The ability to communicate in English, which has become the preferred language of government and business in a world shaped by the twin forces of globalisation and technology, can provide youth from Southeast Asia access to a 21st century career and the opportunity to be a part of the region’s incredible growth story.
As the world enters a new decade in the shadow of the pandemic, optimism endures about the role Southeast Asia will play in the global economic recovery.
Driving this revival will be the millions of new jobs created in the services sector – which includes industries such as business process outsourcing, travel and tourism, hospitality, education and healthcare – as well as the region’s burgeoning digital economy.
And English is the key that the region’s youth can use to access these opportunities and build a successful career for themselves.
Why employers seek English language proficiency
In an increasingly globalised world, where nearly two billion people speak the language at varying levels of proficiency, English has become the lingua franca for conducting business. Even several governments across ASEAN recognise English as one of their official languages. Unsurprisingly, most multinational corporations operating in the region require their employees to be fluent in the language.
As Simon Young, Pearson Asia’s BTEC Portfolio Manager, notes: “English has become a key skill for communicating in business in any role. So, in countries such as [those in Southeast Asia] where you might see a strong local workforce, the interaction with other divisions does require a strong ability to communicate in English. English has become the global communication medium.”
English is also essential to master the top transferable skills of the 21st century – teamwork and collaboration, negotiation skills and digital literacy, to name a few – that have come to be seen as necessary to help individuals become more attractive and valuable to employers and climb up the ranks in a modern, fast-evolving workplace.
Consider teamwork and collaboration: Employees who are fluent in English can become valued members of a global team thanks to their ability to communicate well with colleagues and managers, and negotiate effectively with clients and other stakeholders. These skills give them a natural edge over others less adept in the language when being considered for a new job or promotion.
While few doubt the need for fluency in English when it comes to employability and career progression, it’s important to understand that there are different aspects of the language that learners must focus on depending on their chosen professions and career goals.
Academic English is ideal for teaching and the world of research where scholars are required to author essays and papers presenting cogent arguments about their area of expertise. Business English, as the name suggests, is better suited for the corporate environment, enabling you to compose official emails, draft reports and deliver presentations. Real-world English is for communicating socially with everyone around you, including colleagues, bosses and business partners as well as friends and family.
The key question for learners to consider, according to Dr Tran Huong Quynh, Head of English Linguistics Division, Faculty of English at Hanoi National University of Education, is: “Do you need English for your jobs, or for socialising and communicating daily after work? Because each of these skills focuses on one aspect of English that allows learners need to use English appropriately in different settings.”
Welcome to episode 15 of the Art of Learning podcast.
In this episode, we sit down with Shirley Puspitawati, Educational consultant, BPK Penabur, and Academic General Manager, Kipina Kids Indonesia, to cover how English language skills create employment opportunities, plus some of the challenges Southeast Asian learners face when embarking on their language learning journey, and tips on how to learn English with a purpose.
We discuss Shirley's busy day-to-day schedule (0:58), why employers value English language skills now more than ever before (3:49), how curriculums have evolved over the years to become more accessible for learners and increasingly career-focused (9:05), how technology is assisting learners in their English language learning journey (14:09), plus much more.
Several factors have contributed to the growing importance of the English language and the evolution of the instruction process in Asia.
Starting from the top down, governments across the region are increasingly emphasising the value of English for inter-regional development while rapid globalisation and advances in technology are bringing major changes to the job market.
A breakdown of how Thai and Vietnamese policymakers can address the soft and hard skills gaps in their growing economies to equip youth with the skills required to thrive in the next decade and beyond.
There is ample opportunity for change and improvement in the workforces of Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam. Currently, almost half of the Vietnamese workforce, and over three-quarters of workers in Thailand, are classed as “medium skilled,” according to data from the International Labour Organization.
The two countries are in a transitory period – moving away from agriculture and manufacturing-driven growth to more dynamic, knowledge-based economies. This presents an ideal opportunity to refocus the two countries’ educational priorities and equip their citizens with the right skill sets for the future.
Going forward, the goal for these countries’ governments is to shift the needle towards not only a larger proportion of higher skilled workers in their respective labour pools, but also to produce workforces better able to compete on the global stage, thus attracting more external investment.
As a result, for the two governments, vocational education has become a high priority, including supporting institutions that implement programs like Pearson’s vocational and experience-based BTEC courses.
The administrations of Thailand and Vietnam are both keen to see improvements in hard skills – specific, learned technical abilities, such as qualifications in information technology, reading and writing proficiency, as well as presentation and project management skills.
These are specific skills that need to be directly taught, according to Stuart Connor, Pearson Asia’s Qualifications & Assessment Director. At the same time, he adds, there are more general (or soft skills), which are more innate but no less important. These include interpersonal skills, such as the ability to collaborate, network and empathise with co-workers.
One of the biggest realisations in the new world of remote work is that technology has proven that employees are not merely doing their jobs remotely — they’re doing them effectively.
According to the Harvard Business Review, technology firm Humanyze mined anonymous company emails, chats, and calendar data, and what they found is telling: the amount of time that employees spend working has increased by an average of 10-20% since remote working policies were mandated.
Several leading global companies, such as Twitter, Upwork, Facebook, Coinbase, and Square have given their employees the option to permanently work remotely. Some of these organisations are calling this remodelled way of working a “working from anywhere” policy, where employees can determine where they work, even if they never step foot in the office again.
A blend of organisational quick-thinking, employee resilience and technological capabilities have made this possible — things that were evidently innate, but never truly realised until necessity forced them into action.
Technology has unbound talent from a physical location, which has forever been a blocker for talented, employable individuals who possess the core soft and technical skills organisations are seeking today. Historically, the ask for found talent based in another location is to relocate — this is now a non-issue.
If the best talent on the market presents itself, and they have access to a reliable internet connection, there’s no reason they can’t be hired. The only thing getting in the way of hiring the right talent — wherever it is located — is traditional thinking and stagnant org design.
Welcome to episode 6 of the Art of Learning podcast.
We’re joined by Pearson’s Simon Young, Portfolio Director, BTEC Asia, to discuss what it truly means to upskill the workforce in the modern economy and the importance of career-focused qualifications.
We talked about how upskilling unlocks the true power of the workforce (1:01), changing the perception of vocational education through the success of BTEC (3:35), the process of building a BTEC qualification (8:29), why educators love teaching a BTEC qualification (12:14), the popular BTEC qualifications in Southeast Asia (14:30), how BTEC can work for learners who want to go to university and more (17:44).
Welcome to episode 5 of the Art of Learning podcast, brought to you by Pearson Asia.
We’re joined by Jason Gregory, International Director, UK BTEC & Apprenticeships at Pearson, and Simon Young, Portfolio Director, BTEC Asia at Pearson, to discuss why it's important to constantly and effectively upskill the workforce in the new economy.
We explore the idea of the fourth industrial revolution and what it means for job prospects and employment patterns in Southeast Asia (1:08), the insights from conversations with government ministers and business leaders on addressing the future skills challenge (3:42), the definition of upskilling (8:04), the need for collaboration among learners, educators and governments to affect education policy change (10:13), Pearson’s role in Thailand as a strategic partner for industry and government (12:09), the steps governments and industry can take to ensure their sufficiently investing in future skills strategies (15:35), how COVID-19 has accelerated underlying trends and increased the urgency to upskill (18:16), and the importance of applying a ‘lifelong learning’ mindset (23:22).