Small, traditional businesses face talent crunch: Study

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Students at Mahidol University International College in the Thai capital of Bangkok.
AUGUST 16, 2019 - 2:55 PM

SMALL and local businesses in South-east Asia, and companies in traditional sectors, could lose out on talent in the future, as young people in the region increasingly spurn such jobs.

Instead, a sizeable share want to be their own boss or work in a startup.

Multinational corporations were also popular employers, according to a poll of 56,000 South-east Asians aged 15 to 35.

The study by the World Economic Forum found that, while 42.8 per cent of respondents now work for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), family businesses or big local companies, just 28.3 per cent want to work in such firms.

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Lower chances of on-the-job training at small businesses may fuel the lack of interest, the study suggested.

Just 13.2 per cent of respondents now working at SMEs, and 8.8 per cent at family businesses, have been able to formally learn at work. That stacked up against 16 per cent of multinationals’ employees and 18.1 per cent at bigger local firms.

Indeed, 18.8 per cent of young people polled hope to join a multinational firm - up from 8.6 per cent who actually work at one - and another 33.1 per cent aspire to be entrepreneurs or work for a startup. The rest are eyeing jobs in the public sector or charitable and social enterprises.

Still, the entrepreneurial streak runs hotter in some markets than others: 35.6 per cent of Indonesians want to strike it out on their own, while just 16.9 per cent of Singaporeans do. “This may be because Indonesia has a rich recent tradition of building tech unicorns that is inspiring young people,” said the survey report.

The technology sector was considered the coolest industry in town, with 16 per cent of all respondents hoping to work in a tech firm, even as only 7 per cent now do so.

But the report also warned: “Certain more traditional parts of the economy may struggle to recruit young workers in the future.” For instance, manufacturing, construction and teaching are becoming less popular than before.

The researchers added: “It seems likely that many youths aspire to be small and micro traders, using e-commerce platforms, online payment systems and social media to empower their businesses.

“Being an entrepreneur does not have to mean developing new apps, where (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills would be important.

“Instead, it can equally mean being a basket weaver from rural Kalimantan and using technology to sell regionally and even globally. Soft skills, coupled with a working knowledge of today’s digital platforms, could serve these aspirations well.”

The respondents - who hailed from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam - were quizzed on their preferences by New York-listed e-commerce operator Sea Group, through its Garena and Shopee online platforms.