“For fresh graduates, most jobs tend to ask for work experience and majority of Burmese students would complain how we can have this requirement if it’s our first job.” An International Relations student Kham Mang Lian Tuang (Simon) contemplates as his graduation nears.
According to the survey by the International Labour Organization (ILO), 26 percent of unemployed youths in Myanmar are university fresh graduates. The main reason to this is the lack of skills in the workplace. It was found out that fresh graduates need 6 months to 2 years to become efficient workers in an industry for both lack of workplace skill sets and application of one’s academic studies, all leading back to the quality of education and lack of opportunities.
So, if education cannot guarantee employment for fresh graduates, this poses an existential question for Burmese students like Simon on who or what they are going to rely on for their career growth.
Myanmar Youth Issues Today
Back in 2017 - 2018 academic years, the total education budget spent by Myanmar Government was quite low amounting to only 8.53% of the total national budget (Union-Minister 2017-2018). With this low amount of budget allocation, challenges have visually surfaced. One example is the lack of proper information about university majors and whereabouts to students especially in rural areas. Most of the time, students don’t have a clue on what degree to get as no one explains these information locally.
Comparing to other ASEAN countries like Vietnam which already establishes local teacher training center since 2015, Myanmar has been delayed in this infrastructure due to major political and economic shift back then. Right now, some have initiated this type of system but there has been no formal training yet.
Today, Myanmar students during their academic year admit to being familiar with the feeling of being “lost” as majority of the students lack interest in their majors. This mismatched occurs to many university students as many decided their majors by matriculation marks rather than interest. What’s more is that many also do not have a particular passion or hobbies outside of school.
“Students, especially back in my region, don’t have much interpersonal skills or other soft skill sets to be work-ready unlike in Yangon where students are competitive and have exposure through youth orgs and student exchange programs. Back in Tedim, students wish to have these opportunities but don’t know how.” Simon expresses concern for his peers in Tedim region.
In other parts of Myanmar especially in rural areas, information gaps for scholarship, student exchange programs, and other opportunities can be seen which can contribute towards work-readiness in direct or indirect ways.
Because of these gaps, some Burmese youth turned to the digital space mainly on Facebook for cure. As the digital age transforms, many students did gain a lot of benefits from hundreds of resources online. Sadly, it also retracted as many fall in the trap of deceptive pages disguised as motivational and opportunity pushers, leading a lot of middle-class youth to take unnecessary courses, letting them believe that success is on the way, which turned out to be a hoax.
“But I still think it’s undeniable that youth needs motivation, not such kind of false inspiration but an authentic role model, someone who actually had experiential contents with the same background of being from the middle class or lower where finance is a challenge to prepare ones career path,” Simon urges.
Creating Contents for Change
Although vlogging has been a great source of relevant information for young Burmese people, one vlogger turned social entrepreneur took it to the next level with its comprehensive programs. One of which is the “DiA” (Dreams Into Actions) which aim to empower and accelerate youths across Myanmar concerning personal and career development particularly for the Post-COVID period. This is a very recent project by a fast-paced transformative social enterprise, PJW.
“When the COVID-19 crisis is finally gone, there’s gonna be a huge job scarcity for Myanmar youths. Employers will still recruit skilled workers and this is where the crisis begins. These youths need exposure, skill sets to be able to adapt in new situations beyond this pandemic” said Ko Win Ko Ko Aung founder of PJW.
PJW started with vlogs by Ko Win Ko Ko Aung, helping youths to get more exposure to what it is like to be in the “real world”. The contents are experiential, mind-opening, and true to life lessons of Win during his journey towards his dream job. PJW targets audiences who are aged 15-24 in the middle and lower middle-class.
Soon after its viral success, PJW aimed to highlight the “what”, “how”, and “why” questions of Myanmar youth in its contents, helping thousands of young Burmese audiences to get ready as the future economic workforce of Myanmar.
