Skilled Labor Shortages Could Hurt ASEAN Economies

Oct. 21, 2008
Shortage of managers and skilled professionals expected

Southeast Asia's economies will suffer if a growing shortage of managers and skilled professionals is not addressed, the International Labour Organization warned Oct. 21. The shortages were no longer limited to multinational companies but were affecting an increasing number of local firms wanting to expand globally, the ILO said.

"If these skills shortages are not addressed, they will constrain enterprise competitiveness and ASEAN's future development," it said, citing a lack of managers and skilled staff in the information technology and finance sectors.

ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose membership ranges from wealthier states like Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to poor countries like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The other ASEAN members are the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The regional bloc, with a combined population of 550 million people, aims to create a single market and manufacturing base by 2015 in order to have more clout in the international markets.

The ILO said the growing skills shortages raised questions about the quality and relevance of tertiary education in ASEAN, adding that the problem was not a lack of applicants, but their poor qualifications. "Many countries have been suffering from a shortage of managers and technical and professional staff, indicating a mismatch between supply of workers with appropriate education and skills and the demand for those types of workers," it said.

"Skills shortages could undermine enterprise competitiveness in a variety of ways. They can lead to capacity under-utilisation and productivity losses, increased labour turnover, higher wage increases and higher recruitment and training costs," it added. "If the problems are widespread, whole industries and entire economies may suffer."

According to the organization, a well-trained ASEAN workforce will also be better equipped to adjust to changing global trends. "In the context of the current volatility in global markets and inflationary pressure in most of the ASEAN member countries, it is even more imperative now that education and training policies support workforce development and enrich productivity growth," it said.

ASEAN's labor force stood at around 285 million in 2007, with 40 million more expected to be added by 2015, ILO said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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