The intent may be right​,​ but something is not going right with the overseas employment programme.

After reports of employment agencies conning youth, we now have organisations deceiving our youth. That the recent case happened in India, our immediate neighbourhood and​ home to a majority of those sent through the overseas employment programme, is worrying.

As of last December, a total of 2,829 are employed overseas with about 58 percent employed in India​, followed by countries in the Middle East. By June this year, the prime minister reported in the state of the nation address that there are about 4,000 youths working abroad, excluding those who went on their own. While statistics vary, little is shared on the status of their employment. Recently, we had 30 Class 12 graduates returning from India without a job and a bitter experience.

But the labour ministry records will still show them as employed. We are yet to understand what purpose such record keeping would serve. But if this is the norm for the ministry to maintain its records, then the creditability of labour statistics become questionable. People are already aware that the ministry has shelved the publication of its recent labour force survey report and that the government itself has questioned the survey’s reliability.

At a time when unemployment has become a national concern, the least we expect from our authorities is to play with numbers. Lives and livelihood are at stake with social and economic consequences.

Efforts are made to create employment opportunities, both at home and abroad. Yet this effort appears to fall short when it comes to monitoring. We have seen loopholes in outsourcing the task to employment agencies. Now we have organisations that the ministry vetted to work together with conning our job seekers. How did the ministry get it so wrong? What roles do our embassies abroad play when our job seekers get exploited?  It is hoped that the teams from the labour ministry who travel to these countries to assess the condition of those working overseas will return with a comprehensive report. The thousands of jobseekers and their families at home deserve the right information to take informed decisions.

Labour records 2015 claim that 85 percent of the unemployed are within the age group of 15 to 29 years, including 46.3 percent of those within 20 to 25 years. We are yet to tap the productivity potential of this group of youth and the efforts to engage them in the labour market appears to have not worked.

Skill mismatch has long been identified as one of the main reasons for the unemployment situation in the country. We are seeing a paradox where our graduates don’t get jobs while the job market remains short of skilled and qualified people. For long, the education sector has been blamed for producing unemployable graduates. This needs to change. Our policy makers need to look beyond complaining and work together to ensure that our children learn both vocational and academic skills.

Unemployment is a security issue and addressing it requires a collective effort. We could start by being honest about it. Denying the severity only hollows the economic growth we claimed to have achieved.