Vietnam Education & Labor Survey

Last year, Alex Minh Ngo, who describes himself as “a concerned observer of public services in Vietnam,” carried out an online survey of Vietnamese students and recent graduates of universities abroad. Of the 123 respondents, 80% were living abroad and 20% in Vietnam. Most had studied business, economics, or engineering.  The survey was motivated by conversations in the Vietnamese higher education and business communities about education and pay.

hard-work-300x300From the students’ point of view, Vietnam lacks opportunities for rewarding work while companies abroad offer more competitive compensation and better opportunities for young people to develop their long-term careers.  Human resource managers representing businesses in Vietnam cite lack of talent as a key barrier to their growth. The purpose of this study is to provide data to address core issues of availability of work opportunities for university-educated Vietnamese who have studied abroad, and to provide data points on expectations of young, educated Vietnamese. While there have been a number of surveys conducted for this purpose, most have been for private use.  This report aims to share brief findings for public use and discussion.

Further study on this topic could help answer questions on the value workers place on career development. Follow up questions would include: how much would workers be willing to sacrifice in terms of pay for better career development, how much are salaries changing over time, and what are the expectations of students. Additional questions that would be interesting to ask are the relative values of university education in Vietnam versus abroad. An analogous study could look at the job prospects of students who did not receive education abroad, and perhaps compare the two groups.

This survey is a small step to show the difference in earning potential for a person if they choose to work in Vietnam versus abroad. Follow-up surveys would of course be useful to validate the results in this study.

Follow this link to download a PDF copy of the Vietnam Education and Labor Survey (106KB).  Alex Ngo is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  He currently lives in Hanoi, where he works as a consultant.  Alex can be reached at AT

MAA:  Of course, under “Further Study,” many other factors, in addition to compensation, would have to be taken into consideration, including cost of living.  A longitudinal study would be of great value in tracking a select group of Vietnamese who studied abroad and either returned home or remained overseas.

“Students prefer jobs in foreign firms: poll”

Fifty-five percent of students wish to work for foreign-invested companies, making these institutions the top choice of working environment for graduates, according to an annual survey conducted by human resource consulting firm Nhan Viet Management Group.

The one question that this article did not address is WHY?  Below are some comments from Vietnamese university students and recent graduates whose opinions I solicited:  


  • Foreign-invested companies may offer better economic incentives: higher wage, promotions
  • International and professional working environment: more diverse workforce, allowing employees to interact with different people and enrich their cultural understanding
  • Strict and rigorous working environment with no unfair treatment, bureaucracy or corruption (contrary to most Vietnamese companies)
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Fairly competitive atmosphere; a competitive atmosphere in which they MUST learn and develop or else they would be fired
  • Working for foreign companies may sound “cool” to youngsters, satisfying their self-esteem need; becoming the pride of their family and getting admiration from their friends
  • Seeing a growing number of friends working in international companies may also create peer pressure that drives more and more graduates to do the same
  • Interesting and challenging tasks in which they can demonstrate their leadership and managerial capacities, their English abilities and creativity besides specialised knowledge.

Additional Comments

I think 55% maybe still an understatement, at least in the scope of my university.

In my mother’s bank, the job is quite tedious and mechanical with no scope for creativity and improvement. Therefore, after a few years, the staff’s English knowledge and soft skills seem to erode.

State-run companies are often notorious for non-transparent recruitment process, regulations, remuneration policies, etc.  This knowledge is passed on from previous generations, who often are the youngsters’ parents and relatives, and insiders. Therefore, it may be another reason for graduates to prefer working for foreigners in the belief of a more fair place.

For me personally, I don’t take the issue of whether working for Vietnamese or international companies too seriously; as long as I love the job and am given enough chance to develop and prove myself in a professional working environment.

These are all the reasons why many young people want to work for foreign invested firms. (I myself would like to work for one of those companies, too.:-)) 

Photo: Tuoi Tre

These perceptions bode well for foreign companies but not so well for their Vietnamese counterparts.  This is not to say that all Vietnamese companies, be they privately-owned or state-run, conform to these generalizations.  There are a growing number of such companies that defy the stereotype.  (On a personal note, I’m a satisfied customer of some, including one owned by the military.)  Overall, I see this sort of competition as a favorable trend for young Vietnamese, 1.5 million of whom enter the labor market every year, according to the World Bank.  In the long-term it will help raise the bar for everyone, including consumers.