Skills for Prosperity South-East Asia Programme

Build back better: A post-COVID commitment to women

ILO skills specialists outline strategies for helping girls and women in Southeast Asia survive and thrive in the post-pandemic workplace

Article | 08 March 2021
Even before COVID-19, girls and young women in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines faced greater challenges than their male counterparts with regards to accessing quality technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and decent employment opportunities. The pandemic has exacerbated this inequality, with women more likely to lose their jobs than men while still bearing the increased burden of providing unpaid care at home.

To mark International Women’s Day today, Chief Technical Advisers (CTAs) of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Skills for Prosperity Programmes in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines answer questions on how their work can help girls and young women build back better.

A young woman studies during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines.
© ILO/Minette Rimando
What is the role that skills and TVET systems play in the policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country where your programme operates?

Mary Kent, CTA of Skills for Prosperity Programme in Indonesia

Mary Kent, CTA of Skills for Prosperity Programme in Indonesia
“Human capital development will be key to Indonesia’s future.” Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the President of the Republic of Indonesia set out this priority in his first speech upon re-election in 2019. Due to the pandemic, the positive strides made toward universal education and reducing employment inequalities have been set back considerably as youth and women have endured some of the most severe impacts of the crisis.

The ILO promotes job creation and youth employment among its priorities in the Decent Work Country Programme for Indonesia 2020–2025, citing skills development as the main tool to address high levels of youth and female unemployment. The technical and vocational education and training system has the capacity to bring together Indonesia’s huge human capital potential to lead an inclusive and skills-led recovery after the pandemic crisis, and to reset Indonesia’s trajectory to becoming a highly skilled and high-income country in the years to come.


Junichi Mori, CTA of Skills for Prosperity Programme in Malaysia
Junichi Mori, CTA of Skills for Prosperity Programme in Malaysia
The pandemic has brought about new challenges in the policy response, including the need to balance between protecting lives and livelihood while managing the economy. It has resulted in increasing unemployment and exacerbated existing structural problems, such as limited employment opportunities for youth due to insufficient demand for skilled workers.

In the post-pandemic era, policy responses can focus on instigating the demand for high skills, reskilling and upskilling the unemployed and vulnerable groups such as women, and leveraging technologies to equip students, workers and small- and medium-sized enterprises with the right skill set in response to the changing world of work. As challenges persist in narrowing the gap between skills supply and demand, the anticipation of future skills needs and development has to be even more systematic and strategic.

Cezar Dragutan, CTA of Skills for Prosperity Programme in the Philippines
Cezar Dragutan, CTA of Skills for Prosperity Programme in the Philippines
As has been the case in most countries around the globe, the pandemic has resulted in economic losses in the Philippines and increased the vulnerability of local and overseas workers in terms of job losses as well as diminished incomes and sources of livelihood. This emphasizes the need for strengthening and supporting a well-functioning technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system that is able to equip both the displaced workers and the aspiring young graduates with the necessary skills to access the labour market.

It also stands as another call to place greater efforts to reduce skills gaps and shortages faced by industries, improving labour market outcomes and enhancing workforce productivity.

How does the Skills for Prosperity Programme address the regressive impact of the pandemic on young women and help them build back better in the post-pandemic world?

Ms Kent: The Skills for Prosperity Programme in Indonesia is taking targeted action to inspire and empower girls and young women to access high quality vocational education and training, in sectors that are critical to Indonesia’s economic recovery and continued growth. The ILO is working with selected polytechnics in their communities to improve pathways into quality skills education and training for girls and young women. The project is facilitating partnerships with industry and international academic partners to ensure that graduates are equipped with the hard and soft skills required to gain decent employment, and to adapt to the changing technological developments they may face during their careers.

Improving inclusivity in higher-level education and skills training benefits society in many ways. Young women have improved opportunities for decent work, and they themselves become role models for the next generation. Companies that are more gender-diverse outperform their competitors. And society as a whole benefits from improved labour market participation, and gains the skills that are essential for recovery, growth and global competitiveness in the decades to come.

Mr Mori: Despite outnumbering and outperforming men in education, women are still facing challenges in accessing quality education and employment as well as support for transitions to work and career development, particularly in more male-dominated industrial sectors.

Our programme will produce practical recommendations that promote inclusion of women and other under-represented groups in training and workplaces through change in related strategies or regulations based on the results of pilot activities.

We will also develop career progression maps in the selected construction and food processing industries to help open up opportunities for women in occupations with growth potential as well as those traditionally dominated by men, such as crane operation. Our pilot activities in Sabah and Kedah states will provide targeted training that suits their needs and priorities.

These inputs will be supplemented by a study we will conduct on technology adoption as a means of improving access to jobs and promoting skills development for women.

Mr Dragutan: The female labour force participation rate in the Philippines is still low compared to that of men despite women’s higher educational attainment.

The programme works towards broadening access to skills development and the TVET system among marginalized groups, including women. We will develop and pilot new training models responsive to their needs, as well as support the ongoing successful ones in the country. We will also support post-COVID-19 TVET reform, particularly regarding technical assistance to accelerate digitalization of education and training delivery, skills assessment and certification, as well as support the provision of relevant skills for women and marginalized groups in demand by the digital economy.