Time to act

need to do more if they are to bridge Asia Pacific’s growing skills gap, warns
Ed Peters

the scene: the HR director for a major foreign corporation at his desk in
Yangon, capital of Myanmar, a pile of CVs in front of him. And a half-full
waste paper bin next to the desk. "Too much education, almost any sort of
government training and the CV goes straight in there," says the HR
director, with a meaningful jerk of his thumb towards the bin.

and large, it’s far easier for us to train staff from scratch than it is to
spend time unlearning what they have been mistaught and then explain the way we
want it done," he says. "Rote learning, techniques that are totally
out of date and what I’d call a lack of initiative, if they had any in the
first place, are all too often the product of schools and colleges here."

lament is echoed to varying degrees across many of the less-developed countries
in Asia Pacific. Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia are where training and
development are weakest, due to a combination of faltering economies and
political instability. Lack of funds – or the straightforward embezzlement of
those allotted – has a correspondingly detrimental effect on producing the
skilled workforce these countries so desperately need. And the supersonic speed
of development of business tools like the Internet has left some countries
years behind.

a very different picture in the region’s tiger economies, exemplified by the
shining examples of Singapore and Hong Kong. The Vocational Training Council
(VTC) in Hong Kong, for example, oversees 18 training boards responsible for
determining the manpower needs of various economic sectors. A further five
committees deal with similar issues which affect more than one sector of the
economy. The VTC also operates industry-wide schemes for new technology
training, apprenticeship, traineeship and trade testing, while there are three
centres that specialise in training the disabled.

far so good, but HR managers are still looking for more. "There’s a
feeling among HR professionals that the government is still not doing
enough," says PO Mak, HR director for GE Capital (Asia Pacific).
"There was a severe shortage of technology professionals about 18 months
ago as the dot-com boom took hold, and the government proposed bringing in
qualified people from the mainland.

are now working closely with educational institutes here to expand the
technology-related curricula, but the projections are that even if all the
colleges and universities behaved like factories, the production would still
not meet demand," he warns.

notes that the government is not really "walking its talk", as while
projecting itself as an international, cosmopolitan entrepot, it is still not
making it easy to attract the sort of professionals Hong Kong needs: "The
upcoming Cyber Port project will require an enormous number of qualified staff,
but the government is not saying ‘no matter what your nationality, you are
welcome in Hong Kong’."

the Philippines, a different problem has reared its head. Education and
training is of a relatively high standard, and English is the second national
language, but as soon as anybody gets a chance to work abroad they leave.
"Wages are relatively low here, and although the cost of living is cheap,
if someone can get paid more abroad of course they’ll go for it," says
Enrico Gastev, HR director of the Manila-based Soloman Investments Ltd.

not just the obvious things like a computer programmer going to Silicon Valley
– they may go even for menial jobs unrelated to their training simply because
they can earn more that way and it’s in hard currency," he adds.

says that while the standards at training institutions in the Philippines are
high compared with those in some neighbouring countries, the government’s
failure to halt the brain drain is demoralising. "We have lost around 20%
of our staff in the past two years. "What’s needed are inducements to keep
skilled personnel at home, instead of letting their skills go to waste abroad."

conclusion, the consensus of opinion around AP is that governments and their
related organisations need to be far more proactive in bridging skills
shortages if development in the region is to keep up with the rest of the world.


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