Asia: Youth adapt in face of changing job prospects

Not their dream job, but making the best of it

Japan’s overall jobless rate of 3 per cent in September was driven up by jobless youth. Only two age groups had a jobless rate of above 3 per cent – those aged 25 to 34, at 4.8 per cent, and those aged 15 to 24, at 4.3 per cent. Many young people
Japan’s overall jobless rate of 3 per cent in September was driven up by jobless youth. Only two age groups had a jobless rate of above 3 per cent – those aged 25 to 34, at 4.8 per cent, and those aged 15 to 24, at 4.3 per cent. Many young people have also had to take on jobs outside their areas of interest. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Japan's overall jobless rate of 3 per cent in September was driven up by jobless youth. Only two age groups had a jobless rate of above 3 per cent - those aged 25 to 34, at 4.8 per cent, and those aged 15 to 24, at 4.3 per cent. Many young people hav
Mr Toma Tajima finally got a job in sales at a manufacturing firm after multiple rejections. The role is not quite what he wanted, but he plans to use it to gain experience and figure out his desired career path.PHOTO: COURTESY OF TOMA TAJIMA

Mr Toma Tajima, who will graduate next March, suffered rejection after rejection in his hunt for his first job.

He tells The Straits Times: "I was extremely depressed, to the point that I was on the verge of giving up my job search altogether this year."

The 21-year-old undergraduate at the Kanda University of International Studies was looking for a job in global trade, logistics or real estate sales, but kept hitting a dead end, with these sectors badly hit by the Covid-19 downturn.

After being rejected by 30 firms in a "gruelling and endless process", Mr Tajima instead started looking at jobs in growth sectors such as information technology and manufacturing. He has since accepted a position working in sales at a manufacturer of machine presses.

While it was not quite what he had wanted to do, he says: "I was incredibly happy, and will use the role to gain experience and figure out my desired career path."

A promised job offer did not materialise for Ms Itoi, 23, who graduated from one of Japan's top art universities this year. She wanted to be known only by her last name.

Though she was to start work in April at a fashion events company, the offer was rescinded. Her parents urged her to apply for a contract position until March next year - under a scheme by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) to support those whose employment has been hurt by the Covid-19 crisis.

Ms Itoi now works in TMG's General Affairs Disaster Prevention Office - a role she admits is "a 180-degree turn from my dream job".

She remains on the hunt for more secure employment - hopefully in her area of interest - but adds: "There is a silver lining in how I am now exposed to different skill sets working in the civil service, an area I otherwise would never have touched."

There are many across Asia like Mr Tajima and Ms Itoi, with the Covid-19 crisis hurting job prospects for a whole generation of youth. Japan's overall jobless rate stood at 3 per cent in September, unchanged from August and the highest since May 2017.

But the data released last month by the Labour Ministry was driven up by jobless youth. Only two age groups had a jobless rate of above 3 per cent - those aged 25 to 34, at 4.8 per cent, and those aged 15 to 24, at 4.3 per cent.

It is a similar story in Hong Kong, where the jobless rate for those aged 20 to 29 is on the rise. In the second quarter, the figure jumped to 9.9 per cent, from 5.2 per cent in the same quarter last year.

  • 3%

    Japan's overall jobless rate in September, unchanged from August and the highest since May 2017.

  • 9.9%

    The jobless rate for those aged 20 to 29 in Hong Kong in the second quarter. It was 5.2 per cent in the same quarter last year.

  • 32.5%

    Projected unemployment rate this year among those aged 15 to 24 in India, from 23.3 percent last year.

  • >7m

    Number of people in the Philippines who lost their jobs during the two-month Covid-19 lockdown that began in March.

The uncertainty has led professional Matthew Lai, 28, to temper his expectations for career progression and salary growth.

He admits to being in a better position than many others, noting that some friends have been thinking about switching jobs. "During this period of time, a lot of people are cautious - they'd rather have something instead of nothing."

A report by the International Labour Organisation and the Asian Development Bank showed that the unemployment rate among those aged 15 to 24 in India could surge to 32.5 per cent this year, from 23.3 per cent last year.

Over in the Philippines, more than seven million people lost their jobs during the two-month lockdown that began in March.

Among them was Mr Roberto Diez, 28, who worked at an advertising agency. He tried his hand at online retail, selling sweets a brother would source from suppliers outside Manila. "But it was too much work, and the returns were too small because we didn't have scale."

The ad man has since found a new job at another company, but says: "The pay is lower, and I'll again have to start at the bottom. But it's better than nothing."

In Malaysia, former draughtsman Adnin Abidin, 31, says he is now willing to take up any job, so long as he can pay his bills and afford to buy milk powder for his newborn son.

"I now work as a lorry driver. It doesn't matter what job it is, as long as it's halal, I'd do it... Beggars like me can't be choosers, not when the pandemic has left many jobless."

•Additional reporting by Claire Huang in Hong Kong, Debarshi Dasgupta in New Delhi, Raul Dancel in Manila and Nadirah H. Rodzi in Kuala Lumpur

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2020, with the headline 'Not their dream job, but making the best of it'. Print Edition | Subscribe