Vietnam has one of the youngest populations in the world, with approximately 40% of its 97 million inhabitants aged under 24. This young and tech-savvy population is driving a dynamic and innovative ecosystem, maintaining Vietnam’s consistent annual GDP growth of between 5% and 7.5% over the past two decades.
The side-effect of a young population is youth unemployment—and social enterprises are on the rise to tackle this issue head-on.
REACH is a Vietnam-based non-profit working to overcome unemployment rates by delivering tailored vocational training to disadvantaged youth. Its impact is two-fold. Not only does it provide training in high-demand industries, but it assists students in securing a job after graduation, in some cases through purpose-build avenues for employment.
Bob Waite, former Melbourne Innovation Centre CEO, is working for REACH as a social enterprise advisor. “REACH training programs have always been entirely market driven,” he says.
Each year, REACH looks to the market and develops curricula based on industry needs.
Pham Thi Thanh Tam, Executive Director of REACH, told asiasociety.org, “A lot of government vocational training and even universities keep their curriculum for five to ten years without any change, while the labor market keeps changing all the time.”
REACH’s responsive approach to current skill demands is a key reason why this employment-focussed social enterprise trains more than 1,100 disadvantaged youth each year, with over 80% of students acquiring a stable job within 6 months of graduation.
A second reason is its specifically designed avenues for employment.
“The new Social Enterprise Strategy for REACH is to develop businesses that integrate with all their courses,” Waite says.
One such business is Revina—an IT outsourcing company in the real estate industry. It was launched to provide employment for youth who study graphic design and 3D modelling at REACH. Currently, over 60% of its employees are REACH graduates, providing clients with graphic post-production and ITC solutions such as photo and video editing, floor-planning and 3D modelling, and architecture rendering.
“Revina provides a real work environment where graduates from REACH can have a soft landing and continue to build their skills,” Waite explains. “This is particularly important in the IT industry where they will secure much better jobs in the future if they get more training in a social enterprise environment.”
In developing businesses that align with their vocational training program, REACH ensures new jobs are available in industries that disadvantaged youth otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.
REACH recruits its students from Vietnam’s most underprivileged youth between the ages of 16-30 years. “This includes youth who come from poverty or are afflicted with HIV/AIDS or a disability,” Waite says. “We also work with former sex workers, human trafficking victims, and youth from ethnic minorities.”
Most recruitment is direct, but many students come from partners like Blue Dragon and International Red Cross. Students are reviewed to ensure they meet the criteria, a process that can include REACH representatives visiting their village or home, ensuring the program adheres to its condition of disadvantage.
One REACH graduate, Giang Ma Văn, now works as a part of the Revina photo editing team as a quality control manager. He was born and raised in the mountainous region of Northern Vietnam, known for its secluded villages, where he belongs to the Tày ethnic minority. Due to his family’s vulnerable socioeconomic situation and an injury that prevented him from joining the Vietnamese military school, at age eighteen, his future looked bleak. Then he discovered he was eligible to undertake an IT course through REACH.
After graduating, Giang struggled to find a job due to his lack of experience and young age. When he finally found work, it was a job of constant overtime where he was reduced to performance targets and numbers—until one of his former REACH teachers heard about his situation and encouraged him to apply for Revina.
“REACH graduates all get jobs,” Waite says, “but we feel many will get locked into some basic jobs in industries that I’d call the new digital factories. We want better for our graduates.”
Revina provides Giang with a place to develop his skills and receive recognition. His goal is to open his own photo editing business—a dream that wouldn’t be possible without REACH or Revina.