“A vast majority of Myanmar youths are actually under the influence of the contents of motivational speakers who are from privilege backgrounds or their stories are from developed countries. The thing is, things don’t work out the same in our country and the harsh reality is that middle-class Myanmar youths have to struggle a lot. I know it because I have been one. And doing this job I love doesn’t mean everything is fine. There were times I was disappointed working on it. But the point is I love what I do and I am doing it”, Win explained.
Win also believes “We are in the war with those contents that can misguide Burmese youths which, unfortunately, are already abundant in the social media in Myanmar. I myself was one of the victims of those contents. Since the time I realized this, I believe these contents can be better and I have been at this war together with my team and I hope everyone can join us in this mission of influencing and making a change of better contents for Myanmar youths.”
Because of this real life challenges experienced by Win, he and his PJW team started to create many programs that reward hardworking youths.
PJW has partnered up with WSE (Wall Street English), Parami Institute, MyanLearn, and Hysan Edu to give scholarships to middle class and lower middle-class youths who are having financial constraints. They have granted 25 scholarships so far. The eagerness of the youths can be seen with the applicant number which is over 6,000.
Moreover, Win has also written two books entitled “21st Century Burmese Guy” and “One Day” sold over 40,000 copies. “Are you going to be successful because you work really, really hard? The answer is you may or may not,” as quoted in the book 21st Century Burmese Guy. These contents oppose the typical motivational contents that only feature success and not failures in life. Many seem to relate to these experiences, hence the success.
Another thing, directly intended for the new youth challenges during covid-19 pandemic, PJW is also collaborating with the U Report to give data-driven awareness to the society regarding COVID-19 updates, youth-related behaviors and issues. PJW and DIinsider (Development Innovation Insider) are also collaborating with more comprehensive contents, aiming to deliver informative value to the audiences through data and research.
Many of the youths nowadays just like to watch funny contents like memes and graphics. They are more interested in contents that are visualized with graphic design or short interesting videos whereas data-driven, well-structured contents are mostly in the form of a long article. Taking advantage of this, this project visualizes data regarding the above important issues and reach the audience through PJW Facebook page.
Will Media Contents be Enough to Impact Myanmar Youth?
Overall, although social media opened a whole new possibilities to Myanmar youth, having concrete opportunities are the most vital to gaining experience for young people to jump-start their career. And this should be two ways – for stakeholders like the government, NGOs, social enterprise, and others to create these opportunities and for the youth to seek it themselves.
Research shows that young people who take part in voluntary projects gained much deeper impact not just for themselves, but also for other youths and for their communities. Simon has actually been a testament to this as he became part of a youth org that gives awareness and workshop to youths across Myanmar.
Photo of Simon and kids when he went back to Chin State for volunteering
“I really want to contribute back to my community in Tedim by a mobile training program that I am part of and I also dream of having a youth center there as well.” Simon mentions. “After being a part of many youth communities, I became so familiar with digital tools and gained many skill sets. It’s as if I become a different person after working with like-minded youths who are eager to contribute back to the community. I couldn’t be happier when I am able to up-skill myself at the same time contribute to my community.”
Youth employment is essential to a country’s social-economic growth and development. With the status Myanmar is standing right now, there are two possibilities – for the youth to make it or break it. Of course everyone wants to make it.
“Like I mentioned before, not just opportunities youths in Myanmar need role models that can easily be searched on Social Media like PJW whose contents and background is quite relatable to youths. And with more quality contents on Facebook and likewise, I am quite sure the exposure from these contents, the impact will be both large scale and effective on the youths in Myanmar” Simon concluded.
Looking on the brighter side, Myanmar youths are now piling up on the digital platform more than ever and with more digital social innovation like PJW and many online and offline opportunities that have on-the-ground impact, we are hopeful and we have yet to behold what Myanmar youths will be capable of in the coming future.
Social impact of nonprofit vocational training programs in Myanmar: Case study focus on Kayin and Mon State, Myanmar/ Salai Tun Lin AUNG