For me, getting the numbers right—particularly when they are measuring young people’s wellbeing—is critically important to how we shape meaningful youth development programs and strategies. Unfortunately, statistics around youth employment, perhaps the most significant indicator of whether a young person will lead a productive and successful life, may not paint an accurate or complete picture. Take this recent headline: Unemployment Rate in Indonesia Falls to 5.5% of Labor Force. It sounds like good news, but then I read on and learned that Indonesia officially defines a person as “employed” if he or she is older than 15 and works at least one hour per week. Even the writer acknowledged that this “rather loose definition” of employment made Indonesia’s jobless rate—for young and old—artificially low.

IYF’s definition of employment for a young person who has graduated from one of our job training programs is stricter, and, we think, more meaningful: he or she is working 30 hours a week and earning at least the equivalent of the minimum wage. Anything less means being dreadfully underemployed.

That said, we already know how difficult it can be for a young person in Indonesia—or across the globe—to secure a job in the formal economy and build a real future. For more than a decade, IYF has been working with key public, private, and NGO partners throughout the country to expand youth economic opportunities, with a particular focus on improving the prospects of poor, vulnerable, out-of-school youth, especially young women. We know Indonesia’s leaders recognize that improving the skills and productivity of its aspiring labor force must be a priority. So how can the nation become more economically inclusive?

  1. To overcome the skills mismatch that intensifies unemployment, young men and women need to acquire the technical skills businesses are looking for in their workforce. From our Global Youth Wellbeing Index, we know that young people in Indonesia have high expectations for wealth and income, and yet they see a below average GDP. One way we’ve been supporting their entrance into the formal economy, where they can earn a decent living, is through EquipYouth. In partnership with Caterpillar’s philanthropic organization, the Caterpillar Foundation, this global initiative prepares youth in Indonesia with training for sectors such as mechanical trades. We’re also working with schools and employers to boost training and hiring of young women like Titik in STEM-related careers.
  2. We achieve more together. For example, in 2005 IYF established an alliance of 65 public and private partners in Indonesia that placed more than 700 underserved young people in jobs and supported the successful launch of 360 youth-owned small businesses. For that initiative and every other in all of our more than 10 years’ experience in the country, we’ve worked with seasoned implementing partner Indonesia Business Links.
  3. Entrepreneurship offers a viable alternative to private sector employment and can generate additional jobs. In the wake of the 2004 tsunami, we supported hundreds of young women and men who had lost everything to develop the skills and experience to start or restart their own small enterprises. We saw young people playing a critical role in communities’ and the country’s resurgence. More recently, our Young Entrepreneurs Start-Up (YES) initiative, in partnership with the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, has enabled community college graduates in Jakarta to launch and grow their own small businesses.
  4. Life skills training prepares young people for success on any professional path. Our global Passport to Success® (PTS) life skills curriculum, reaching young people like Anindya in Indonesia, cultivates the personal competencies and effective work habits companies consider essential. PTS is available in Bahasa Indonesia, and the country has a significant stable of master trainers, who can train even more life skills leaders to include a growing number of schools, vocational centers, and universities nationwide.

IYF will continue to press for more accurate youth employment statistics and tighter definitions of a successful job training program. Nevertheless, we measure our impact one young person at a time. Deddy, a young entrepreneur who graduated from our YES initiative and now runs a small business in Jakarta, is one such example. He believes that valuing his employees, many of whom were unemployed or out of school, contributes to his success. “My goal,” he says, “is to provide opportunities to the people around me, income for our families, and to share this process and journey with them.” I’d like to see his story be a headline one day.