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Skills development signal
a
promise of progress in
Kaysone Phomvihane

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April 2024

Kaysone Phomvihane in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a young city brimming with potential. The capital of Savannakhet Province, Kaysone was only declared a city in 2018. However, even then, its location already held prime importance as part of the East-West Economic Corridor of the Greater Mekong Subregion, connecting Myanmar and Thailand to the west and Viet Nam to the east. The province also has the country’s first special economic zone, the Savannakhet Special Economic Zone (SSEZ), creating a strategic spot for international investors and helping Lao PDR to position itself as a key trading partner.

But, as with many cities worldwide, the prospects of finding a job, especially for new graduates, is never easy – even for a city such as Kaysone. Aside from the effects of the pandemic, the top constraint in the city is how students and the up-and-coming workforce are ill-equipped for the demands of the labor market. In the 2021 Human Resources Development Readiness in ASEAN Lao PDR Country Report, most of the entrepreneurs interviewed noted that “skilled and unskilled workers are entering the labor market without soft and life skills which are important for them to deal and negotiate with their employers.”

“Soft skills like negotiation, interpersonal, and problem-solving, and how to prepare for a job application and job interview were not taught in many schools in Kaysone Phomvihane City,” said Prasongsin Chaleunshould, Mayor of Kaysone Phomvihane City.

To support the city and address labor market gaps, the ASEAN Australia Smart Trust Fund (AASCTF) – financed by the Government of Australia, managed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and implemented by Ramboll – provided a technical assistance direct charge of $225,000 in August 2022. This assistance has gone towards developing e-learning modules and videos on necessary soft skills that will help graduates improve their school to work transition and enable businesses to find the right individuals for their operations.

The direct charge builds on the previous AASCTF pre-feasibility study in Kaysone, the Enhanced Employment Service Platform with Matching Tool and E-Learning Modules (Phase 1) Project, conducted from October 2020 to May 2021. The study included a needs assessment for an employment service platform, developing sample e-learning modules, and introducing the concept of gamification for training employees.

 

Specific Interventions Supported 

Taking on board the lessons from the pre-feasibility study, the current AASCTF assistance took some of the soft skills identified then and combined it with other skills that were deemed essential and not so known by the youth in Kaysone. Five individual consultants were hired under the direct charge and they focused on creating modules and materials centered on four main skill sets: how to prepare job applications and ace interviews, negotiation skills, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving skills.

To start, the project team met with stakeholders to assess their knowledge of the topics and gain an understanding of their challenges and needs. For instance, one of the takeaways from the pre-feasibility study was that gamification and simulation might be too advanced for now, not only for the local capacity to teach and use these concepts, but also for the limited IT infrastructure and internet available in the city. In this case, the smart solution was to opt for the appropriate format and technology to facilitate localized knowledge transfer, such as the use of simple presentations, videos, sample documents or templates, and a mobile application to house all the materials. Through these solutions, students will find the resources easier to access and use, ensuring knowledge and skills uptake. 

Tertiary students from three partner universities are the primary recipients of these materials, namely Savannakhet University, Savannakhet Technical and Vocational College, and Xaysombath Technology Institute. Training of the trainers was also conducted in these schools, with instructors learning first-hand the teaching methodologies that can be applied and the international best practices concerning these skills (albeit contextualized for the local culture). For example, in a video on writing a cover letter under the ‘Job Application’ set of modules, the recommendation is to use keywords mentioned in the job announcement in the cover letter, since many companies have begun to use bots or artificial intelligence to quickly screen letters for ideal candidates. 

Aside from instructive videos, demonstrative videos were also prepared. These show various scenarios that young jobseekers could encounter and what they should do, such as when negotiating with a would-be employer or interacting with a new team.

 

All the materials are designed to have useful information and practical advice. These are available in both Lao and English to encourage usability and hone their English language skills.

Results and Impact 

The mobile app, called Kaysone Self-Learning, was launched on 20 July 2023. Savannakhet Province Deputy Governor Lingthong Sengtavanh, Kaysone Phomvihane City Mayor Prasongsin Chaleunsouk, First Secretary of the Australian Embassy Robin Flint, and Renadi Budiman, Head of Operation Unit at the ADB Lao PDR Resident Mission were some of the notable figures in attendance. Along with the launch, the app is being promoted in popular websites, LED advertisements, and posters around the city.

As of late 2023, 62 teachers have been trained, of whom 30 are women, and 3 are recognized as master trainers.

According to Khamtanh Chanthy, Senior Project Officer at the resident mission, “During testing of the application and the launch, students mentioned that the materials and role plays are very useful, with simple instructions that are easy to follow. They can easily learn by themselves at their own time and pace.”

 

The team will conduct an additional assessment on the benefits of the app in October, when more feedback from youth and employers will be gathered.

While the Kaysone Self-Learning app was developed for Kaysone, the app can be downloaded by anyone, anywhere. Other Lao youth and job applicants in the country can benefit from the materials in the app and enhance their skills. Moreover, this project can be scaled up – develop master trainers in tertiary schools in the northern and southern provinces, and if financial resources allow, include other soft skills such as team building, goal-setting, public speaking, and active listening, added Ms. Chanthy.

Possibilities abound in Kaysone Phomvihane. Simple steps of learning critical skills could spell the difference between unemployment and earning a living, as well as contributing to an economy and a city’s growth.

This impact story was originally published as part of the ADB Urban Financing Partnership Facility Mid-Year Report: January to June 2023

 

AUTHOR

  • Elga Reyes, AASCTF
Screenshot 2023-07-20 at 1.03.13 PM.png

Different videos were produced under the project to show young jobseekers what to expect or how to act professionally in various scenarios, such as interviewing for a job (photo by ADB).

Soft skills like negotiation, interpersonal, and problem-solving, and how to prepare for a job application and job interview were not taught in many schools in Kaysone Phomvihane City.

 

Prasongsin Chaleunshould
Mayor of Kaysone Phomvihane City

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