Most companies in Yangon nowadays realise a key challenge for their growth: talent capacity. People that have completed a quality education are a scarce resource and those that have, often lack the skills and personality traits that companies are looking for. What most executives usually miss is a proactive attitude and the ability to solve problems independently.
Undoubtedly, these problems are a result of Myanmar education culture that is mostly focused on teaching methods that focus on memorisation and repetition, skills that are hardly valuable or applicable in a 21st century working environment. Competitions, like the recently launched Myanmar Idea Canvas by PS Business School definitely have the potential to form talents with the right attitude and abilities. However, the lack of sponsorship and corporate endorsement for this and similar initiatives also shows a fundamental problem that currently keeps Myanmar from developing a better skilled workforce: companies are not willing to invest into long-term strategies for youth development.
It seems like the fear of creating skilled employees for other companies overshadows the vast opportunities that lie in positioning a company as the employer of choice among the most talented students in the country. Maybe it is also the lack of a certain business environment that lets corporations think rather short-term, however, the outcome is that most Myanmar graduates can’t meet the expectations of their potential employers, which have to employ people that are not really able to help their business to grow. New employees certainly join corporate training programs, yet basic behaviours and attitudes such as customer-orientation, strategic thinking and problem solving take years to develop.
So what can be a way out of this talent dilemma? Looking at successful education models abroad and at experiences that international employers usually value, there seem to be two possible solutions:
One way to go might be a closer cooperation between education providers and companies in which corporations are an integral part of the curriculum, not only a supporter.
Every successful business school has close relationships with industry partners who provide real-world business cases for problem-based learning methods and supply (paid) internships. Companies receive graduates who already know their business culture and are valuable contributors from day one.
The other option is to partner directly with organisers of youth development projects or events, like the Myanmar Idea Challenge mentioned earlier or partner directly with youth-led and business focused organisations.
Considering the current profile of universities in Myanmar, the first option seems to require a rather big shift in approaches to and mindsets about education. Curricula of local universities are rather inflexible and finding professors who are willing to try out new things is difficult. Universities that offer distance degrees from abroad will need to convince their partnership institutions to enter into new partnerships that might not be possible according to their internal regulations. All things considered, trying to establish direct cooperation between companies and education providers will likely require dealing with lengthy bureaucratic processes.
What about the alternative?
Working with dynamic youth groups seems to be a faster way of establishing partnerships and a pool of skilled employees that are developed with the contribution and according to the needs of companies. While setting cooperation with universities can’t promise a constant adaptation to the changing requirements of the business world, youth organisations are evolving at the same pace, or in some cases even faster, than the corporate environment. Therefore these kinds of partnerships appear to be more promising in finding the employees companies are currently looking for.
Student-led groups that are focusing on preparing young people for business might still be hard to find in Myanmar, however, they are existing and operating.
One example is Myanmar Youth Entrepreneurial Society (MYES) which aims to create interaction between Myanmar Youth and Entrepreneurs and cooperate with like-minded companies. Similar to entrepreneurial societies in universities and business schools across the United Kingdom, MYES is a pioneer in linking the interests of students and businesses. Employers will find young members who take an active role in the economic development of their country and in linking theory to practice.
Another example is AIESEC, the world’s largest student organization that recently established a Myanmar office. Cooperating with them will be especially interesting for companies that value employees with a wide international network, as it offers opportunities to get international working experience and participate in an international network of 125 countries.
The main focus of AIESEC is leadership and management skills development. Members get hands-on team working experience and typically reach national and international management positions in the organisation within as less as 3-4 years. In addition, young people that join AIESEC can stand out by completing a working or volunteering assignment abroad.
With its youth development activities and models, AIESEC has successful partnerships with global companies like Unilever, PricewaterhouseCoopers, DHL, Microsoft, Tata Consultancy Services and many others.
Apart from cooperation on global level, AIESEC has always been very successful in creating beneficial relations with local enterprises, especially with SMEs. Especially in the case of Myanmar, partnering with AIESEC can bring solutions for most HR problems that companies are facing by providing employer branding and access to highly-talented young people. Companies interested in employing internationals, can also choose from a big pool of international entry-level employees with diverse skills and backgrounds.
The development of the Myanmar labour market will see big changes in the coming years. It will be very interesting to watch how local and international companies react to current and future HR challenges and how they prepare young people for the working life of tomorrow.
Klaus Oberbauer is the country director of AIESEC in Myanmar. He has four years of working experience in frontier markets and relocated to Yangon in late 2013. He can be reached at Klaus.firstname.lastname@example.org.