportunity.

ILO is leading the efforts within the UN system by enabling the Global Business and Disability Network, a global consortium with major corporations willing to include accessibility and overall disability rights among their top priorities.

GSK, the mammoth pharma company has become a trailblazer in the field by setting up The Global Disability Confidence Council that is made up by its senior leaders.

“Disability Confidence describes the corporate best practice that ensures dignified and equitable access & inclusion for people with disabilities as valued colleagues, potential colleagues, customers, shareholders & fellow citizens” explains GSK.

Around the world there are other promising initiatives like The Valueable500, a global campaign whose members, all major corporations, commit to practical and game-changer initiatives to promote disability inclusion.

For example, Proctor and Gamble is conducting a global disability audit while Mahindra & Mahindra, the Indian car manufacturer, is working to enable a jobs portal to better target and include youth living with disabilities.

These are just few examples of what global conglomerates can do to change the status quo.

Yet, piecemeal approaches cannot work and that’s why we need a holistic, whole of the government impetus to drastically reframe how policy making works to fulfill the rights and needs of persons with disabilities.

Global business can play an essential role here as well.

First of all, it is an imperative that global corporate networks focused on disability talk and collaborate among each other.

Second, though what the most powerful multinationals are doing is relevant, is not nearly enough and our expectations in what multinationals can do, must be higher.

Surely, we need more of them to pledge new internal targets but one-off initiatives must become the springboard for much more holistic actions that include their global supply chains and global sales.

If Proctor and Gamble really wants to elevate disability to the next level, then resources need to be spent all across its massive operations, including the suppliers and contractors.

If Mahindra & Mahindra is serious about disability, then it should ensure that all its distributors around the world embrace the issue as well.

Together with this “total encompassing” approach, resources must be used for advocacy and lobbying. The latter word is often used with a negative connotation but we really need to lobby governments and policy makers to truly become serious on disability rights.

The job market, especially in developing and emerging countries, will become more inclusive only if the local business peoples and local politicians are forced to commit to disabilities.

This means not only accessible work places or even possible quotas in the job market but a rethinking of policy making starting from education and social security because without accessing to quality education, youth with disabilities will only continue to remain at the margins of our economies.

The global private sector can truly make a difference here because they have the prowess and capacities to be listened to and demand action.

The quest for a more inclusive job market does not entail just initiatives to make it more inclusive of persons with disabilities.

That’s why the 2nd edition of Global Disability Summit next year, must truly be focused on new partnerships with the private sector aimed at mainstreaming disabilities at the center of the economies and societies we want to re-imagine.

Working from the top and “retrofitting” the job market by making it more inclusive should lead to a whole society approach that leverages the skills and untapped potential of youth with disabilities.

Simone Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.


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