The American University in Vietnam hosted Nguyễn Hoàng Long for our Friday forum to discuss the skills gap in Vietnam: what it is and how it affects Vietnam, Da Nang, and you. Mr. Long is the former Director of Education in Da Nang, as well as the former VP of Quảng Nam Province, and has been a professional educator for most of his life. During the years 1980 through 1990, education was in a severe crisis in Vietnam. Mr. Long helped facilitate the founding and maintenance of private schools in Da Nang to find new solutions for Vietnam. The change has yielded great success. However, there is still progress to make, and Mr. Long directed attention specifically to the skills gap in education.
The skills gap is the difference between the skills that students learn in school and the skills that employers need in today’s labor market. Mr. Long said that “education in Vietnam has to change” to reduce that gap. The change will require consensus about what to do. For now, employers’ “training will follow the needs of the labor market” until the schools change their teaching methods and course content.
As institutional progress changes slowly, students need to become aware that employers seek qualified job applicants. Students’ awareness will lead to demands for change. Change by consensus will be slow. But students can now ask schools to facilitate apprentice and intern program to acquire the necessary office skills not taught in the schools.
Mr. Long believes change will begin at the universities and colleges. In the past, universities in Vietnam taught skills and trained students for jobs that were already filled. This practice resulted in a surfeit of graduate students in fields such as finance students, driving down wages and reducing employment opportunities. In Vietnam, the higher your diploma, the more likely you are to be unemployed. The highly educated have higher unemployment rates than the less educated, the opposite of the employment market in the United States.
The unemployment gap is partially due to the attitude of job applicants. University graduates limit their job search to their field of study and accept unemployment rather than adapting their skills to employer’s needs. High school graduates and the less educated are willing to adapt and match their skills to the employer’s needs. The central government in Vietnam is aware of these attitudes and problems. The present solutions include government policies to make universities more autonomous and to incentivize universities to teach knowledge and skills found in jobs open now and in the future.
The unfortunate fact is that parents and students believe jobs are won through connections, not merit. The central government is aware but changing people’s perceptions about the job market is an enormous problem. Mr. Long proposed two steps to move Vietnam to a meritocratic job market. One, require greater transparency in recruitment for all job positions to open access to everyone and two, set up standardized recruitment channels.
In reflection, students felt that government priorities, labor market trends, and educational policies in some ways are counterproductive, but discovered that awareness and action are steps toward change. Society will benefit if students are given more input into their future and seek quality education with a focus on the skills necessary for the current and future market.
Thank you to Mr. Nguyễn Hoàng Long for sharing your experience and thoughts with AUV students!