Creating upskilling opportunities for 144 million Indonesians

Ahead of the Inclusive Lifelong Learning Conference, hosted by the Government of Indonesia and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning from 3 to 6 July 2023 in Bali, Indonesia, Denni P Purbasari, Executive Director at Kartu Prakerja, Indonesia’s lifelong learning programme, explains how training and upskilling initiatives are changing lives in Indonesia.

© Prakerja

Sianny, a 56-year-old administration worker, found herself struggling financially after the COVID-19 pandemic caused her office to shut down, leaving her jobless. Despite the challenges she faced, Sianny was able to support herself by utilizing her cooking skills, gained by attending free local government training programmes. Ultimately, she was able to reinvent herself as a micro-entrepreneur, selling food to local farming groups.

Sianny is not alone in facing these difficulties, as shifts in the jobs market accelerate and new economic opportunities emerge. Without training and reskilling, workers like Sianny have limited options as many emerging jobs require skills that most workers do not possess, such as digital skills.

Indeed, 2022 data from Statistics Indonesia show that only 6 per cent of the Indonesian population holds a diploma or higher education degree, with 20.9 per cent and 23.4 per cent holding high school and elementary school degrees, respectively, while 34.8 per cent have no formal education qualification.

Given the relatively low level of basic educational achievement, training and upskilling opportunities      that will enable individuals to create new careers are of critical importance. Otherwise, low-skilled workers will be at chronic risk of unemployment and underemployment. 

However, opportunities for training in Indonesia have traditionally been limited. Data from Statistics Indonesia 2019 show that 90 percent of the 14 million-strong Indonesian workforce has never attended any training due to limited access to information, lack of financial support, and time constraints. The island geography of Indonesia also presents a significant challenge, further contributing to barriers in education and training. As a result, over 20 per cent of Indonesian youths are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

This has contributed to Indonesia’s low labour productivity ranking, which is fifth out of 10 countries in the ASEAN region. Moreover, the gap between the output of educational institutions and industry demands is also widening, leading to a shortage of high-quality workers.

Recognizing the national concern arising from these issues, the Government of Indonesia has long sought to implement training programmes to improve the quality of the workforce. These vocational training programmes have traditionally been carried out by ministerial level bodies such as the Ministry of Industry and Ministry of Manpower on a local scale through offline sessions. But while effective, such offline, localised initiatives have proved challenging to scale.

In 2020, amidst widespread job losses and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the imperative to equip workers with new skills took on fresh urgency. To address these challenges, the      government, under the leadership of President Joko Widodo, launched the Kartu Prakerja programme on 11 April 2020, during the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown, to provide inclusive learning access and help. The programme innovatively combined online, self-paced learning modules with financial and social assistance so that the unemployed would have the means to finish their training and then look for jobs or start a small business.

Over the last three years, the Prakerja programme has reached a total of 16.4 million beneficiaries across the nation. According to Statistics Indonesia, the number of Indonesian workers who attended training for the first time rose from 10.25 per cent in February 2020 to 19.32 per cent in August 2022, suggesting that the programme has been successful in targeting the lower-level workers who most urgently need upskilling.

On a micro-level, the impact of the programme can be seen by changes in the lives of individuals such as Sianny and Rahmad, a young man from West Kalimantan who previously worked on a palm oil plantation. After taking several Prakerja courses, he has now charted a new career path in web development and is working on the Gerakan Seribu Website (Movement for 1,000 Websites) initiative in the province of West Kalimantan.

The Prakerja programme represents a concrete milestone for the Indonesian Government in supporting UNESCO’s mission to promote adult learning and education. While building a lifelong learning culture is not an easy task, it is an important mission that aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Through this platform, which is aligned with President Jokowi’s 2019 campaign promise to provide access for skilling, upskilling and reskilling, Indonesia has taken a step forward in creating access for its citizens to lifelong learning opportunities that will allow them to qualify for better job opportunities and contribute to society.

Denni P Purbasari is the Executive Director at Kartu Prakerja, Indonesia’s lifelong learning programme.

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