With a bulging working population, it is critical for ASEAN member states to maintain a healthy job growth rate. This in part should be helped by the fact that many of the Southeast Asian countries have in recent times showcased strong economic performance. A recent Mckinsey study showed how many of the developing economies in the region are some of the worlds most outperforming emerging economies. They include the "long-term outperformers" comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, which averaged at least 3.5 percent annual per capita gross domestic product (GD) growth over 50 years. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam also made the cut as "recent outperformers" by clocking 5 percent annual growth over 20 years.
For a region that would soon have a collective labor market size comparable to China and India, such news holds positive implications for the region. A strong performing economy, given the right policy framework, should lead to job growth and an increased avenue for job seekers to have access to well-paying jobs.
And this has been the case across many countries in Southeast Asia. Entering 2019, many expect the hiring prospects to remain high across major trade centers in the region. The Salary Survey by Robert Walters pegged a rise in hiring intent across the region. Owing to the constant GDP growth and the onset of new technologies and newer means to work, chiefly within the area of digital and IT functions would mean that job portfolios are going to further diversify leading to spur in demand for qualified talent within such job areas.
The survey also highlighted how such a rise in hiring numbers in 2019 is not necessarily the same across this part of the continent. The survey noted that robust growth in maturing ASEAN economies such as Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are expected to continue, as multinational companies and foreign direct investment continue to drive stiff competition for skilled and experienced talent. In comparison, hiring in Singapore and Malaysia will remain stable and modest, as companies seek greater productivity through the hiring of better-skilled professionals.
This discrepancy between countries in the region stems from the labor market size and qualification levels across such cohorts. Vietnam, for example, witnessed a rapid rise in manufacturing jobs as a result of the US-China trade was that started in 2018. As tariffs were imposed from both sides, many manufacturing companies chose to shift Vietnman, bringing in valuable capital and technology that helped create jobs for many in a country with one fastest growing working population in Southeast Asia. The rising wage cost in China also forced many to look at other Southeast Asian countries to shift their manufacturing bases, bringing in valuable jobs with them.
The digital economy
But beyond such economic fluctuations, a major force that sets too, both drive and disrupts, the jobs space in southeast Asia has increased the focus of technology and how much of the growth in the region can be attributed to the rise of a digital economy. The size of the internet economy in the region is projected to reach the size of $240 billion by 2025 according to a study done by Google and Temasek. This is means that as the region grows economically, the rise of a consumer base which is an active part of this internet economy would mean that more jobs are such fields are to be expected. In addition, IT specialists in the niche areas of cybersecurity, big data, and artificial intelligence remain in high demand, as well as digital experts beyond the technology sector are going to be in more demand, the Salary Survey observed.
The report also noticed that professionals with industrial experience across a range of roles, including engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, sales and marketing, finance and human resources, will be highly sought after as well, said Robert Walters. With a global talent shortage in key sectors, companies are evolving their hiring needs too to attract suitable specialists. As companies step up efforts to retain their top skilled talent by investing in training, offering benefits such as flexible working arrangements and providing attractive counter-offers, hiring managers are seeking innovative solutions to draw candidates.
Although Southeast Asia isn’t the first region that faced a shift in talent preferences due to change in technology, of it to truly leverage the benefit of its growing size of the internet economy, the response of the region would be crucial. Although the demand for technical jobs is on the rise, many also need to address the growing digital skills gap that the region is facing currently. A way many countries like Malaysia and Singapore have avoided such labor factors from becoming hindrances is to look for foreign talent. Although local talent will continue to be in demand, an increasing trend of businesses seeking out overseas expansion opportunities has propelled interest for local talent with international experience. This when combined with the need to upgrade skills points to future where although hiring might rise due to the strong performance of the region, accessing and securing such jobs might be the key challenge.