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SE Asia is wasting highly skilled talent

posted Oct 15, 2015, 8:45 PM by Brook Ross
Abridged from The Jakarta Post, September 25, 2015, by Demetrios G. Papademetriou

Southeast Asia is wasting talent. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that an estimated 1.3 million college-educated Southeast Asians have relocated to the high-income countries of North America and Europe, as well as Japan, New Zealand and Australia. That number has rose by 40 percent since 2000.

For the ASEAN region to compete effectively in an ever more skills-driven global economy and contest the increasing skills dominance of neighbors such as China and India, policymakers in the region should develop and aggressively implement policies that deepen the region’s commitment to building its human capital infrastructure, better utilize its human capital and create conditions that will stem the outflow of its more talented citizens. The 10-member ASEAN community has made significant strides in meeting some of the goals of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which envisions the establishment of a single market and production base.  Progress in meeting the AEC’s goal of facilitating movements by skilled professionals within the region by December 2015 has been painfully slow, however.

With a growing market of more than 600 million consumers and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of nearly US$3 trillion, the ASEAN region stands to gain much from adopting a more coherent approach to facilitating skill mobility and thus drawing out the full benefits of the human capital that mobile workers bring with them.  In the absence of a well-trained workforce, businesses cannot prosper, industries cannot be competitive, individuals cannot build lives that can set them on a course to opportunity and investors, foreign and domestic, will not invest additional resources in an economy.  Meeting ASEAN-wide regional economic growth and competitiveness goals demands that countries in Southeast Asia think harder about what each can contribute to the region’s economic attractiveness and how they can build complementary physical and human-capital infrastructures that can contribute to these goals.