Marketing in Vietnam’s Digital Age

By: Keely Burkey and Paul Espinas

A lot of what you do focuses on the digital sphere. Are there still opportunities to market successfully on non-digital platforms?

For me, marketing is marketing. Online and offline are just means or platforms for me. At the end of the day, a brand is all about a promise and performance. And marketing's job is to make that promise so appealing that customers engage with the brand. With regards to whether using solely online or offline or a hybrid of the two, again it's about the product, the market and, of course, the resources the marketing team has. Many marketers, I guess, will relate to the fact that we don't have unlimited resources. So one of the key skills for a senior marketer is to be able to identify which channels or platforms will best serve their brand goals. I believe that businesses who are following a B2B model lean towards more offline marketing investment like events and activations where they can directly have a person-to-person touchpoint with the audience. But then again, as I said, it really depends on the product, market and budget, among many other things.

digital marketingImage source: scontent.fsgn8-1.fna.fbcdn.net

Are there any digital technologies currently being developed that you're excited to market with? How do you think digital marketing will change in the next year or two?

Digital technologies on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is what I'm really excited about. I think it's a completely different league, although challenges on the hardware side might limit mass access of a full-on VR experience. Big players like Apple are investing on mixed reality (MR) and AR, so I believe the next trend of marketing campaigns will be in this field. Here in Vietnam, however, there are still a lot of opportunities untapped in terms of the possibilities on video ads and the mobile ecosystem.

How do you communicate effectively with a millennial audience? What do they want to hear, and what pushes them away?

Communicating to millennials for me is all about a conversational approach. This I believe is the impact of more personal screens like our mobile phones and laptops, which this generation is accustomed to. Hence, we call them the digital natives. We say in marketing that the type of content we publish will also depend on the type of screen it will be placed on. Less personal skills like billboards or digital out-of-home (OOH) placements, which use more "announcement" type of content, while personal screens like our mobile phones use a more conversational approach. Millennials have a "Me, Me, Me" approach to the way they behave in the online ecosystem. Hence the birth of selfie and all those other apps and product features showcasing none other than "ME". This I believe translates to an approach in content writing where the reader, millennials in this case, can immediately relate to the subject. They have short attention spans and it gets shorter every year. So what they see, hear and experience in the first five seconds is crucial.

digital marketingImage source: pprww.com

The news is now talking about Generation Z, the younger generation after millennials. How does this younger generation differ from millennials in terms of optimal marketing strategies?

Generation Z is a target market for me, that will materialise a 100 percent digital-only funnel. This generation is so used to using and engaging through gadgets that the need for a phone call or a meeting with a sales rep won't be needed as much as with previous generations. This, however, poses a great challenge not only to marketers but product owners on how to make their websites or apps at their optimal level of UX/UI [user interface/user experience]. This also implies that marketers need to be, more than ever, digital savvy.

Engagement is a big issue in digital marketing. What incentives (emotional or physical) are necessary to drive up engagement, and how does this potentially translate to ROI?

So in my previous answers, I tapped product, placement, price... I guess this question falls under promotion. So we completed the basic 4Ps. Not the pizza! Promotion is part of the framing strategy in marketing. A campaign may or may not have it; it depends on how it will, as you said, engage users. Now there are different levels of engagement. One of the most basic and frequently used interpretation of this is Social Media Engagement, because Facebook labelled it as such and it is easily trackable. Engagement can also be a simple ad click by your audience or it can be an actual conversation you had with the audience on the forum discussion panel. So it varies. What's important is a positive touchpoint between the audience and the brand. And again, with or without incentives or promotions. Big brands like LV, Ferrari and all these top tier brands never use discounts as a promotion strategy, for example, because it goes against their brand positioning. Group buying sites, for example, like NhomMua or HotDeal use it on a regular basis because they use low prices to initiate sales. As to how engagement converts into an actual ROI, I suggest that brands should build a proper Funnel. From awareness to revenue and to repeat purchases. And this is not only a marketing job—sales and other senior leaders should be involved in this process.

digital marketingImage source: fangdigital.com

Your biggest advice for anyone trying to get into the digital marketing game?

