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Vietnam Today

Workforce training a must as AEC takes shape

Released at: 12:43, 03/05/2016

Workforce training a must as AEC takes shape

Up-skilling the workforce is seen as key to improving Vietnam’s workplace competitiveness during integration into the ASEAN Economic Community.

It was 9pm at a luxurious restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Ms. Ngoc Mai, the 28-year-old receptionist manager, was about to finish a hard day’s work at the restaurant. But she stayed a little while longer to practice her with a kindhearted foreign colleague. Many of the guests at the restaurant are foreigners. “I want to arrange my time so I can attend formal English classes as well,” Ms. Mai said. “I don’t want to lose this job and its handsome salary so I must try to improve my skills.”

Ms Mai’s concern over skills is justifiable, as her job could be taken anytime not only by another Vietnamese but also by anyone from neighboring countries. The introduction of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015 paves the way for the freer flow of skilled workers in different sectors, including the one Ms. Mai works in.

Positives & negatives

Under recognition arrangements, the ten ASEAN countries, with a total population of around nearly 630 million, will allow workers in eight sectors - tourism, medicine, dentistry, nursing, accounting, surveying, engineering, and architecture - to seek employment freely within the AEC. These sectors account for 1.5 per cent of all ASEAN employment.

“Due to existing development gaps, skilled workers tend to move to more developed countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand,” Deputy Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Doan Mau Diep told a workshop on the AEC earlier this year. “Most remaining workers seeking jobs in other countries have low qualifications, which will pose a challenge for Vietnam in developing, stabilizing, and managing the domestic labor market.”

A number of AEC member countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, are mature markets compared to Vietnam. With their strong infrastructure they have been selected as Asian regional hubs by multinational corporations, according to Mr. Jon Whitehead, Country Manager at recruitment firm Robert Walters Vietnam.

Their exposure to global projects is therefore greater, which has fostered the development of skill sets among their professionals. “This is an opportunity for Vietnamese people to learn from their regional industry peers, who have honed their skills across a longer period of time,” Mr. Whitehead told VET. Vietnamese professionals, however, at least have the advantage of understanding the local culture, language, and business practices. 

Most Vietnamese professionals see integration into the AEC as a good opportunity to develop their career, according to a survey conducted by online recruitment service VietnamWorks and released in July 2015. “Ninety-two per cent of our survey respondents said Vietnam joining the AEC is a good thing for Vietnamese employees,” said Mr. Gaku Echizenya, CEO of VietnamWorks.  

There were two commonly-cited benefits claimed by survey respondents about AEC integration, with 52 per cent believing they will have more opportunities to work with and learn from foreign experts in other ASEAN countries, while 46 per cent said international workplace cultures will transform Vietnam’s workplace culture for the better. “With these optimistic perspectives coming from a relatively young working population, I believe Vietnam’s human resources will improve tremendously once the country completes its integration into the AEC,” Mr. Echizenya said.

The challenges will be around the fact that Vietnam remains a recruitment market short on talent. While the AEC may open the doors for professionals to work in Vietnam, it also presents opportunities for Vietnamese candidates to leave the country, according to Mr. Whitehead. “From a labor market perspective, we need to keep a good balance of qualified talent in the country in order to fill all the available job positions,” he said. “A major opportunity from the AEC is attracting more talent into Vietnam.”

Popular sectors

Foreign professionals, meanwhile, are already quite interested in working in Vietnam. “We have candidates approaching us from the UK, Europe, China and the rest of Asia, as they all see the growth potential in Vietnam as an exciting opportunity for them,” said Mr. Whitehead. However, companies in Vietnam also have a great desire to recruit overseas Vietnamese to return home, in an effort to strengthen their workforce at the middle to senior management level.

Of the eight sectors mentioned above, engineering seems likely to attract the most foreigners, as Vietnam will have be building a lot of infrastructure and other constructions in the future. “I think there will be high recruitment demand for engineers,” Mr. Simon Matthews, Country Manager Thailand, Vietnam and Middle East at ManpowerGroup, told VET. Technological engineering will rank first in recruitment demand, followed by construction engineering.

Tourism is also expected to see many more workers from the Philippines working at hotels in Vietnam, according to Mr. Colin Blackwell, Chairman of the HR Committee at the Vietnam Business Forum. The Philippines, in fact,