The fairly young population of Southeast Asian countries and their good level of education make them excellent members of the regional workforce. Add to this their reputation of hard work and adaptability.
Despite the perceived inherent advantages, employees are not going to magically appear at a company and start working just like everyone else does. They also need to undergo training, and the process is unlikely to proceed without some challenges along the way.
Discussed below are some of the leading concerns businesses that operate in Southeast Asia are likely to face when it comes to hiring and training employees. They may not be critical factors that will immediately drive away employers, but it pays to know them and the corresponding solutions to avoid problems.
The challenge of bringing employees aboard the digital transformation ship is not exclusive to ASEAN economies. However, it may surprise some to know that most ASEAN firms admit to not being adaptable enough.
An SAP-commissioned Oxford Economics survey of 600 senior executives in key economies across ASEAN suggests that Southeast Asian companies know the ways towards digital transformation, but they are not as capable of adapting as they would have preferred.
The survey respondents were asked what hindered them from taking advantage of technology, digitalisation, and automation, in particular, to improve their operations and business outcomes.
Some of their top responses were as follows: lack of technology for analytics (43 per cent), lack of capable and motivated workforce (40 per cent), lack of adequate data (38 per cent), and difficulty scaling for growth (33 per cent).
These responses show how many organisations still struggle with the goal of becoming fully digital to become more agile and adaptable to market changes. These also infer how many still hesitate to invest in digital transformation and exert enough effort to expedite digitalisation.
Digital transformation is not as easy as it seems even for Southeast Asia’s relatively young working population. However, with the right employee training programs, adapting to the increasingly digitised modern economy is not too tall an order to take.
A thoughtfully designed training plan, together with tech-driven tools and systems, can easily address the challenges of training employees to work well with the ongoing digital transformation efforts of ASEAN companies.
One of the notable challenges in training employees is the apparent mismatch between jobs and skills. There are many potential employees across Southeast Asia, but their set of skills may not be best suited for the vacancies.
An International Labor Organization (ILO) report shows the extent of job mismatch in several Southeast Asian countries. In Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, the qualification mismatch average at around 0.4.
Some 40 per cent of job applicants in these countries are reportedly underqualified or overqualified for the available job positions.
This job-skill mismatch is an employee training problem as it makes employees less enthusiastic about training. Consequently, they become less productive and less engaged in the workplace. As the ILO describes the impact of mismatches, “skills mismatch has negative consequences for productivity and competitiveness.”
It would be extremely challenging to motivate employees who consider themselves detached from their functions and incompatible with the positions they are occupying. To address skill mismatch and raise employee motivation, it may be necessary to do reassignments or provide more training to make it easier for employees to adjust to their functions.
Moreover, there’s difficulty in dealing with overqualified employees. They may not find the training useful, or they may regard it as cumbersome given that they are doing a job that they deem to be beneath their qualification and expected pay grade.
Working hours in many ASEAN countries are relatively long. According to numbers from Statista, Thailand has a 42.3-hour workweek. Employees in the Philippines work 41.7 hours per week on average.
Vietnam, on the other hand, has a 41.2-hour workweek. Indonesia’s 38.2 hours may be low compared to its ASEAN peers, but it is still higher than the global average for OECD countries at 33.5 hours.
With these long working hours, it would be difficult to squeeze training sessions in. It is challenging to encourage employees to learn more skills or prepare to advance their position within the company when they are already spending a lot of their time at work and are expected to complete a long list of tasks.
One way to deal with this challenge is to consider remote training whenever possible. The pandemic has shown that remote work works. There are no compelling reasons to deliberately avoid virtual training sessions. It can save time and the use of resources, plus the sessions can be recorded so anyone can go back to them if ever they forget something or they need clarifications.
Many ASEAN businesses operate in multiple locations. As a result, training sessions can be quite a hassle. It does not only raise the challenge of distance or lack of physical interaction. It also creates opportunities for culture clashes,
Southeast Asian employees are as diverse as they can get when it comes to work attitude. From the sociable to the stubborn lone wolves, they vary greatly and form a colourful spectrum too vibrant to be tamed or put in a single category.
To address issues that may stem from diversity and geographical barriers, it helps to clearly lay down the training goals from the get-go. Doing this makes it easy for everyone to establish expectations and adjust themselves to the training and the instructor.
Additionally, it is advisable to use live online platforms or spaces to build a community where employees can interact and engage with other employees. Also, take advantage of social media.
Learning consultant Dan Steer shared how social media can be useful in employee training during a session at the Association for Talent Development International Conference & Exposition. Steer says that social media should be used before, during, and after the training sessions to achieve its best impact.
Nothing too hard to overcome
The Southeast Asian economy is still at its younger stages and was experiencing enviable healthy growth before the pandemic struck. However, COVID-19 disruption has made it amply clear that ASEAN countries have a lot of room for improvement.
They can become more resilient and adaptable particularly when it comes to the labour market by addressing the jobs-skills mismatch, giving the digital transformation a harder push, and addressing the effects of long working hours and workforce dispersion on employee training.
Editor’s note: e27 aims to foster thought leadership by publishing contributions from the community. This season we are seeking op-eds, analysis and articles on food tech and sustainability. Share your opinion and earn a byline by submitting a post.
The post How Southeast Asian businesses can overcome employee training challenges appeared first on e27.