JAKARTA: A new reskilling initiative by the Indonesian government for those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 appears to have gotten off to a rough start, with critics questioning the effectiveness and relevance of the courses offered.
Under the pre-employment card programme, benefits and training are supposed to be provided to 5.6 million people whose livelihoods have been hit by the pandemic.
But with online course titles like “how to make silky pudding” and “how to make cheesy chicken croquette”, experts have questioned whether the newly enacted programme would be useful for participants.
One pundit even noted that some of the courses, which costs participants between US$10 to US$64 each, were similar to those offered for free on YouTube.
Mr Agus Pambagio, a public policy expert, told CNA: “This programme is not suitable for people who are laid off, workers who are forced to take unpaid leave or informal workers who lost their income.”
“These people need cash aid. They need to survive before they are re-employed and return to work.”
The pre-employment card programme was part of President Joko Widodo’s campaign promises when he was re-elected last year, promising to stem unemployment. It was originally designed to provide training for recent graduates and the unemployed.
But the president, popularly known as Jokowi, shifted the programme’s focus on Mar 31, less than two weeks after it was launched, to aid those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Under the scheme, eligible participants would receive 1 million rupiah (US$63.7) worth of online classes each and 600,000 in cash aid over the next four months upon completion of their training.
Mr Pambagio said the programme should have provided these courses for free. “Instead of giving recipients another 1 million rupiah to help them economically, the 1 million rupiah is (actually) given to providers of these courses,” he said. “This programme is only benefiting the providers.”
There are thousands of courses available for participants to choose from at the programme’s website.
These newly launched online courses are provided by several entities. They include five online learning startups (Ruang Guru, Mau Belajar Apa, Pintaria, Sekolahmu and Pintar Mahir) as well as two Indonesian marketplace unicorns (Tokopedia and Bukalapak). The Ministry of Manpower is also listed as a course provider.
ARE THE COURSES RELEVANT FOR JOB SEEKERS?
Mr Trubus Rahdiansyah, another public policy expert, noted that in some instances, there may be a mismatch between the course content and employer requirements.
“The courses should have been designed to ensure that fresh graduates and the unemployed have the skills required by companies. Instead, some of the currently available courses are geared towards people looking to start businesses of their own,” the Trisakti University lecturer told CNA.
Among the courses provided are on “how to make money through smartphone photography” and “how to start a bakery business at home”. Participants have to shell out 600,000 rupiah for each course.
“Starting a business requires capital, something which is unthinkable for laid-off workers who are struggling to put food on the table,” Mr Rahadiansyah said.
The expert also criticised classes on how to make a solid macaroni cake, how to make layered pudding and how to make a healthy peanut salad. These courses cost pre-employment card recipients between 200,000 rupiah to 300,000 rupiah each.
“These courses are similar to the countless videos provided for free on youtube,” Mr Rahdiansyah said.
There are also courses which prepare participants for the formal sector, including how to be a customer service worker, how to be a secretary and how to prepare a resume. These courses cost 700,000 rupiah each.
READ: Cooped up in small homes and lacking awareness, Jakarta’s urban poor find it tough amid partial lockdown
Mr Bhima Yudhistira Adhinegara, an economist from the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance also questioned whether beneficiaries would land a job after completing such courses, given the overall economic slowdown.
“The programme was designed when the economy was still growing by five per cent a year. In a time of a global pandemic when businesses are struggling and people are being laid off, who would hire them?” Mr Adhinegara said.
According to the Manpower Ministry, 1.9 million workers had been laid off or forced to take unpaid leave since early March, 450,000 of whom are in Jakarta.
COURSE PROVIDERS DEFEND VALUE OF PROGRAMME
Course providers said what they are providing is more than mere online videos.
Ms Sekar Tandjung, a spokeswoman for Ruang Guru, one of the course providers, denied that the 200 online classes her company is providing are similar to YouTube videos.
“Participants can interact with the tutors. We also give pre-course tests and post-course tests. Therefore, participants can gauge how much they have learned from the courses,” she was quoted as saying by Jawa Pos.
Meanwhile, Ms Zaneti Sugiharti, head of marketing and communications of Pintaria, another course provider, acknowledged that the courses are not designed for the current economy. However, she argued that the list of courses had been vetted by the government.
She reportedly said that her company had first selected around 900 courses that might be relevant. Subsequently, the government approved 199 of them.
Mdm Astri Wahyuni, Tokopedia’s public policy and government relations vice president, also addressed criticisms that the course providers are the only ones who benefit.
Tokopedia, she told CNA, currently has 190 classes and training programmes for participants to choose from. The classes were developed in partnership with formal and informal educational institutions.
“Through this pre-employment card program, we also help educational institutions throughout Indonesia to remain able to run their businesses during the COVID 19 pandemic,” Mdm Wahyuni noted.
READ: ‘I can barely take a break’: Gravediggers in Jakarta race against time as deaths linked to COVID-19 rise
The programme’s communications director, Mr Panji Winanteya Ruky told a press briefing on Monday (Apr 20) that the initial plan was to have classes conducted face-to-face to train fresh graduates and the unemployed.
Because of the pandemic, however, courses had to be done online and the programme scrambled to find companies which had pre-prepared content.
“Participants can choose whatever courses they feel are relevant to their interests and situation,” he said when asked about how some courses are similar to tutorials available for free on YouTube.
“We are inviting other companies to join so the content of our online classes will be more diverse.”
Mr Rahadiansyah, the Trisakti University lecturer, called on the government to review the programme and its effectiveness in weathering the economic impact of COVID-19.
“The government should review this programme. It should be postponed until the economy is back to normal. The money earmarked for the programme should be diverted to other programmes which provide cash aid to the unemployed and poor families,” he said.
“The programme is good if the economy is normal. But it is not suitable in a time of pandemic like this.”