Vietnamese students create a skills development platform to connect IT market and young people

Six students took part in the first Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge. They developed ‘Pathfinder’, an online platform to help young people elevate their skills, learn from peers and connect with IT recruiters.

Simona Ristoska
UNICEF Viet Nam\2020\Han Nguyen
UNICEF Viet Nam\2020\Han Nguyen

27 February 2020

This story was originally published by UNICEF Viet Nam.

While interning at a web development company, Duy, a computer sciences student at the University of Science in Ho Chi Minh City, realized most interns faced difficulties.

“I was excited to learn new technologies, but the company invested a lot of time training interns on basic tools. It surprised me how many of us were about to graduate from college but had almost no experience. These fundamentals were taught by employers, instead of schools. I wanted to fix this.”

Almost half of Vietnam’s working youth are in jobs that don’t match their qualifications. The skills gap is an urgent issue as the economy and startup ecosystem are thriving. Many companies face a lack of relevant and transferable skills among employees, especially young people. According to The World Bank, businesses cite “education” as one of three obstacles to their operations. As the country shifts to a service-oriented economy, the skills mismatch threatens to prevent Vietnam from becoming the next global digital hub.

In response, UNICEF Vietnam (VCO) and the Ministry of Education and Training are working on skills-focused education reforms. VCO also implements social entrepreneurship programmes to enable young people to develop 21st century skills. Since 2017, more than 23,000 young people have been directly engaged in programmes, with government partners such as the Saigon Innovation Hub (SIHUB).  

Following these promising results, UNICEF and SIHUB launched the Youth Led Innovation Lab. The partnership provides opportunities for young people by engaging government and private sector partners. Among the Lab’s initiatives is the Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge 2018/19 which, in Vietnam, focused on employment opportunities.

They applied for the Youth Challenge, attended a design-thinking workshop, and were selected for seed funding and mentorship support.

“I wanted to connect with business students to help develop the idea and complement my technical skills. Nghĩa introduced me to Luật, and that’s how we started,” Duy explains.

The team often meets at the Youth-led Innovation Lab to work and to consult with mentors and peers.
UNICEF Viet Nam\2020\Han Nguyen

Their problem scoping revealed three challenges. First, the education curriculum is not to responding quickly enough to market needs. There is a lack of community where young professionals can learn from each other. And, finally, there is limited access to opportunities for building soft skills.

The solution?

Pathfinder’ is an online platform to help IT students elevate their skills, and to connect with other users and recruiters. It has several main functions, including a roadmap for skills development. As users advance, they can update their profile and use it as a CV to apply for jobs. Another important function is the coding platform - a community where members can share their projects and learn from each other. Recruiters will also have access, so they can see students’ work.

The Pathfinder team is growing steadily. Today, six members are working together to bring the platform closer to students and companies.

“The best thing we learned is to develop a product that is market fit and solves a problem. We are constantly developing our prototype,” adds Luật. A beta version of the prototype will be launched by the end of June 2020.

They hope to spike interest among peers to pursue a career in IT, especially girls. “The percentage of female students at my university is very low, but at the same time, they are the top students in the generation,” says Duy.

Quỳnh, a girl in the team and the marketing mastermind, is eager to see change.

“I joined because we need to change students’ mindsets. Young people need to be proactive about their future; Pathfinder is the perfect place to start.”

The skills challenge demands smart investments in promising ideas and solid partnerships between governments, private sector and donors. But a fundamental change in the future job market is only possible by bringing young people on board.

Vietnam’s youth are definitely up for the challenge.  

Author: Simona Ristoska is a Corporate Engagement and Innovation Associate on a stretch assignment at UNICEF Viet Nam, Ho Chi Minh City Office