For those folks wanting a career in digital marketing: don't rely on what's taught at school. This industry is very exciting but whatever we do today can be completely irrelevant tomorrow as technology and user behaviour change so quickly. Having said that, the possibilities of discovering and pioneering new things in this field are massive. Don't try to do what's already done. The rapid changes in the industry also mean opportunities for new bloods and the old to create and innovate new ways of communicating brand promise to your audience, be it digital or on another platform.

Banner Image source: culturetech.co


What is it Like to Work in Vietnam?

By: City Pass Guide

What should be in your Employment Contract when working in Vietnam?

Your compensation and working hours

Your rights as an employee in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is the economic capital of Vietnam and where many expats and Vietnamese locals choose to find work or set up a business. The city has become a target for many who want to live and work in Vietnam, due to a growing number of attractive job, business and networking opportunities. Here is some important information you need to know on what it’s like to work in Vietnam.

Working in Vietnam

Employment Contracts in Vietnam

Work contracts are very straightforward in Vietnam and generally do not differ too much from their Western counterparts. When working abroad, in any other part of the world, the employer and employee must directly enter into a written employment contract. It is best to be specific and stringent with your employment contract as standards may differ across the globe. For temporary work of less than three months, an oral employment contract is allowed.

Working in Vietnam

Some stipulations may differ from your contract in the west, you may want to turn your attention to very specific items in your contract such as your salary, health benefits and the like. Note that local companies must have employment contracts in both Vietnamese and English.

Payment Terms

The most important factor to consider when working in a foreign country is how you’re getting paid. By default, you are going to get paid in Vietnamese Đồng. But you’re always free to ask if there is an option to be paid in a different currency, especially if you would like to take your hard-earned money out of the country.

Working Hours in Vietnam

The regular working hours in Vietnam is 8 hours a day or 48 hours a week. For unconventional jobs that follow schedules on a weekly basis instead of your regular 9-5 office hours, you cannot exceed 10 hours working in a day.

According to Vietnam’s labour law, the maximum number of working hours shall not exceed 48 hours a week. Working hours may be distributed on an hourly, daily or weekly basis subject to the employer’s requirements. These working schedules should be specified in your contract before starting with the work to avoid inconvenience to both parties.

Working in Vietnam

As specified by the competent authorities, regular working hours must not exceed six hours a day for jobs that fall on the list of extremely heavy, toxic or dangerous working conditions.

Overtime

Overtime work arrangements require the consent of both parties. Employees must compensate employees for any overtime hours worked and needs to be outlined in the employer’s internal labour rules. The amount of overtime cannot exceed 50% of regular working hours a day, 30 hours a month or 200 hours a year. Special cases can bump up the yearly hours to 300. For a weekly working regime, combined regular and overtime hours cannot exceed 12 hours a day.

Working in Vietnam

The rates for overtime pay as required by the Labour Code are as follows:

- At least 150% of the agreed-upon salary on regular working days

- 200% for working on weekly days off

- 300% for working on public holidays and leave days with full pay

Women in their seventh month of pregnancy or later, or women who have babies 12 months old or younger, are forbidden from working overtime.

Night Shifts

Night-time working hours or graveyard shifts run from 10 pm to 6 am of the subsequent day. Further, overtime cannot exceed 50% of regular working hours a day, 30 hours a month or 200 hours a year. Special cases can increase the yearly hours to 300. For those with a weekly working regime, combined regular and overtime hours are not allowed to exceed 12 hours a day.

Working in Vietnam

An employee working at night must be paid an additional minimum of 30% of their regular salary when working overtime. Along with this, any employee working overtime at night must be paid an additional 20% of their salary in addition to the rates described above for work conducted in the daytime.

Probationary Period

Arranging a probation period is common in Vietnam, especially with new employees. A probation period should be indicated in the contract or through a separate letter and the conditions for work should be specified and agreed to by the employer and employee.

The parties may agree on the following probationary periods:

- Up to 6 days for positions that require no training.

- Up to 30 days for trained staff or those with intermediate level qualification

- Up to 60 days for jobs requiring professional or college qualifications.

By law, the employer is only required to pay 85% of the full salary expectation during this period.

Health insurance

Employers in Vietnam must offer health insurance to all employees by law. Some companies offer more comprehensive packages in line with international standards.

