Since the heyday of Adam Smith, the importance of labour in Economics has been highlighted. We not only need to have a sufficiently large quantity of labour but also a qualified and quality labour force, to efficiently fuel the economy forward. Countries without a large labour force, such as Singapore, or the UAE, ended up importing a large pool of all categories of labour. 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 upgrade 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 under us.’ Considering even within ASEAN, unskilled workers from poorer countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar ended up working as menial labourers (maids, dishwashers, 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 now one of the worst in the region. The ranking among the higher educational institutions globally is at a miserable point (6,500+ for the University of Yangon). Without significant changes and improvements, the ranking could only head south. Take note that all these rankings, despite being carried out by the West, are not solely occupied by the universities of the Western Hemisphere. And yes, it is possible to improve. Thirty years ago, the top university in China, Beijing University or Beida, was among the top 1,000 only, i.e., its ranking was not even within the top 500 universities in the world. Now Beida is 14 in the world, according to last year’s ranking.
Our graduates come out of universities without employable skills, short on technical expertise and ability to utilize, let alone deploy modern technologies, deficient in self-improvement and self-learning and with much orientation towards memory works. There is a considerable mismatch between the skills of our graduates and the level of skills and expertise that global enterprises or modern governments need. As empirical evidence of that, even in the not-so-complicated construction industry, HAGL/Myanmar Plaza was completed by construction workers from Viet Nam. In the Dala Bridge construction, Korean main contractors outsourced the services to a Viet Nam construction team, instead of a team from Myanmar. If all of us do not examine this to improve ourselves, we will be in the world of servitude class within the next generation.
What skills do we actually need?
To be specific, every Myanmar citizen needs 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 Viet Nam. We cannot rely on knowing our language alone. The first-tier languages of English and Chinese are 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, and hotspots must be familiar to everyone. We still have graduates who do not know how to install Telegram or WeChat or set up a Gmail account. Unbelievable!
At the graduate level, applications such as Word, Excel, presentations, and the use of AI apps should be a piece of cake. For those wanting to reach higher, programming skills are not bad to acquire either.
In countries such as Singapore, even the 6th graders are preparing their own content and doing their own presentations in front of their classes. Some 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 secondary school onwards until the end of university education. Formal education has to be augmented by self-learning and education through freely available online learning tools.
For soft skills, practice makes perfect. Read and read a lot. And sharing the skills that you have developed with others i.e., knowledge sharing and transfer, would also ensure that the skillset is passed on to the next generation of workers, who would propel our economy into the future.