COVID-19 Op-ed

Hitting Rock Bottom During Covid-19: The Struggles of Young People in the Malaysian Labour Force

Ruthra Mary RamachandranStudent of Southeast Asian Studies, Department of Southeast Asian StudiesFaculty of Arts and Social Science, University Malaya

While we rightly think of vulnerable communities as the poor, there is another form of insecurity being shaped during the Covid-19 crisis; and it is the young people are be on the front lines to face this brunt.Across the world, economies are being devastated by Covid-19 and measures taken by governments to suppress it. The stark reality is that millions will lose their jobs in this global downturn. Factories are already folding up, many business has been closed down and perhaps some may not stand back up again (Cheng, 2020). According to a recent article released by Institute of Strategic & International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, Covid-19 will be especially damaging nearly 6 million young Malaysians aged 15 to 29 in the labor force. It is expected that many young people will face the highest risk of unemployment; contraction of job market, and with their comparatively lower incomes, many will even struggle to feed their families (Cheng, 2020).According to statistics, teenage jobseekers (aged 15-19) in Malaysia are almost 1.7 times more likely to be jobless than young adults (aged 20-24) – and almost five times more likely to be unemployed than the overall labor force, (including those 25 and over). This scenario is completely understandable because most of the young workers from this age group are dropouts from the educational system which makes them further inadequate to comply with the current demand of job market and compete with others who have gained their degrees (Cheng, 2020).While, young graduates typically first time labor market entrants, who have little opportunity to build the necessary social and human capital networks also finds hard to get a job compared to the overall population (Cheng, 2020). Various company surveys shows that young graduates remains unemployed due to skill mismatches. This issue has raised concern over the compatibility of education system in universities with the skills needed in the marketplace (Cheng, 2020). Whatsoever, Covid-19 will only going to worsen the situation, exacerbating this gap between skills and employment as the number of available jobs are expected to drop in the post Covid environment.(Cheng, 2020)Harsh economic realities of Covid 19 further push certain groups of youths to the margins—such as persons with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote communities, or those with less digital access into dire predicament. This is why Malaysia needs to be thinking ahead about how to highlight equal representation of youth’s need for demand as well as train young people for the post-Covid environment.Subsequently Covid-19 pandemic further compounds the economic vulnerabilities on youths which also includes some of the preexisting challenges such as social problems among youths, mental health issues, housing affordability, higher debt levels together with lower wages and a decline in intergenerational social mobility (“Youth unemployment,” 2020).  Above all, the consequences of youth economic vulnerabilities do not only affect the individual, but also the family, society, and even the stability of the nation and region.Some key recommendations were put forward by analysts to the government on how to support youth in the new normal.

  • Government should strengthen public-private partnerships through incentives for job retention and training for advanced and low wage employees (Cheng, 2020). Besides this collaboration also needs to emphasize greater targeted job placement (Cheng, 2020). As mentioned earlier, the harsh economic realities of covid 19 is expected to increase youth unemployment, let alone those young workers who are in the less developed areas. Studies indicate significant disparities in the prospects of lower-income graduates and higher-income graduates – and between more developed and less developed states in Malaysia. Thus, these kind of collaborations are highly needed to ensure equal access to job among youths throughout the nation.
  • The growing need for remote interactions to overcome movement restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a need to leverage technologies and digitalization. The shift to digital platform has helped to mitigate the productivity loss in the economy, current and future, as learning and work are facilitated remotely. However, the Higher Education Ministry in Malaysia has already been implored to address the fact that at least about 40% of students at varsity who may be back home right now do not actually have the necessary digital access (“Youth unemployment,” 2020). Government needs to think about how digitalized knowledge and opportunities reach the youths, especially those in rural areas, who have less digital access (“Youth unemployment,” 2020).
  • Government has to fully invest in deepening and expanding social safety net with prior concern towards creating a more inclusive and sustainable youth policies and relief strategies especially beyond one-off cash relief as money is only one part of any solution ahead (Cheng, 2020).
  • Many young people have dwelled upon platform work economy and other sorts of remote work to earn money. Thus, regularization of this type of flexibility in the labor market is really needed to ensure inclusive participation, job security for long-term gainful employment, and social benefits for young workers (Andreea Pop, 2019).

The economic realities of Covid19 is expected to cause a surge in youth unemployment. Economic vulnerabilities of youths potentially bring many negative impacts not just to the individual but also to the family, society, nation and region. In this scenario, policy responses and long term structural reform should be taken to promote decent work and economic growth for young people nationwide in order to ensure their resiliency in the post- covid environment.


Cheng, A. P. B. W. a. C. (2020, 18 April 2020). Malaysia’s youth on the frontlines of the COVID crisis, MalaysiaKini. Retrieved from unemployment. (2020). In T. Kaoosji (Ed.), Mid-day Update. Malaysia: Bernama Tv. Retrieved from, S. (2018, 31st May). How Malaysia’s youth propelled Pakatan Harapan to power – and are already keeping them in check, CNA Asia. Retrieved from Pop, B. K., Emmanuel Muller, John McGrath, Kenneth Walsh, Marjolein Peters, Robert Girejko, Christophe Dietrich,ICON-INSTITUT Public Sector GmbH (Germany). (2019). YUTRENDS – Youth unemployment: Territorial trends and regional resilience (pp. 51): ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme. Retrieved from Olivier, P. (2018). Social protection for migrant workers in ASEAN: Developments, challenges, and prospects Thailand. Retrieved from–en/index.htmSecretariat, A. (2020). ASEAN Policy Brief (pp. 17): ASEAN Integration Monitoring Directorate (AIMD) and Community Relations Division. Retrieved from

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