ASEAN digital talent crunch needs systemic intervention

ASEAN digital talent crunch
Image by Iryna Imago | Bigstockphoto

As we enter 2023, the ASEAN economy is projected to advance, and the demand for skilled labor will increase. To ensure that this talent crunch does not impede growth, a systemic intervention is needed to engage all stakeholders.

ASEAN Talent Playbook

According to the ASEAN Growth and Scale Talent Playbook by ALPHA JWC Ventures, KEARNEY, and Grit, governments across the region should consider a multi-pronged approach with four key stakeholder groups. The report details this approach below:

Retained Workforce

Governments have to provide guidance and policies to ensure ICT industries remain attractive to talents. This includes initiatives such as launching four-day workweeks, remote working policies, diversity and reduced work hours. For instance, Malaysia announced that the weekly working hours in the country would be reduced from 48 to 45 hours.

To further support the ICT industry and retain their workforce, governments can also consider offering workspaces/hubs for tech talents with great connectivity infrastructure, enabling the creation of dedicated tech hubs. To illustrate the trend beyond ASEAN, the report points to Italy’s government program that endorses coworking spaces in Milan to facilitate tech talents with more flexibility and reduce their commuting hours.

Upskilled workforce

To ensure that talents are adequately equipped for the jobs of tomorrow, governments across ASEAN should be considering providing more investments for upskilling. This includes initiatives such as formal digitally-enabled training and apprenticeships with appropriate incentives.

For the OECD, the report quotes that 38% of employers are offering formal training programs, while only 25% of ASEAN companies do the same. As such, governments should set a target of increasing this number by at least 12.5 percentage points in the next five years.

In terms of annual training hours, the US average is 78 hours per employee, while ASEAN countries are only offering 38. The report mentions Singapore’s SkillsFuture initiative, which offers $500 credit to every Singaporean aged 25 and above. This initiative allows citizens to upgrade their skills through courses supported by the government and employers.

Local Graduates

Across the region, governments should collaborate with the education sector to ensure that the talent pool is equipped with the right skill set. From an early age, students should be given the opportunity to explore STEM and ICT-related skills, such as coding.

The report also quotes surveys that suggest that only 19% of Indonesia’s workforce has the necessary digital skills and that 48% of SMEs in Malaysia cite the lack of problem-solving and critical thinking skills among job applicants. This suggests that governments should look into providing more support for institutions of higher learning in areas such as curriculum and resourcing.

In the European Union, for example, the ESFP supports EU Member States in reforming national education and training systems, supporting key skills, including digital ones.

Foreign Talent

Finally, the report acknowledges that foreign talent is often seen as a great way to supplement the local market. Attracting foreign talents requires governments to provide a conducive environment and incentives. This can be done by introducing new types of work visas that make it easier for people to work and live in the country, such as Bahrain’s Golden Residency Visa, Canada Global Talent Stream, and Singapore ONE Pass.

The report also stresses the importance of introducing tech-focused work visas to fill in the talent gap, specifically in tech roles. Examples include Germany’s considering a points-based immigration system, China and Japan’s consideration of loosening their immigration laws, the UK Skilled Worker Visa, Australia’s free flights and accommodations for hospitality workers (2021), US sign-on bonuses, and Shanghai Fast Pass.

The Future of Work in ASEAN

With the right policies and investments in place, ASEAN countries can play a major role in the global tech landscape. The report advises governments to make concerted efforts to take into account the needs of businesses and tech talents. This includes providing more investments for upskilling, enabling access to resources such as tech hubs, and introducing incentives to attract foreign talent.

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