From rice to robots: Is Vietnam's workforce ready for the future? Let us know what you think!

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As a member of the WTO since 2007 and located in the middle of fast-growing East Asia, Vietnam has earned a reputation as a smart place to invest. Its people are a major asset in attracting foreign investors: Vietnam can boast of its comparatively low wages and a large, young and hard-working labor force. Despite Vietnam’s success so far, it remains to be seen whether its workforce is ready for the next phase in the country’s development – to carry forward the transition from a largely agrarian to an industrialized economy.  Are Vietnam’s workers ready to move from low to high tech production? From rice to robots?

Several questions need answers before we can begin to assess Vietnam’s preparedness:

First, do Vietnam's job seekers, especially recent graduates, possess the skills that employers seek, in particular those in higher tech industries such as IT or electrical machinery? What are the characteristics that employers are looking for in employees? Which characteristics need to be strengthened to meet employer’s demands? Are they looking for practical technical skills, an ability to analyze numbers, diagrams and figures, good writing abilities? Or are they seeking leadership and managerial talent, team work or more general workplace skills such as problem-solving, strong enthusiasm and motivation? Do employers demand work experience of recent graduates for example through internships, and how important is prior work experience compared to a good degree?

Second, if job seekers do not have the attributes demanded in the labor market, what’s keeping them from acquiring these necessary skills? Are job seekers unaware of what employers want or which schools are good? Are schools and universities not teaching these skills? If so, why is that?

These questions are at the heart of new research at the World Bank in Vietnam and a host of other countries around the world. The aim is to improve the understanding of Vietnam’s labor market and possible skills shortages. Findings can later be used to provide advice to the Government on how to develop high quality human resources, one of the three breakthrough areas of Vietnam's socioeconomic development strategy from 2011-2020.

What we do know is this: Vietnam's population is becoming more and more educated, with near universal primary completion and fast expanding secondary and tertiary enrollments. Despite this, many employers in Vietnam say they are struggling with an insufficiently skilled work force. Little is known, however, about the skills most in demand, including by type of worker and industry. Sure, there are plenty of individual views and experiences: According to one foreign investor involved in high tech mechanical engineering in Ho Chi Minh City, “What is missing most are practical technical skills as well as thinking and problem-solving skills”. He thinks schools and universities need to encourage more critical thinking and less rote learning.

We want to know whether this assessment is correct or not, and to try to figure out what it means for Vietnam's education and training system and its curriculum. Furthermore, what should young people pay attention to as they make their decisions about education and careers?

These are some of the questions that we at the World Bank in Vietnam would like to find the answers to. As we begin to gather more data, we want to first hear from you. Do you think Vietnam is suffering from skills gaps? If so, what skills do you think are in short supply? What do you think are the reasons for skills gaps? And what should the government, employers and schools and universities do about it?

Let us know what you think and be our advisers!

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Christian Bodewig

Practice Manager, Social Protection and Jobs, West and Central Africa, World Bank

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