Employee Rights in Vietnam

The current Labour Code went into effect on 1 May 2013 and introduced several changes that concerned labour subleasing, maternity leave, work permit duration and revised work hours, amongst others. In general, the new set of laws tends to favour employee rights and has made it harder for employers to terminate employment. We highlight some of the relevant changes below, though this is not a complete list:

- A probationary period does not exceed 30 days of employment with a position requiring vocational and professional level qualifications; 60 days of employment with a position requiring a college level qualification or above; and six days for all other cases.

- The wage for the probationary period is at least 85% of the wage scale rate of that position.

- The maximum validity of a work permit for a foreign employee is reduced from 36 months to 24 months.

- The annual Lunar Tết holiday will increase to five days from the original four.

- Maternity leave is increased to six months from the original four.

- The current labour code is now under review and changes are expected.

Working in Vietnam

The number of expat jobs in Vietnam at the moment are not that high, but if you have experience in a certain field that requires your expertise then it shouldn’t be a problem at all. Take note that foreigners who want to work in Vietnam need to secure a work permit and the process can be tedious—something that the government is simplifying.

Image source: shutterstock.com


The Golden Circle

By: Patrick Gaveau

Too few organisations effectively know WHY they do what they do. And by WHY I don't mean “to make money”, that's just a result. I mean... 

What is your purpose?

The Golden Circle is an inspiring model and concept that challenges the status quo. Developed by Simon Sinek in 2009, it has been used as a guide for anyone to vastly improve their life, leadership, corporate culture, hiring process, product development, sales, and marketing. It defines loyalty and dictates how to create enough momentum to turn an idea into a social movement.

As we face turmoil, many realise how strong tides and winds can quickly affect your life or your business. Nothing fun about it. What stands between these individuals or enterprises who still strive regardless of the conditions, and those who may not, is often linked to their capacities to move forward. It is this intrinsic motivation for the cause or the belief they stand for, that can make or break them.

Understanding your own purpose is an essential question to be addressed, and the sooner you do, the better. Unfortunately, most will choose not to, simply because it’s easier to follow others and the current trends. This compliant reactive posture often leads to having disappointing lives and/or failed businesses. 

So let’s address what we stand for together, so that you can unleash your true powers. This practice is effective, and it can transcend your life or business with increased meaning and authenticity to propel you forward and prepare you for the long run.

The Golden CircleImage source: smartinsights.com

If you look at the golden circle in more detail, you can see three circles:

- Why? – Describes the mission and core belief of a business, organisation, or of an individual. It’s why the business exists or your actual reason for being. An essential start when strategizing.

- How? – Illustrates the way in which your ‘WHY’ is most often achieved. It’s how the business or person fulfills their core belief. 

- What? – Describes the activities of the entity. It’s what the company or person does to fulfill their core belief. It’s an action, a belief, a product or service that you offer to others or to the market.

When you have determined your WHY and clearly defined your HOWs you may have an accompanying sense that you carry an important mission that is going to leave a positive impact on this world. This is often the most powerful feeling of being alive. All masterpieces that were created in this world began with a WHY, and so should your life. 

“ The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why. ” - Mark Twain

A strong life WHY helps you clarify your purpose out of life and helps you focus and push yourself. If you establish your life WHY correctly, it should serve you as a roadmap, helping you make your dreams and passions a reality. Your life’s WHY and HOWs are your best compass to help you live a full life.

However, having only a WHY isn’t enough. If your WHY isn’t powered with specific HOWs and WHATs, as well as a strong commitment to your strategy and tactics, then your WHY is merely an illusion. 

When you identify your big WHY, ask yourself, “Why would you fight for it? Why you? Why do you care? Why does it matter?” 

When these answers are clear, you have a powerful WHY and you become more passionate, more innovative, and more progressive in your marketing and communication. You have one more important reason for waking up in the morning.

The implications of defining The Golden Circle reach far beyond what one can imagine.

The Golden CircleImage source: stackpathdns.com

At a corporate level, think about the typical challenges that you often face ...

- Why can’t you sell more? Your product is good, your teams are motivated, and you know that people need what you propose.

- Why are your competitors, big and small, able to pull customers away from you?

- How can you inspire greater loyalty and engagement among your customers and employees?

- How can you achieve and sustain large amounts of success for years on end?

- How can you define an ideal and clear persona that can be used to reach your key target segments?

- Why is it so complex to formulate a clear consistent marketing strategy that sustainably addresses what you stand for, who you truly are and what you believe?

