While the Asia-Pacific region is experiencing population ageing at an unprecedented rate, the growing number of young people in Laos can provide a significant momentum in driving economic growth.
A senior economist from the Faculty of Economics and Business Management at the National University of Laos, Dr Phouphet Kyophilavong, told Vientiane Times on Wednesday that the country’s youthful population provides a golden opportunity for Laos to fast-track its economic growth.
But the government must invest more in education and healthcare to ensure that young people have greater access to quality higher education, vocational skills, and good health.
“One of the main challenges is how to ensure that the government can produce the human resources and a skilled workforce that meet the country’s development needs,” Dr Phouphet said.
Another challenge is that many young people want to study for a bachelor degree instead of learning a trade at a vocational school.
As a result, many graduates end up jobless, which is sparking concerns about the rising unemployment rate.
Ageing in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region has affected their labour force and economic development.
It is expected that 1.3 billion people in Asia and the Pacific will be 60 years or older by 2050, according to the latest report from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
A high-level United Nations meeting in Bangkok recently stressed the need to address the challenges of population ageing in the Asia-Pacific region by integrating older people into development efforts. Addressing the meeting, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr Shamshad Akhtar said “This review is critical in our efforts towards ensuring that older people are recognised as an integral part of the social fabric, that their knowledge and experiences are cherished, and their contributions are appreciated and capitalised upon.”
Laos has a population of almost 6.5 million. Fifty percent of the population is under 25, which has great potential for boosting economic growth. The average number of children born to each woman has dropped to 3.2, down from 4.5 in 2005.
While ageing is not such a matter of concern for Laos, the challenge of slowing productivity remains pressing, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Laos’ growth so far has relied on the exploitation of abundant natural resources, but to succeed in its further integration into the Asean economy, the IMF recommended that Laos needs to change the structure of production towards value-added manufacturing and services.
“This requires important reforms in the business environment, and in education and training, to bring the workforce into more productive employment. In addition, putting in place the conditions for more exchange rate flexibility in the medium-term will help with the eventual diversification of the economy,” said the IMF.