Since the heydays of Adam Smith, the importance of labor in Economics has been highlighted. We not only need to have a sufficiently large quantity of labor, but also a qualified and a quality labor force, to efficient fuel the economy forward. Countries without a large labor force, such as Singapore, or UAE, ended up importing a large pool of all categories of labor. Even developed countries with sizeable populace, such as Japan or Korea, would import, especially unskilled and semi skilled labourers to augment their professional and skilled personnel. Besides adopting suitable policies to combat the shortage on the quantity front, countries all around the globe are also doing what they can to augment the skills of their human resource.
As Lee Kuan Yew described succinctly, ‘we do not have to invade countries to rule over or enslave them. We just educate our population high enough and people would come and work for us.’ Considering even within ASEAN, unskilled workers from poorer countries such as Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar ended up working as menial labourers (maids, dish washers, construction workers, etc) in richer countries. Without developing the skills needed for the new economy, we would continue to work as maids or modern slaves forever, in the foreseeable future.
The current skills development situation in Myanmar is one of the worst in the region. The ranking among the higher educational institutions globally, is at a miserable point (6500+ for University of Yangon). Without significant changes and improvements, the ranking could only fall south. Take note that all these rankings, despite being carried out by the West, is not solely occupied by the universities of Western Hemisphere. And yes, it is possible to improve. Thirty years ago, top university in China, Beijing University or Beida, was among the top 1,000 only, i.e., its ranking was not even within top 500 universities in the world. Now Beida is #14 in the world, according to last year ranking.
Our graduates come out of universities without employable skills, short on technical expertise and modern technologies, deficient in self improvement and self learning and with much orientation towards memory works. There is considerable mismatch between the skills of our graduates and level of skills and expertise that global enterprises need. As empirical evidence of that, even in the not so complicated construction industry, HAGL/Myanmar Plaza was completed by construction workers from Vietnam. In the Dala Bridge construction, Korea main contractors outsourced the services to a Vietnam construction team, instead of team Myanmar. If all of us do not examine this to improve ourselves, we would be in the world of servitude class within the next generation.
What skills do we actually need
To be specific to Myanmar, every Myanmar citizen need a second language skills, IT, presentation and public speaking skills (in a second language). Without being able to express ourselves properly at the international level, how can we ever aspire to be managers. Our companies and economy are not like Japan, Korea, China or even Vietnam. We cannot rely on knowing our language alone. The first tier languages of English and Chinese is a must for everyone.
In terms of specific IT skills, at the basic level, the set up and use of basic IT applications, gmail, telegram, WeChat, hotspot must be familiar with everybody. We still have graduates who does not know how to install telegram or WeChat or set up a gmail account. Unbelievable!
At graduate level, applications such as word, excel, presentations, the use of ai apps should be a piece of cake. Those wanting to reach higher, programming skills are not bad either.
In countries such as Singapore, even the 6th graders are preparing their own slides and doing their own presentations in front of their classes. Most of our graduates would graduate without doing one proper report or presentation.
In addition to the hard skills mentioned prior, soft skills such as creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving (not just identification), effective communication and collaboration, and knowing how to balance between speed and perfection are the key skills that employers value.
How do we develop such skills
The hard skills have to be taught and learnt, from the secondary school onwards until the end of university education. That formal education has to be augmented by self learning and education though the freely available online learning tools.
For soft skills, practice makes perfect. Read and read a lot. And sharing of the skills that you have developed with others i.e., knowledge sharing and transfer, would also ensure that the skills are passed on to the next generation of workers, who would propel our economy into the future.