The Golden CircleImage source: zenogroup.com

Now let’s look at some of the benefits associated with having a clear Golden Circle ...

- When companies cannot articulate their WHY, the price, features, and quality of their product/service become the only forms of differentiation. Starting with your WHY can be a great way to justify a higher price point or overcome shortcomings.

- Your buyers know and believe in your mission. This helps create the framework for long-lasting and meaningful relationships that increase customer lifetime value.

- Purpose and values are easy to identify with and creates personal connections.

- Simplify your marketing copy and next time you're writing an email, a blog post, or a landing page, start your writing with WHY.

- A majority of B2B decisions are made before speaking with sales. As a result, it’s critical to position yourself to stand out in order to create sales opportunities.

- Start clearly defining your ideal customer profiles and personas. Then, create messages that specifically target those companies and roles. Finally, engage their teams across all channels - both online and offline.

- Millennials are quickly coming into positions where they will influence B2B buying decisions. Doing business with companies that share their values and beliefs matter most.

- Starting with WHY helps vendors establish trust and clearly differentiate the value in their offering. 

- Creating trust and starting with WHY can be cornerstones for B2B businesses in 2020 and beyond.

The WHY is the soul of any business or person. This is your purpose, your belief, the reason WHY you exist, WHY you’re doing what you’re doing now. Businesses and people need to understand WHY it is we do what we do.

With that understanding, you can tell a compelling story to your audience of prospects and clients that will help them be driven emotionally by your message, converting them into life-long customers.

The goal is not to sell to people who need what you have, the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe.

Let’s look at some examples from the business world to learn in detail why having a powerful WHY is so important.

For the past 6 years, everyday I drive my Ford Escape XL 1987. Why is it that I drive a Ford you might ask? Simple, Ford's slogan "Go further". They challenge their statement by building bad-ass vehicles. Vehicles that push the limits for your miles per gallon. They expertly produce the build of their product from years and years of testing. And are able to handle any on and off road experiences.

The Golden CircleImage source: ford.com.au

Ford’s Why, How and What are:

Why: We inspire people to “Go Further”

How: We use and develop cutting edge technologies

What: We build vehicles that suit your needs and driving desires

As a result, Ford has some of the most robust and best selling cars and trucks out there. The company inspired leadership demonstrates their WHY in everything they do. Employees, clients, and partners embrace it, it is exemplified within everything the company does both externally and internally.

WHY is a belief, HOW is the action you take to realize that belief and WHAT is the result of those actions. Of course for the golden circles to work, you have to be consistent in what you say and do.

Are you consistent in what you say and what you do?

Let’s also look at Airbnb as an example. By creating an online platform where travellers can rent a spare room from an Airbnb host, it allows people to interact in a way they previously couldn’t. People can rent anything from a couch to a castle in 8000 cities around the world, and while you’re staying in someone else’s home, you are essentially immersed in the local life.

The Golden CircleImage source: thinkdigital.travel

Airbnb’s Why, How and What are:

Why: Because travelling can and should be so much more than just staying at a hotel.

How: Create an environment where guests can immerse themselves within a culture and connect with local people of various backgrounds during their travels.

What: Provides a platform for individuals to rent out their lodging for travellers to stay. 

Do you see now why knowing your Golden Circle can make such a difference? 

On an individual level, let us consider the inspiring case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for whom music was everything. His WHY could have been phrased as, “To compose outstanding classical music so that it can transcend the test of time”. He also knew HOW he wanted his own music to be composed and played: It had to be for an orchestra, preferably in an opera, a symphony or a concerto. Centuries later, his legacy remains. 

There are few Mozarts, but we all have an intrinsic purpose to serve, something we are born with, our mission is to find it.

People that inspire, leaders, and companies of all sizes think, act, and communicate from the inside out. Companies as large as Apple and Google apply these principles in every aspect of their business. Smaller companies like mine or yours should also be using these principles in everything that we do and this is where I can help you find it. We as individuals should all strive towards a life that is meaningful and full of purpose. 

Those interested can contact me at patrick@innovo.vn.
Together, we can clarify The Golden Circle that applies to you and/or your company.

