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Too Many Jobs, Too Few Qualified Workers are Economic Obstacles in Vietnam


FILE - Maintenance workers tend to some bushes in Hanoi, where most people who want a job can find one.

Vietnam has long been a tough place to hire and keep employees, but it’s even tougher now, as business trends force companies to scramble to recruit enough staff, according to a new report.

Foreign retail brands are entering the market for Vietnamese customers, factories and other businesses are relocating here from China, and employers increasingly need staff with advanced technical skills. All three of these changes triggered a “sudden growth in demand” for a limited pool of talent, said Navigos Group, a company that sells recruitment services and operates the biggest job portal in the country, VietnamWorks.

New Companies Need Workers

“Companies shifting production from China to Vietnam continue to increase strongly, especially in supporting industries and wood furniture industry,” Navigos Group said in the April report assessing the first quarter of 2019. “There are projects that launch new factories in Vietnam, which are expected to greatly increase the number of employees by double, or triple during the year, especially in the field of electronics, high-end components manufacturing.”

A manufacturer works at an assembly line of Vingroup's Vsmart phone in Hai Phong, Vietnam, Dec. 4, 2018.
A manufacturer works at an assembly line of Vingroup's Vsmart phone in Hai Phong, Vietnam, Dec. 4, 2018.

Vietnam ranked No. 1 in an analysis of six countries in Asia where manufacturers could move as they leave China, according to a report in December from Natixis, an investment bank. The analysis was based on four criteria: demographic trends, input costs, infrastructure, and the share of foreign manufacturing.

Low Supply of Workers Nothing New

With all of these investors flooding into Vietnam, the calculus of supply and demand is changing in the workforce. There is a lot of new demand for labor. But supply has been a challenge for years even before this, thanks to a number of reasons.

Laborers work at export garment Maxport factory in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 20, 2019.
Laborers work at export garment Maxport factory in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 20, 2019.

The Southeast Asian country of 100 million people has a low unemployment rate, usually around 2 percent, so most of the people who want jobs already have them. Vietnam’s communist government also guarantees many worker protections, from paid holidays to restrictions on firing.

Many Workers Like to Move Around

For possibly related reasons, employees, especially younger ones, prefer to leave a job after about three years. This can cut both ways.

On the one hand, it might be a good sign that workers do not feel locked into a job just to keep their health insurance or other benefits and have the freedom to move.

On the other hand, employers do not want to have to pay to train new people every few years. Add to that challenge the fact that more employers are coming into the country.

Gaku Echizenya, the CEO of Navigos Group, sees “the recruitment market in Vietnam becoming more and more vibrant and competitive due to the investment of FDI enterprises,” or foreign direct invested.

That includes in the information technology sector, where skill levels are not keeping up with new technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the internet of things.

FILE - Shoppers check out smart TVs in Hanoi. Analysts recommend Vietnam retrain workers for the technology sector to meet the demand for new skills.
FILE - Shoppers check out smart TVs in Hanoi. Analysts recommend Vietnam retrain workers for the technology sector to meet the demand for new skills.

“The demand for recruiting IT human resources is increasing more and more in the digital era, which leads to many challenges to attract and retain talents,” Echizenya said.

This demand is rising by 47 percent per year in Vietnam, according to CUTS International, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization.

Solutions

A possible solution to filling in the skills gap is to train current staff again. Microsoft Asia released data in April showing that employees are far more willing to retrain than their employers think. The study, which covered 15 countries in the Asia Pacific region including Vietnam, found that 22 percent of business leaders think workers do not want to reskill, whereas just 8 percent of workers themselves say that, marking a large disconnect between the two sides.

Companies also can broaden their net by hiring candidates with skills obtained through online classes, said Alice Pham, CUTS International country director.

“If employers and recruiters do not recognize online degrees, or see knowledge and skills attained digitally as being inferior to those provided by established educational institutions, the learners’ motivation and incentives would be negatively affected and ultimately the appeal of e-learning would be corroded, partially or completely,” Pham wrote in a report for CUTS in August.

People in Vietnam traditionally prefer to hire employees with qualifications on paper, from college diplomas to number of years worked. But with talent in short supply, the times are changing, and preferences may have to change with them.

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