Decent work and the experiences of young ethnic minorities in Vietnam

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    Tony Wall
    Chester Business School
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Young people are rarely included in the policies that affect their futures. In fast-growing Vietnam, with many ethnic groups at the back of the queue for decent, secure and well-paid jobs, most are never heard at all. Tony Wall and Ann Hindley explain how Re-WORK aims to redress the balance

Wherever you go in the world, young people are rarely included in policymaking even when those policies directly affect them. The fast-growing economy of Vietnam is no different, but the growing challenge of low employment prospects, unstable jobs and poor pay for minority ethnic young people has forced a rethink.Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, and despite many policies designed to improve education and employability, we still need to better understand their ambitions for decent work, such as fair pay, job security and productive employment.

Re-WORK is a creative and participatory study aiming to allow those marginalised voices to be heard, to let stakeholders come together, and to allow a re-visioning of decent work. Funded by the British Academy, it uses Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a process designed to circumvent imbalances of power, language or communication differences and conflicting views. Rather than focus on problem-solving it aims for positive dialogue sharing.

It focuses on affirmative steps: What is working well? What is the best we have? What is the ideal? And what needs to change to reach that ideal? In this study we aimed to empower young ethnic minorities, develop empathy, and let them tell their truth.

Representation is important in participatory policymaking. Here, the stakeholders involved were policymakers, employers, educators, and young ethnic minorities. It is important that stakeholders feel confident interacting with each other, and briefings or ground rules helped everyone. To encourage idea sharing, young participants sat next to policymakers and employers. To address perceived power dynamics there were groups of minority ethnic young people at each table and the policymakers and employers moved between these. Before group discussions began, the facilitators invited comments from everyone, with drawings or words conveying their thoughts.

Young people in Vietnam can be (as we’ve learned from hard-earned experience) suspicious of institutions, and wary of the delivery of policy, governance and implementation of laws. So we needed to give them the confidence and willingness to speak up during the participatory events. Building trust was crucial to Re-WORK's success, as was validation of the reality and lived experience of the participants. Respecting the viewpoints of individual participants was vital. And at the group level it reinforced cultural values through the expression of stories, traditions, and dress – shared through the project's social media posts and blogs.

The study is developing guidance for governments, education institutions, employers, and young people to gain decent work (available online soon). It suggests that those in power need to recognise citizen diversity and to recognise that young ethnic minorities are valid human beings who can contribute to society. It found a need to identify skills gaps at the local level and provide investment in these to satisfy local employment needs.

And it found that improved co-operation and collaboration between government departments, student unions and universities could help get graduates into decent work that makes the most of their skills.

The research authors were Tony Wall and Ann Hindley of Chester Business School; Minh Phuong Luong of Hanoi University; Nga Ngo of Tay Bac University; and Thi Hanh Tien Ho of Phu Xuan University. This briefing was produced under the project Empowering Ethnic Minority Youth in Vietnam to Re-Vision the Future of Decent Work (Re-WORK), funded by the British Academy’s GCRF Youth Futures Programme

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