Banner Image source: anandaindia.org


Singapore-Vietnam Factsheet: The Lion Meets the Dragon

By: Keely Burkey

Diplomatic Ties: 45 years in 2018

Major Companies: Sembcorp, CapitaLand, Mapletree, Keppel Land

Overview:

One of Vietnam’s strongest diplomatic ties is with the powerhouse city-state, a relationship that comes primarily in the form of a robust business relationship. Singapore’s FDI in Vietnam is third overall, just behind Korea and Japan, though in the first months of 2017 Singapore briefly held the top position. In 2017, FDI increased 12 percent, with US$1.85 billion; it’s also Vietnam’s sixth-largest trading partner. Most of the investments focus on HCMC, thanks to the current real estate boom—799 projects, valued at US$9.75 billion, were reported in 2016.

Major Industries of Influence:

Real Estate: Look at the skyline and you’ll see the investments at work. The proof is in the numbers: Keppel Land has 20 licensed projects across Vietnam with 25,000 homes being constructed; CapitaLand has recently acquired land banks in District 4, a move in tandem with its 20 percent stake in Thien Duc Trading Construction; Mapletree acquired Kumho Asiana Plaza for US$215 million in June, 2016; and most recently, Lion City has jumped into the game as well, investing US$1.85 billion in commercial properties. Residential developments have been the main priorities for Singaporean real estate companies, though that hasn’t stopped CapitaLand from investing in commercial lands as well.

singapore vietnamImage source: blog.mogi.vn

Manufacturing Development: We’re not talking about manufacturing specific products: we’re talking about manufacturing the manufacturing plants themselves. The Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks (VSIP), a joint-venture between Sembcorp Development and Vietnamese-owned Becamex IDC, are the jewel in the crown of cooperation between the two countries, a statement fully supported by the numbers. In an email correspondence with Tran Thi Quynh Thanh, Senior Marcom Officer for VSIP, Thanh said the infrastructural offerings have helped to attract more FDI into the country while providing employment opportunities. VSIP have generated US$10 billion in investment from 738 multinational companies in 30 nations, though 11 percent of the companies in the industrial parks come from Singapore. At the moment there are seven different projects around Vietnam, and in 2017 they received an investment certificate for VSIP III in Binh Duong, totalling 1,000 hectares.

singapore vietnamImage source: datdautu.com

Healthcare: Although it’s not leading the pack in terms of money invested, Singaporean interests in healthcare have ramped up in the past years. In January, 2017 the Singapore Medical Group signed to create a second Careplus Clinic Vietnam in HCMC, to go along with the first clinic established in Tan Binh District. Chandler Investor, Clermont Group and Parkway all have presences in the country and have been investing in existing Vietnamese hospitals. Perhaps most visibly, Hanh Phuc Hospital, since its opening in 2011, has been touted as “the first Singapore-standard hospital in Vietnam” thanks to its hospital management agreement with Thomson Medical Centre Limited. As Vietnamese regulations continue to improve, investment in this sector is likely to grow. Michael Sieberg, Project Director of Solidiance Vietnam, said, “There’s a lot of interest to play a part in private-public partnerships [in healthcare], but I think the framework is still being worked out. Right now it’s mostly local investors.”

Social Issues:

While business ties are the bedrock of the relationship, cooperation has taken social forms as well. The Singapore-Vietnam Strategic Partnership was solidified in 2013, in honour of the two countries’ 40 year diplomatic anniversary. Cooperation has strengthened in areas like armies, counter-terrorism efforts, piracy, human trafficking and money laundering. Unfortunately, we could find no updates documenting concrete results of this partnership.

Banner Image source: media.baodautu.vn


Creating a Company in Vietnam

By: Keely Burkey and Jonas van Binsberg

What brought you to Vietnam?

I consider myself a product of the time and the places I grew up in. Born and raised in the Netherlands, graduated and started visiting Southeast Asia just before the financial crisis, in 2006. When the investment bank I was working for in the Netherlands started to run into difficulties at the end of 2007 and in 2008, I had heard of this large Vietnamese company that received support and relationships from international banks such as HSBC and Deutsche Bank. The owner and founder became known to me through the parents of my ex-girlfriend who was living in Australia at the time. We got introduced to each other, and he offered me a job. After that, I joined the export team of a multinational Dutch company responsible for the sales and trade of raw materials and ingredients of several countries in Southeast Asia. About 10 months into the job, this company also started to reorganise. I decided to stay in Vietnam because I was just engaged to my fiancee and strongly felt my time in Vietnam was not finished yet.

