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The Need for a Skilled Workforce in Myanmar

In the race of development and economic growth there is a need for a competent work force, which comprises of competent people who, beyond paper degrees, have the ability to learn and work in a formal work environment and apply their knowledge to the task at hand. In numerous countries where stringent international standards are not maintained by educational institutions while developing curriculum, thousands of graduates are churned out year after year, but their capability and level of competence is little above that of a high school graduate. The most employable, or rather, employment ready graduates pass out of the world’s top universities, majority of which are located in the United States. Universities in Europe, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and India also train some very bright young graduates. But then in many countries only a small percentage are employable and ft for joining the work force and delivering what is expected of them. This is where a capacity defciency occurs and capacity building becomes a concern. Capacity building involves developing core skills in workers, and the onus of building this falls on nations as part of their development and growth agenda.

Building capability and capacity is a serious concern in the developing world and the constant endeavour to upgrade the educational system yields results only after many years. Education is all about imparting knowledge and skills to the youth and ensuring that the latest research and innovations reach the classroom. However, education involves much more than academic achievement and the stamp of a degree. It also implies that the student has the specifc skills required when he joins the workplace, can learn, absorb and apply his knowledge to the task at hand, come out with new ideas, fnd innovative ways of getting the expected results and promote effciency in the systems and processes involved. These skills are acquired by those who pursue tertiary education and study professional courses. Education involves primary, secondary and post secondary segments. It is the latter that builds the transition and makes students employment ready

Benefts of a skilled work force

A skilled worker is one who has specifc knowledge, capability and training in a specifc feld of work, and he uses these to improve effciency in his feld of work and adding substantial value.

An unskilled worker is an employee who does not need to use any specifc talent for his work, does not use any thinking or intellectual skills. His job can be done by most people and is therefore a low paying job. In terms of demand and supply, such jobs would have the maximum supply of labour in countries where skill development is in its nascent stages and fewer people having access to quality higher education. Countries and organizations reap the numerous benefts of having more and more people as part of their pool of skilled labour.

  •  Education and acquisition of skills useful in the work place enhances their own capacity and capability, offering them greater scope for creativity and innovation.
  • For the employer, the company or industry, it translates into increased output, greater effciency and less waste of resources while enhancing proftability.
  • For the economy, it promotes growth, more productive and acquire a competitive advantage based on the effcient utilization of its resources.
  • E c o n o m i c i n e q u a l i t i e s a r e reduced with more employment opportunities providing income to more people, thereby reducing poverty.
  • I n d e v e l o p i n g c o u n t r i e s , a skilled native workforce reduces dependence on foreign nationals and enables its own people to best utilize resources in an environment that they understand best. The international community has also realized that the best results emerge with the involvement and training of local people, irrespective of how much money they pump in, and without local involvement the best results remain elusive. Financial aid can be utilized most effectively only by educated skilled local people.

Framework for Skill Development

The onset of industrialization in any country requires a work force that has the requisite skills. Many countries use foreign labour to start with, move to repatriating their own people and eventually training their own people in their own institutions to take over from the foreign employees. Development of skills shows results in the form of increased productivity, greater profts and poverty alleviation.

International experience reveals that it is preferable to match the supply of labour to current demand for skills. But the essential frst step is to develop core skills like literacy, communication, learning the English language since it is universally accepted, team work, problem solving, and the ability to learn. Once the core skills are in place, the next focus is developing higher level professional and technical skills, which will enable workers to take well paying jobs with higher autonomy and responsibility. The final step is skill portability, which means using skills across industries, in new environments and beyond their own regional boundaries.

Skill development is not a one-time learning. Skills have to be updated and upgraded time and again. In a working career of 30-40 years, it is impossible to continue progressing on the basis of decades’ old learning, a single degree or a single course. It is imperative for companies and organizations to offer training opportunities to its work force, since this investment will beneft them manifold eventually. A survey conducted across European countries a few years  ago, revealed that a 1% increase in training days of workers, led to a 3% increase in the company’s productivity.

Skill development in Myanmar

Countries and economies have their own booty of natural resources, which alone cannot make them rich or poor. Some of the most resource rich nations have the poorest of people since their resources are not utilized appropriately and are unable to do any value addition to generate higher incomes, which requires rich human capital. A simple example of Singapore which has progressed primarily on the basis of its rich human capital is a model worth emulating.

In the case of Myanmar, which is so resource rich, it is imperative to build a skilled work force to progress and hasten the pace of economic growth. However, the process of developing skilled human capital faces multiple hurdles, given the state of the education system, the slow pace of reforms, lack of suffcient funding, and flling the gap of bringing knowledge and learning to international levels, incorporating the latest research in each feld. The frst steps are in place, with increased budgetary allocation, the introduction of the National Education Sector Plan which focuses on developing critical thinking skills at school level, instead of rote learning. According to a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the major overhaul required is in the vocational skills and technical skills development fields. These are required in order to fill the jobs created by foreign investors pumping in funds into the country. The report states that at present, only 0.5% of all upper secondary school students enrol in vocational training, a dismal fgure in front China’s 45%.

Myanmar’s action plan to build skills

As the education gets revamped, and new policies lay a solid foundation to build human capital in the country, there is a need to fll the gap between classroom based academic learning and the practical knowledge needed at the workplace. There is a need to provide an enabling environment and make changes in the organizational framework to create an environment more conducive to education and training. Some of the focal areas to build skills among the working population include:

A complete change to provide quality education at primary and secondary level in both rural and urban areas. While 69% of urban children attend secondary schools, the number from rural areas is half of this.

  • Minimize dropouts after completion  of primary education, by providing incentives to students to continue education. According to the Oxford Business Group report, 2017, though primary enrolment is 98%, but all students do not complete primary school. It has been found that students leave at age 9 to start working in the informal sector.
  • Establish more institutes imparting tertiary education after completing secondary school. This is the third level of education for students.
  • Improve the quality of educators that educate, that is, provide more training to teachers and upgrade their knowledge to the latest research in their respective felds.
  • Build bridges between completing e d u c a t i o n a n d b e i n g w o r k ready, through training and skill development.
  • Special focus should be to match education and training to the skills needed in emerging jobs in the market.
  •  Provide training opportunities in both rural and urban areas, and build institutions that train workers to meet future needs.
  • Incorporate information technology at higher levels, since this has become an integral part of daily life.

As Myanmar progresses on its path of development, there is a shift towards industrialization and setting up of manufacturing facilities, which are generating employment, and will eventually reduce dependence on imports of fnished goods, and make the nation self-suffcient in a few years. However, industrialization requires a skilled work force, with basic training and education that helps them acquire specifc skills. This is the country’s major challenge even as an increasing number of institutions are being set up with foreign collaboration from neighbouring countries like China, India, Thailand and others. Many foreign corporates setting up offce in Myanmar weave in capacity building assistance into their investment package so as to train and educate locals.

The education and training of a country’s workers is always a signifcant factor in how well its economy will do. It has been seen that countries with a greater percentage of population graduating from schools witness faster economic growth as compared to those with less educated workers. Since education comes at a cost, it is a worthwhile investment in human capital to build an asset that is bound to yield results.