“Young, educated, unemployed: Vietnamese graduates struggle to find jobs”

Students attend a job fair in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach
Students attend a job fair in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach (Thanh Nien News)

“How can I have experience just after graduating from university? No firm wants to recruit an employee with little experience like me,” Nguyen Thuy Hang, 22, said while looking for accounting jobs on a jobs site.

The Hanoi National Economics University graduate has sent out CVs to dozens of local and foreign-owned companies, but only three of them have called her for interviews. Unfortunately, she said, she was less experienced than other applicants and did not make much of an impression.

Hang is like many recent university graduates.  As in other countries, they need much more than a university degree to find a suitable job.  They are competing with fellow graduates who took advantage of internship opportunities and found ways – outside of the classroom – to learn and hone various soft skills, improve their English proficiency and, in some cases, to learn valuable IT skills.  The problem is that most universities do not offer services that facilitate these connections and opportunities, e.g., career planning and placement offices, so the responsibility falls squarely on their young shoulders.

Then there is the quality of the education being provided, which at most institutions is heavy on textbook knowledge and theory and short on practical experience and soft skills, including communication skills, teamwork and collaboration, adaptability, problem solving, critical thinking and conflict resolution.  (I can confirm this as both an interested observer and an employer.)  Nguyen Thi Van Anh, managing director of jobs firm Navigos Search, said in the article on which this post is based that the shortage of necessary skills is much more serious in Vietnam than in other ASEAN countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

This sentiment is reflected in a statement by Hoang Ngoc Vinh, director of the Professional Education Department at the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), who noted that the unemployment problem might come from the quality of university education, rather than the surplus of university graduates.  Around 25-30% of the labor force in developed countries are university graduates; in Vietnam, it’s only 7%. “The quality of university graduates may have not met the demands of the labor market,” he said, as cited by Tuoi Tre.

Another issue is the lack of desire on the part of some recent graduates to gain on-the-job experience, to pay their dues, so to speak, in order to be better prepared for the kind of white-collar job they are looking for.  As Phan Truong Son, manager of a chain of restaurants, cafes and shops in Hanoi, put it, his firm announced vacancies for 20 salespeople and waiters, but got only three applications.

Finally, one of the most compelling issues is a structural one. Duong Duc Lan, director of the labor ministry’s vocational training department, said the country possibly has more graduates than it needs. Vietnam has around one million high school graduates every year and only around 3% of them go to vocational schools, while most want a college degree.  Why?  Because of prestige and the belief that a university degree will automatically result in a white-collar job with a higher salary and more respect.  Meanwhile, Vietnam desperately needs more qualified workers.  The problem is twofold:  attracting more students to certain vocational programs and improving the quality of those programs.

To put all of the above in perspective the national unemployment rate in Vietnam is 2.35%, according to the Ministry of Labor, a fifth of which is university graduates.  Thus, the overall issue is underemployment for many rather than unemployment for the country as a whole and a disconnect between student/parent beliefs and aspirations, the educational system and the labor market.



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