ASEAN Roundtable Series: Closing the Talent and Skills Gap in ASEAN

Published on 20 August 2018



Puan Shareen Shariza

Puan Shareen Shariza Binti Dato’ Abdul Ghani

Chief Executive Officer, TalentCorp Malaysia

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Shareen Shariza Dato’ Abdul Ghani has over 20 years of experience in various industries including retail, capital markets, social and humanitarian sectors as well as in the corporate sustainability space. Before joining TalentCorp, she was the Director of Corporate Responsibility at Khazanah Nasional Berhad (Khazanah), where she helped shape Khazanah’s Corporate Responsibility strategy and established initiatives such as PINTAR, Yayasan Sejahtera and GEMS Malaysia. Prior to that, Shareen was Chief Operations Officer at MERCY Malaysia, where she served in humanitarian missions to Darfur, Sri Lanka, Iran, Aceh, and remote areas throughout Malaysia.

Shareen has been part of TalentCorp since its early years, in her capacity as Khazanah’s representative on the board of directors of GEMS Malaysia, the TalentCorp subsidiary responsible for upskilling Malaysian graduates through the Graduate Employability Management Scheme (GEMS). She was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of TalentCorp on 1 June 2016.

Shareen was a former board member of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership and a recipient of the Pingat Darjah Paduka Mahkota Perak for her contributions towards humanitarian efforts. She holds a Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership from Cambridge University and Master in Public Policy from University Malaya.

Mr. Chua Soon Ghee

Mr. Chua Soon Ghee

Partner, Head of Southeast Asia, A.T. Kearney, Singapore

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Soon Ghee is a Partner with A.T. Kearney in Singapore, and is the Head of the Southeast Asia unit. He has over 20 years of experience in both consulting and industry across Asia. He is the author of “Asian Mergers & Acquisitions: Riding the Wave” which touches on M&A and post-merger integration in the Asian context, “Lifting the Barriers to E-Commerce in ASEAN”, and “The ASEAN Digital Revolution” white papers. He is also a regular speaker on CNBC, BBC, ChannelnewsAsia, and many regional conferences on topics related to digital, transformation and global trends.

Dr. Shu Tian

Dato’ CM Vignaesvaran Jeyandran

Chief Executive, Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), Malaysia

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As Chief Executive of the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), Dato’ Vicks (as he is fondly known) is one of Malaysia’s most vocal advocates of human capital development, catalysing the up-skilling, re-skilling & multi-skilling of the local workforce and ensuring relevance to industry.

He holds a Bachelor of Business Studies, Administration & Management – Marketing (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia), ASEAN CEO Leadership Programme (Oxford University, UK), ASEAN CEO Programme (Cranfield University, UK); Professional Certification of Human Resource Management (Cambridge University, UK); Professional Certification on Big Data Analytics (Harvard University, USA).

Dato’ Vicks also sits on the Boards of HRDF, the Penang Skills Development Centre (PSDC), the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), the ICLIF Leadership Energy Awards 2017 (Advisory Council) and is the President-Elect for the International Federation of Training and Development (IFTDO).

Dato’ Hamidah Naziadin

Dato’ Hamidah Naziadin

Group Chief People Officer, CIMB Group
Chief Executive Officer, CIMB Foundation

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Dato’ Hamidah Naziadin has 30 years’ experience in HR in the financial industry, of which 27 were with CIMB. She provides overall strategic leadership for HR across ASEAN to develop an agile, high-performing regional workforce.

She has led HR’s transformation from an administrative function into a key business enabler, contributing to CIMB’s rapid growth into the leading ASEAN financial institution that it is today. She strategised the resource integration in successful mergers and acquisitions over the years, within Malaysia and across ASEAN and APAC regions. She has also implemented strategic HR programmes that have earned peer and industry recognition through numerous awards.

She continuously strengthens workplace culture and compliance through employee engagement, and has developed workplace wellness policies and programmes towards sustaining a productive and inspiring work environment.

On top of that, she also spearheads CSR in community development, sports and education initiatives with diversity and inclusion as the guiding principles, to deliver sustainable benefits for the communities in the region. She is passionate about championing thought leadership through industry talks and publications on issues around women empowerment, and education/development for youths and graduates. She is a member of the Board of Directors at Maxis Berhad and holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Wolverhampton, UK.



Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid

Chairman, CIMB ASEAN Research InstitutePresident, ASEAN Business Club

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Tan Sri Dr. Munir is currently Chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute, of Bank Muamalat Malaysia Berhad, of the Financial Services Professional Board, of ASEAN Business Advisory Council, Malaysia, as well as President of the ASEAN Business Club. He also sits on the board of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia and on the Financial Services Talent Council of Bank Negara Malaysia.

He has an extensive experience and is well known in the Malaysian corporate world. He had been the Group Editor of the New Straits Times, first executive chairman of CIMB and founding chairman of the Malaysian Securities Commission. After stepping down from the Securities Commission, he became Independent Non-Executive Director of Telekom Malaysia Berhad, Chairman of Celcom (Malaysia) Berhad and Non-Executive Chairman of Malaysian Airline System Berhad. He was Founder President of the Kuala Lumpur Business Club, established in 2003 and is a member of the Court of Fellows of the Malaysian Institute of Management.

Tan Sri Dr. Munir obtained a B.Sc (Econ) and Ph.D in International Relations from the London School of Economic and Political Science (LSE) in 1971 and 1978. He is an Honorary Fellow of LSE and continues the long association with his alma mater as Visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre of International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy. Tan Sri Dr. Munir is an associate of Southeast Asia Centre (SEAC) at LSE.

This roundtable discussed the need to liberalise ASEAN labour mobility in the near term, as well as execute urgent education reforms and the reskilling of its workforce to fill the skills gaps in the region, underlined by the requirements of Industry 4.0.

Although the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has envisioned for the free movement of skilled labour and business visitors within the bloc, there is a deficit in the supply of needed workforce skill sets within the ASEAN region that goes beyond solely addressing the issue of labour mobility.

There is an urgent need to address the paradigm shifts that ASEAN’s labour force will need to face from technological changes. A McKinsey report highlighted that by 2030, 800 million jobs will be lost to automation. Locally, a Khazanah paper concluded that 54 per cent of all jobs in Malaysia were at high risk of being displaced in the next 20 years. Low-skilled jobs were particularly vulnerable, with as many as 80 per cent classified as high risk.

To discuss the issue, four panel speakers, Dato’ Hamidah Naziadin, Group Chief People Officer of CIMB Group; Shareen Shariza Dato’ Abdul Ghani, CEO of TalentCorp Malaysia; Chua Soon Ghee, Partner, Head of Southeast Asia of A.T. Kearney, Singapore; and Dato’ CM Vignaesvaran Jeyandran, former Chief Executive of Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) of Malaysia debated on ways to close the talent and skills gap in the region.


1. There is a Deficit of Skills in ASEAN

Removal of Protectionism will enhance talent mobility in ASEAN

Despite the aspirations of ASEAN to improve skill mobility within the region, there seem to be barriers that hamper the movement of professionals within the area and utilising skill sets of these people.

One such example was the issue of a gap in being able to source the right talents in financial institutions, which was highlighted by Dato’ Hamidah. In Malaysia, specialised skills in the areas of risk, audit and compliance were in short supply. In addition, talent with specialities in FinTech and Digital banking technology needed to be recruited outside ASEAN. It was hoped that over time, these foreign talents with global exposure and experiences would impart their technical ability and knowledge to the local workforce.

ASEAN Roundtable Series

However, regulatory restrictions on labour mobility is hampering this process. Puan Hamidah felt that 1) labour mobility is restricted to particular levels and positions and 2) local graduates enjoy a positive bias as opposed to foreign ones.

However, in trying to source talent from other ASEAN countries, the financial institutions faces regulatory restrictions on mobility. Dato’ Hamidah said that labour mobility is not totally free as most countries restrict entry of foreign talent in order to protect the local workforce. Hence, this has led to a situation where regulations relating to the entry of foreign professionals in the financial industry was not uniform across the region.

The consensus among the panellists was that one immediate solution to this shortage of skills in the region is to have less inhibited movement of talent.

ASEAN Roundtable Series

Puan Shareen said that Malaysia is addressing talent mobility through TalentCorp by looking into importing skills from other countries in ASEAN and also exporting its own skilled labour from Malaysia to ASEAN countries. TalentCorp has established talent mobility programs such as the MyASEAN internship and MyAPEC Youth Connect to promote intra-ASEAN mobility. However, TalentCorp has experienced difficulties sending local talents to some ASEAN countries, where they have implemented policies to protect their domestic job markets.

