An IT engineer in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo by: Wei Xiangnan / ILO / CC BY-NC-ND

HANOI, Vietnam — Unlike its East Asian neighbors, Southeast Asian countries continue to comprise a large youth population. More than half of the 630 million people in ASEAN are under 30 years old.

The youth bulge provides opportunities, but also uncertainties. With a large working age population, there is a question of whether there will be enough jobs for them in an era of modern technology disruption. As companies adopt technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics, future job prospects become less certain.

But youth across six countries in the ASEAN region seem optimistic. In a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum in partnership with Singapore-based Internet company Sea, and launched at the 2018 World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi, Vietnam, 51.7 percent of the 64,000 youth surveyed said they believed technology would increase their future job options. Sixty-seven percent also think technology would increase their income potential.

The level of optimism varies between countries: 60.3 percent of youth in the Philippines believe in technology’s positive impact on jobs compared with 31.2 percent of youth in Singapore. Seventy-two percent of respondents in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia are also more optimistic on the potential of technology to increase their income, as opposed to 47.4 percent in Singapore and 48.5 percent in Thailand.

Santitarn Sathirathai, Sea group chief economist, told Devex the responses vary based on respondents’ age and education level. Younger respondents, those aged 30 and below, expressed more optimism than their older counterparts. Meanwhile, the more educated, those with bachelor degrees and higher education, are most pessimistic.

Fig 1. View the graph in new window.

Where youth want to work in the future

Collectively, a high percentage of youth surveyed prefer being their own boss. About 24.6 percent of youth want to work for themselves, 16.7 percent want to work for a foreign multinational company, and 16 percent for the government. Meanwhile, only 7.4 percent and 5.9 percent respectively want to work in a small- and medium-sized enterprises and startups.

Sathirathai suggested the drive for youth to become “founders” instead of employees poses a potential challenge on the future of talent acquisition in the region.

However, broken down across countries, the survey reveals a mix of entrepreneurial ambition. Youth in Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand are more interested in starting their own businesses in the future as opposed to youth in the Philippines and Indonesia.

The low appetite for entrepreneurship in the Philippines and Indonesia “could reflect underemployment in the informal economy, and hence wishes for better life and a more stable income in the future,” according to the survey.

Meanwhile, the trend is consistent across the six countries when it comes to working for a foreign multinational company. This could be due to the potential of gaining a better or more stable income, and richer experience, with the potential to work overseas, according to the survey.

5.8 percent of youth surveyed expressed interest in working in charities or social enterprises in the future. Of that number, those most interested are from Indonesia.

“Yes, the key finding was that Indonesia really stood out as having high share of youth wanting to work for the social sector,” said Sathirathai. A large percentage of youth in Indonesia shared the desire to have a positive impact on society as a reason for wanting to work in the social sectors.

Thailand registered the lowest percentage of youth interested in working for charities or social enterprises at 1.9 percent.

Fig 2. View the graph in new window. Source: World Economic Forum

“It is not clear what might be driving this result and we do not have rich enough data to explain the drivers of this,” said Sathirathai.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.