How ASEAN Can Prepare for the Future of Work

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Since the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, all ten ASEAN political leaders have pledged allegiance to form a single market and production base with free flow of goods, services, investment, skilled labour, and freer flow of capital. Combined with the inception of the digital revolution, the ASEAN work environment will undergo rapid structural and strategic advancements over the next decade. Check out The Future of the ASEAN Workplace Landscape article to read more about how the AEC and the fourth industrial revolution will change the work life in Southeast Asia.

The ASEAN working environment will imminently undergo many profound transformations that will require businesses, government agencies and education institutes to recalibrate their strategies. In order to successfully integrate the ASEAN economy, it is crucial that governments and businesses start collaborating to strategically redesign the regional talent value chain and co-create a new education and employment ecosystem. This will ultimately position the ASEAN economy to thrive and enable the ASEAN population to live up to their full potential and efficiently contribute to the regional workforce.

Here are some recommendations for young professionals, businesses, and education institutions to consider in effectively preparing for the future of workplace landscape across the Southeast Asia region:

Related: The Future of the ASEAN Workplace Landscape

Fresh Graduates & Young Professionals

Industries today are being transformed at unprecedented rates due to technological, socio-economic and demographic disruptions that are changing the skills and capabilities required by employers, thus shortening the shelf life of existing employee skill set in the process. Hence, ASEAN workers must start taking responsibility for their own talent development and commit to a lifelong learning and continual reskilling to remain relevant in the workforce.

EAB Daily Briefing reports that while STEM and digital skills will continue to prevail in the majority of industries, it is crucial for future workers to develop stronger social and collaboration skills to compete in the evolving employment market. Additionally, a Forbes article recently discussed the importance of future workers learning how to deal with data and understanding some form of programming language to be able to effectively adapt to future workplaces, where humans and machines will work side by side in partnership.

In the book Only Humans Need Apply, Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby proposed a range of options for us to future proof our jobs. The bottom line is that we can either choose to “step up” by equipping ourselves with more strategic skills or “step narrowly” by hyper-specializing in a field of work.

Employers & Business Leaders

Business leaders must think beyond winning the war for talent and focus on developing differentiated talent management strategies, leveraging the broader ecosystem of talents, recalibrating their operating model, and develop the right leadership mind set. With business growth in mind, it is important that employers place talent development and future workforce planning at the forefront of their business strategy to capitalise on transformational trends.

A World Economic Forum report highlights a need for organisations to reinvent their HR function to be a more strategic role – one that employs new kinds of data analytical tools to spot talent trends and skill gaps, and provide near real time insights that help organisations to align their businesses to maximise available opportunities.

As machines of the future will be able to complete logical and sequential tasks, which would usually take thousands of hours for a human specialist to achieve, in a matter of seconds, technological advancements can potentially lead to potential job obsolescence in certain industries. Business leaders and employers will need to anticipate this technological revolution by assessing the market trends and strategically plan for their business to thrive in the future, which includes capability development initiatives to equip their workforce with the necessary digital skill sets.

Related: 3 Ways Islamic Finance Will Impact ASEAN

Policy Makers & Education Institutions

A popular estimate predicts that 65% of children in primary schools today will end up working in completely new industries and job functions that do not yet exist. ASEAN policy makers will need to address this by proactively anticipating the future of work and forming collaborative platforms with education institutions to design a new education curricula tailored to the demands of the dynamic labour markets.

A TIME article advocates a need for governments and policy makers to rethink labour, fiscal and social-protection policies in anticipation of the future work environment in which lifelong careers and traditional jobs will eventually be replaced with multiple career models, the gig economy and other new models of work enabled by technology. Apart from acknowledging this issue, it is also imperative for governments to raise such awareness to young talents through educational conferences that discuss about the latest technological trends, innovative ideas, and the future, such as TEDx.


Written by: Lucas Khoo

Lucas is the Founding Partner at ProspectsASEAN, a human capital development organisation that is leading the movement to transform the region’s economic and social landscape and aspires to shape the future of Southeast Asia. Prior to ProspectsASEAN, Lucas was a management consultant in Accenture, focusing in the area of Project Management and Talent & Organisation (T&O). He graduated with a Masters in Chemical Engineering from the University of Birmingham.


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