ASEAN’s education systems have “large structural differences” that present a skills challenge, says WEF expert

Author: Poorna Rodrigo | Date: 19 Oct 2016

Harmonising skills for tourism industry means coordinating practices in education and private sector

The Association of South East Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) “large structural differences in the education system” are challenging the ten-country group’s efforts to harmonise skills across the board.
That is the warning an expert from Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) has given, following the August launch of an initiative to benchmark tourism industry skills throughout the ASEAN region.
Till Alexander Leopold, the project lead of the global challenge on employment, skills and human capital at the WEF, said there are huge differences in the secondary education enrolment rates across ASEAN countries. For example “the rate is less than 50 per cent in Cambodia, 87 per cent in Thailand, and 100 per cent in Singapore,” he noted.
Similarly, the amount of staff training offered by organisations varies widely across a region that includes such diverse economies, he said.
Such diversity will continue to be a challenge for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which was formally launched in January, with the aim of steadily integrating its 622 million population into a single market with a free flow of people, goods, services and investments. In August 2016, ASEAN’s tourism ministers launched a Mutual Recognition Arrangement for Tourism Professionals (MRA-TP) in the Indonesian capital Jakarta – an initiative to standardise and benchmark 32 tourism industry-related job profiles.
However, harmonising skills in an industry as ubiquitous as tourism will require bridging long-standing differences in the education systems and private sector practices, Leopold said.
“Skills harmonisation policies should go hand in hand with freer movement of people to provide cross-learning opportunities and incentives to make greater investments in education and training.”
Quoting the latest WEF Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, Leopold said labour mobility was still limited across ASEAN. When skills are more “homogeneous for all sectors” it will be easier to ensure free flow of labour and organisations will be able to draw from a larger talent pool.
Human Capital Singapore Pte Ltd is the kind of organisation that could help ASEAN’s labour pool. Its director of corporate services, David Ang, said his company “acts as a training centre” contributing to the development of supervisory manpower in the tourism sector [or any other sector] in people management practices.” With better skills and recognition, this initiative will lead to “better wages and career advancement prospects,” and attraction of manpower, Ang said.
Another WEF report, Human Capital Outlook: ASEAN, noted that “Intra-ASEAN talent mobility has a key role to play in optimising the region’s long-term human capital potential” across all sectors.
To alleviate geographical skill mismatches, Mr Leopold said “upgraded mechanisms for joint skills training and mutual recognition of occupational qualifications” are needed: “It can promote talent flows from ASEAN economies with specific skills surpluses, at a variety of skill levels, to those where such skills are in short supply.”
Tackling barriers to women’s participation and talent mobility in ASEAN nations is an important aspect too, according to Mr Leopold. “It could further unlock the region’s human capital potential by expanding talent pools and enabling organisations to better connect with diverse customer bases.”
To achieve this however, Mr Leopold said public-private collaboration is needed. “Aligning public sector efforts and the talent strategies of major employers in the ASEAN region” can help equip the region’s workforces with the right skills.