What is important when doing business in Vietnam? How does it differ from your experiences in Europe?

First of all, to pay attention to the people, to the relationships. In Germany, in Switzerland we would give a powerpoint presentation with four or five reasons why they should buy our product. Here, it’s all about who you are, where you are from, your family background, and then after that maybe the business things. Here the relationship comes before the transaction.

entrepreneurshipImage source: dbav.org.vn

Do you feel that foreign businesspeople are at a disadvantage here because they don’t share the same culture?

Well, language is one thing. The system is another thing. So, you have a slight disadvantage if you don’t know the language, but you can bring in good local people to work with you. You can have translators, you can have assistants. If you’re looking at the system, I think it’s getting a lot better. Where you might think people would be disadvantaged as a foreigner, Vietnam has already done all the reforms.

In the past few years a number of large international chains have entered Vietnam’s marketplace. Do you think these will hinder local growth, or create unreasonable competition for local companies?

I think local businesses still have a unique chance. They can get local support and they can also develop well because they are local. The local consumer is also buying local, I think. You see that more and more. You see a lot of people are very open to trying new things. You see a new restaurant to try. But I think in the long term, people will be more conscious about buying local products, and the government has already campaigned for a while now about Vietnamese people building local brands and things like that.

What are some of the biggest challenges you've encountered since doing business in Vietnam? What advice would you give people to avoid these obstacles?

In terms of life and investment advice, I would say: know your priorities and know your limits. Time is probably our most valuable asset. How we spend our time can say a lot about us. In the past, I often thought in terms of sacrifice. Sacrifice time for business, sacrifice money and give priority to the happiness of the family or the wife. But this is not right thinking. Right living is a life which is in balance. We intentionally choose to spend time with our loved ones; and we cultivate relationships, healthy habits, healthy living. Our priorities become visible through our daily choices. And what we can do should be within our limits. Unrealistic expectations or behaviour and risk which is beyond limits is dangerous and not a sustainable way of living and working.

What is Saigon Startups? Why did you create this company? 

I have noticed from my own experience, and from my friends here that we, start-up companies, small and medium-sized companies, all need the same things: product development, design, sales and marketing, bookkeeping and other services. The idea of Saigon Startups is sharing of resources, knowledge, experiences between entrepreneurs and companies. The idea is that, things that I have overcome already, or that I know already, can help you to grow your business faster. Saigon Startups is going to be a network of small and medium-sized companies, some invested by myself, some invested through friends or through fund investors. Together sharing information and targeting the same things: sustainable growth, good business, stability, health, wealth, happiness and profit in Vietnam.

entrepreneurshipImage source: media.baodautu.vn

Right now HCMC is seeing a surge in start-ups. Do you think these companies will create competition that will ultimately hinder expansion? Or is there enough room in the market for everyone?

It is a normal part of market growth, company growth and country development. Competition enhances performance and productivity. One thing that I would like to share is that each person and each business is unique. We do not have to copy or emulate one another. We have to find the one thing that ‘only I can do’, the one ‘calling’ that life has for us, our ‘passion’. Once we find that, there is no competition. There is only ‘doing what you love’ and other people sharing the same mission.

What sorts of start-ups are you seeing being developed at the moment? Which start-ups tend to be successful in Vietnam's business environment?

A lot of people are focused on technology start-ups. My personal interest is still mostly old-fashioned business such as manufacturing of agricultural products, healthcare products, things like that, but then combining it with and/or applying the modern tools available such as online marketing, online shopping or mobile phone apps. I think a lot of different types of start-ups can be successful in Vietnam. The key issues which I think are important are: long-term commitment of the team, financial pressure, great innovation... In my opinion, often things go wrong here when people change. No money or borrowed money, try for three to six months but then give up. An entrepreneur needs to have to ability to create, to have a dream, to create a vision, to create a product. If finance, commitment and creation skills are lacking, it’s going to be much harder for a start-up business to be successful.

entrepreneurshipImage source: wellesley.edu

Banner Image source: knowstartup.com


Dream Jobs in Vietnam

By: Frank B. Edwards

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.

Turnover

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.”

Viet Keu

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.

It sector Vietnam

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.

 


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