Dream Jobs in Vietnam
Southeast Asia: The Land of Employee Turnover
Paul Espinas sells dreams – dreams of better jobs – and he’s very good at it.
The 28-year-old marketing director of VietnamWorks oversees the employment company’s campaigns to find experienced workers to fill the empty desks of Hanoi’s and HCMC’s office towers with administrators, managers, technicians, sales teams and a variety of specialists.
Every day the VietnamWorks website – known in the recruiting business as a job portal – introduces hundreds of employers to tens of thousands of workers wanting a better job and more money.
Like most Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam has an annual 20 plus percent employee turnover, a frustrating reality for employers who must continually recruit new workers. (The largest job-search surge occurs right after the Tet employee-bonus season.) That reality has spelled success for a wave of job sites in Vietnam including Jobstreet, Careerbuilder, HR Vietnam, Careerlink and VIPsearch.
At its busiest, the VietnamWorks website receives up to six million visits a month – and adds several dozen new job postings each day. In mid-January, the job portal listed 6,000 jobs, half of them in HCMC, with salaries ranging from $500 to $4,000 per month. The site requires job seekers to have a minimum of two years’ work experience. Currently, the company has a database of three million jobseekers.
Paul explains that Vietnam’s hot economy is just one reason for the frenzied employment scene. While employment companies certainly profit from high employee turnover in the short term (they charge employers a fee to post their job listings), he cautions that the Vietnamese workplace needs to improve its accommodation of young millennials (born after 1980) who make up the largest workforce demographic.
“Employers have to keep their employees engaged,” Paul says. “Management styles have to adapt because often the expectations of young workers aren’t being met.”
Money is usually a key consideration, but is not always the most important.
Ways to Grow
Several blocks away from the VietnamWorks headquarters, Jon Whitehead sits in a high-rise tower matching managers and executives with corporate employers. Having worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Vietnam, the newly appointed managing director of RGF Executive Search (formerly of HR giant Robert Walker) is familiar with hot job markets and has seen managers jump ship for increases as little as $100 per month.
While well-qualified workers can win increases of 20 to 25 percent, he advises his job candidates to be careful about quitting jobs too often.
“People here… will move for money. So you have to educate them that too much movement doesn’t show growth and doesn’t show consistency.”
He notes that the supply of Vietnamese managers has grown significantly in recent years but still can’t keep up with the demand. When new manufacturing and IT companies come here, “they want a staff right away but it takes a while to produce one”.
“Vietnam is a young country, it’s a young population here,” he observes. “They do want to learn. They are hard-working, but it comes down to education. Too often, they don’t know what is required of them. [Working for foreign corporations,] the demands are higher and expectations are higher.”
Often, he says, applicants prefer to report to an expat manager in the belief that they can learn from and develop marketable skills more quickly with a mentor who has international work experience. The smart ones look for jobs with scope to grow so that they can move within a corporation without having to quit and find new employment to advance their careers.
An increasingly important source of Vietnamese management talent is coming from abroad – both from the Viet Kieu population of overseas Vietnamese who left the country after 1975 and recent university graduates who studied internationally and chose not to return to Vietnam immediately.
Jon has seen more of those graduates – many with advanced degrees – returning to the country after they’ve gained some Western work experience. “They come back with a different mindset,” he says, pointing to their experience with domestic consumer
traits and exposure to multinational corporate culture. But he cautions employers that they are not willing to work for “Vietnamese wages”:
“They want to be paid at the same level as expats.”
Meanwhile, Viet Kieu millennials are also finding their way home, often against the will of their parents who have established comfortable lives and successful family businesses.
One such recent arrival is a young digital marketer who grew up in Ottawa, Canada, studied international commerce and then headed east, finally arriving in HCMC last autumn after several years working in Singapore.
At a recent social event, he moved easily through the crowd of young Vietnamese advertising executives (and hopefuls), speaking English effortlessly and offering energetic insights into the world of corporate communications. While he’s determined to be at the forefront of the new IT economy here, he admits that his parents are worried. “This is not the Vietnam they knew,” he says.
While recent university graduates and overseas arrivals are adding to the employee base, the biggest source of talent right now remains within the existing workforce, and that’s where the big HR companies are searching.
RGF Executive Search deals with positions paying $1,500 a month up to the stratospheric salaries of CEOs rising beyond $25,000 a month. (RGF charges employers a finder’s fee that is up to 25 percent of an annual salary.) These days most of the jobs at the lower end of that scale go to Vietnamese; the mid-scale positions are split between expats and Vietnamese while upper executive jobs still favour expats with international experience.
Ready for a Globalised Market Economy?
As employee recruitment continues to get more competitive, companies are becoming more creative. At VietnamWorks, Paul has organised job fairs to bring employers and job seekers together. His Boulevard For Success job fairs bring out thousands of Hanoi and Saigon workers interested in talking to HR personnel from a range of companies. He has a technology job fair and a mobile app in the planning stages.
A shortage of IT professionals is particularly worrying for Paul, whose research suggests that Vietnam will need 400,000 new IT workers by 2020. Even now, he says there is a problem because current IT professionals lack the communication and soft skills (like creativity, problem solving and collaboration) that are important components of the international workplace.
Over the past three years, VietnamWorks has seen the biggest job growth in finance, IT and advertising – the latter two have doubled and tripled the number of jobs on offer. Ironically, 40 percent of its job seekers are pursuing careers in other fields. Accounting, administrative office jobs and manufacturing/production are the most sought-after career fields right now.
In a 2014 report called Skilling up Vietnam, the World Bank noted that the country’s 95 percent literacy rate was just the first step to preparing workers for a modern market economy. It claimed that 80 percent of technical and professional job applicants lacked the skills necessary to fulfil the jobs they were applying for – and that white collar workers lacked both technical expertise as well as leadership, creative, problem-solving and communication skills.
Jon Whitehouse, a Brit, and Paul Espinas, a Filipino, remain optimistic about the road ahead. Both arrived in Vietnam by circuitous career routes and both have declared their intention to stay.
Jon explains that for expat executives, Vietnam is a career stepping stone and the typical stay here is three years. But some fall in love with the place and have trouble leaving. He’s been here for five years and Paul has seven years under his belt; they have no intention of leaving any time soon.