Preparing Youth for a New Future of Work

December 4, 2019


A group of youth with their start up. Photo Credit: Manuth Buth/UNDP Cambodia


Two thirds of Cambodia’s total population are under the age of 30 (UNFPA 2016). The unemployment rate of the working population (age 15-64) is very low, at 0.2 percent for women and 0.3 percent for men, according to ILO report, 2019. However, these low unemployment rates do not illustrate an accurate picture of quality of employment, as over 85 percent of the working population is engaged in low-skilled and labour-intensive work and over 51 percent of jobs in Cambodia are vulnerable jobs without regular salaries.[1]  The future of work is also uncertain, particularly for youth, as technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence become more commonplace and displace workers from traditional jobs. What can we do to change this precarious outlook on employment?

Accelerate Youth Opportunities

Bringing innovative solutions to improve youth employment (age 15-30) is complex and cannot be achieved by policy intervention from the government alone. The UNDP Accelerator Labs (AccLabs) sees this as an opportunity where we can bring new perspectives from development to prepare the youth employment sector for the 4th industrial revolution and automation (industry 4.0). Our goal is to transform Cambodian youth employment from labour-intensive jobs to high-skilled jobs. It is important for us to act quickly on signals, as preparing for industry 4.0 is crucial to a sustainable future. Here are the key signals that we should focus when it comes to accelerating solutions in development:

Shared Values

Our collaboration needs to go beyond traditional partnerships with government and existing partners. We are looking for unusual suspects, for example exploring how academia, the private sector, and local innovators can help us achieve our common goals. Under the youth employment programme, the AccLab team is working to connect public and private sectors to mobilise resources and expertise for a new business model that can be beneficial for both business and youth. A new business model should foster an environment that encourages young people to work in tech and provide a platform to access new knowledge and high-skilled jobs.

Transparency and Collaboration

It is common for a lack of vision alignment and organisation politics to cause barriers to innovation for large organizations such as UNDP. If we are going to ignite youth employment in the industry 4.0 with various partners, we need to be transparent about our visions and plans to both internal and external stakeholders. A meaningful collaboration requires us to carefully listen to one another’s ideas. Then, we should continuously improve on those ideas into prototyping and experimentation at scale.

Navigating Bureaucracy

Another area to be mindful of when it comes to innovation in development is bureaucracy. Many times, bureaucracy drains energy from teams and limits the boundaries of innovation. We need more organisations to foster an innovation environment that allows team to have some degree of freedom to experiment their solutions, while of course respecting the rules and regulations. At AccLabs we call it “innovation within our red tape”. We use rules and regulations to guide our work ethics and protocols, but not to limit our creativity and innovation.

Helping youth succeed in the industry 4.0 is a huge opportunity for Cambodia’s development. We need to work faster to experiment solutions at scale by eliminating barriers in organisations and bringing together various stakeholders to collaborate. For example, the government should chair the policy and regulations that empower and supporting businesses to take part in social innovation while academia should provide capacity development and skills upgrading to talents.

Written by

Pagna Ukthaun, Head of Exploration, UNDP Accelerator Labs, Cambodia