In her presentation, a World Economic Forum (WEF) report titled Future of Jobs showed that 54% of businesses surveyed in ASEAN support talent mobility programmes, followed by initiatives to attract foreign talent and investment into reskilling its current employees.

Mobility opportunities are now considered an essential element in attracting, retaining, developing and engaging talent, especially for the millennials. Shareen shared a PwC’s 2012 study on global talent mobility, which found that 71 percent of millennials expect an overseas assignment during their career.

2. Industry 4.0 necessitates educational reform and workforce reskilling

Another critical trend discussed was the impact of industry 4.0 on ASEAN economies and their respective workforces. Four paradigm shifts are expected as a result of its arrival:

  1. Global value chains (GVC) are shifting geographical locations of production to ASEAN
  2. The movement of geographical markets of consumption to ASEAN as the middle class expands
  3. ASEAN will need to move from a low-cost labour framework to one that relies on technological upgrades to increase productivity
  4. Manufacturing will need to adapt to increasing automation

Chua Soon Ghee, Partner and Head of Southeast Asia, A.T. Kearney believes that ASEAN countries are unprepared in term of human capital to address these new paradigms.

ASEAN Roundtable Series

He said that jobs now require workers with stronger cognitive and complex problem-solving skills. There is a big gap between the skill-sets needed and what the workforce is currently capable of providing. Thus, ASEAN countries need to boost the percentage of the highly skilled labour component of their total workforce. Currently, Singapore is the only country in the bloc above 50 per cent (See Table 1 below)

Table 1


High-skilled employment share















Source: WEF – Global Human Capital Report 2017, International Labour Organization – Modelled Estimates 2017, A.T. Kearney

To address that deficit, a transformation of the education system and government-employer-employee relationship are required. Increasing labour mobility, from outside and within ASEAN are short term solutions.

In the long run, ASEAN nations should overhaul its education systems and workforce retraining programs, by emphasising on technology, digital and higher-order cognitive skills. The subsequent failure to address these structural changes will have material impacts on ASEAN countries in terms of their GDP growth.

This is solution echoed by Dato’ CM Vignaesvaran Jeyandran, former Chief Executive, Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) which is tasked with reskilling Malaysia ’s workforce through training programs.

ASEAN Roundtable Series

Vignaesvaran called for reforms in technical and vocational education, as he believes that some educational institutions are still using an obsolete syllabus. In addition, he contends that there is a lack of cooperation between businesses in Malaysia and these institutes, unlike the situation in China and Taiwan.To sustain industry 4.0, HRDF is working with Ivy League universities around the world namely, such as Harvard, to create thinkers that would lead to a better future for Malaysia.

One worrying trend according to HRDF is that while productivity has increased (according to them, 80 per cent in some cases after training), commensurate wage growth has only gone up 2 per cent. Employers seem reticent to raise salaries in an effort to keep labour costs down.

Swedish ambassador to Malaysia His Excellency Dag Juhlin-Dannfelt, who was also present at the roundtable, described a different relationship between employers and their relationship to training. He said that Swedish companies continuously invest in its employees through upskilling.

Chua said that the ASEAN labour force should be looking at lifelong employability rather than permanent employment in one job. This can be done by equipping students or workers with the right set of skills to meet the demands of Industry 4.0.


In conclusion, ASEAN cannot afford to be protectionist when it comes to cross-border labour mobility. The potential economic growth that ASEAN Economic Community can only be realised with true and meaningful skilled labour mobility.

Cross border mobility of skilled labour will result in the transference of technical knowledge and ability in the near term. For the medium term, the upskilling of a country’s workforce is necessary to prepare for the industrial revolution, while for the long term, serious reforms in ASEAN educational institutions need to catch up with the speed of Industry 4.0. Failing which, the golden opportunity to reap from ASEAN’s collective demographic dividend will be lost due to the lack of skilled labour to realise its economic potential.

ASEAN Roundtable Series

ASEAN Roundtable Series

ASEAN Roundtable Series

ASEAN Roundtable Series

ASEAN Roundtable Series

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