Working towards a better Southeast Asia

In this picture taken on November 18, 2014, students from a local college celebrate their graduation at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam. (AFP Photo/Hoang Dinh Nam)

"There is no straight path from your seat today to where you are going. Don't try to draw that line. You will not just get it wrong, you'll miss big opportunities. And I mean big-like the Internet," Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, said during the annual Class Day ceremonies at Harvard College in the US.

"Careers are not ladders, those days are long gone, but jungle gyms. Don't just move up and down, don't just look up, look backwards, sideways around corners. Your career and your life will have starts and stops and zigs and zags," she added.

Halfway across the globe, fresh university graduates in Vietnam were finding it harder to secure a job. According to Vietnam's Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs revealed the unemployment rate among working-age adults decreased to its lowest point in the last five quarters. Latest data from the World Bank also showed that unemployment rate in Vietnam was at about 2.2 percent of its total labour force in 2016. In addition, the ministry reported there were 180,000 unemployed bachelor's degree holders in the country during the second quarter of this year, which was 44,000 higher than the previous quarter. The unemployment rate for graduates with a bachelor's degree alone was 3.63 percent.

It added that bachelor’s degree graduates chose to remain unemployed because they have not found their jobs in their field of study that also match their desired salaries.

"The main challenge I face when looking for a job is the low salary and since I am a student, every job I look for is a part-time job. But the workload is too much. A job which I want to apply requires qualifications that I don't have such as impressive GPA or existing working experiences in that field," 21-year-old Tran Minh Thao, a graduate from the Vietnam National University, told the ASEAN Post.

Kieu Ngoc Anh (22) said that she has been on a job hunt for several months since her graduation. She feels that her inexperience and smaller social circle placed her at a disadvantage. She is currently looking for a job that is related to her field of study.

Unemployment rate of the total labour force in ASEAN countries as of 2016, sourced from the World Bank.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asian, the unemployment rate in the Philippines was the highest amongst all 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries in 2016, followed closely by Indonesia. Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar recorded the lowest unemployment rate within the region.

In Malaysia, data from the World Bank showed that the unemployment rate has risen for two consecutive years since 2014. Chau En Lo, a 30-year-old Malaysian, told The ASEAN Post that it has gotten harder to secure a job. "There are too many applicants applying for a single job opening in a job portals, such as Jobstreet, Jobsportal or LinkedIn. Jobs on LinkedIn have higher requirements compared to the other job portals while Ricebowl are usually for non-executive jobs. I've attended job interviews in these two months but have not gotten a confirmation yet from any of the employers," he said.

The global unemployment rate stood at 5.73 percent in 2016.

At the same time, ASEAN nations are working on improving the ease of doing business in the Southeast Asian region to attract more FDIs (Foreign Direct Investments) while promoting entrepreneurship among their citizens. Subsequently, this will result in job creations which will help to lower unemployment rates across the region as ASEAN moves towards becoming a competitive market globally. The ADB (Asian Development Bank) reported that Southeast Asia's regional GDP (gross domestic product) growth rates have stablised around 4.6 to 4.7 percent between 2014 and 2016. The figure is forecasted to increase to 4.8 percent in 2017 and five percent in 2018.

Nonetheless if the situation takes a turn for the worse, ASEAN countries should consider implementing policies that provide immediate aid to the unemployed in order to help alleviate financial consequences from the loss of earnings while preventing workers and their families from falling into poverty. The ILO (International Labour Organization) reported that most of the ASEAN countries still rely on severance payment to compensate for the loss of job. Sadly, only Thailand and Vietnam have established unemployment insurance schemes.

Sandberg also said, "Don't stress out about the white space, the path you can't draw, because there in lies both the surprises and the opportunities." While most millennials were constantly taught to dream big and follow their passion, perhaps youths in Southeast Asia should heed Sandberg's advice and take a chance on jobs which may not look like the "dream job" and work their way into the position they want to be in.