Category Archives: Vietnam workforce

Dreaming in Vietnam on $1 a Day

Vietnam’s statistics office and the World Bank shed new light on income in the country — and quantify the  rural-urban gap.  They say the typical city dweller earns $142 a month compared to $76 for rural residents.  Average earnings for Vietnam’s poorest citizens are estimated to be $24 per month, a 39% increase over the highly inflationary period between 2010 and 2013.

This helps explain two things: (1) why the world’s multi-national manufacturers are flocking to Vietnam to source their products, and (2) why entrepreneurial dreams are flourishing in the world’s 13th most populous country.

Vietnam has a young, educated, eager — and, most important, plugged-in — workforce accustomed to wages far behind its peers in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.  Even citizens who earn $1 a day tend to be literate and have someone in the family who is connected to the Internet.

And despite urban migration that is spurring explosive growth in Hanoi, Saigon and other cities, Vietnam’s population remains mostly rural and the employment mostly agriculture.  In this sector, $1 dollar a day remains the standard wage — and a job offer from a Japanese or German widget-maker looks like an attractive stepping stone to the entrepreneurial dreamland that is the World Wide Web.




Vietnam’s Approach to Gender Roles at Work

About the time the Vietnam/American War ended, American women started progressing toward gender equity in the workplace, and now it’s hard to imagine the US government doing what Vietnam just did:  banned employers from hiring women in 77 job categories.  

Effective Dec. 15, Vietnam’s new labor decree is aimed at protecting women’s health.  It prohibits women from working in jobs that adversely affect their  reproduction and child raising duties as well as jobs that require frequent submersion in water.  The list includes metal processing, oil well drilling, gas exploration, work on high-voltage power lines, repairing the exterior of tall buildings, boiler operation, and anything that involves carrying things heavier than 120 pounds.

Women also won’t be allowed to do sewer dredging, mining, underwater concrete construction, or anything that requires workers to stay in dirty and stinky water for 12 hours or more a week.

Further, women who are pregnant or raising infants aren’t allowed to do work that exposes them to electromagnets or radioactive substances, or chemicals that can cause gene mutation or cancer.  And they won’t be allowed to carry more than 50-pound objects, or work in dirty water, excessive heat, excessive cold, or stagnant air.

Some feminists might consider the new rules appalling, but they seem to reflect a profound cultural difference between East and West when it comes to acknowledging and honoring gender differences and protecting the health of not only women but also the next generation.

And anybody who wants to complain that Vietnam’s male-dominated government is being sexist will have to explain why the country’s males will be ending up with most of the dirty work.

Chess and Vietnam’s Promising Brainpower

A Chess News Agency report this week speaks volumes about the potential of one of the world’s most dynamic frontier markets:  22-year-old Vietnam grandmaster Le Quang Liem won the World Blitz Championship, not only establishing his country as a global chess power but also calling attention to its brainpower.

Along with the gold medal, Liem’s defeat of the silver and bronze medalists from Ukraine earned him $40,000 in prize money.  He started playing chess 15 years ago, about the time Vietnam started gearing up to be a player in the global economy.

The achievement at the chess table is the latest of many signs Vietnam’s population of nearly 100 million has the capacity to be a global economic leader.  It remains to be seen whether the country will cultivate its human capital — or stifle its people’s creative energy.

Unleashing Vietnam’s brainpower and creative energy depends on development of social infrastructure — especially health and education.  that will require, as one wry Hanoi visitor from the countryside observes, less attention to gleaming skyscrapers that adorn the capital city and a greater focus on better schools and hospitals.

The Human Resource Opportunity in Vietnam

Over the past five years, Vietnam’s millions of young, motivated, and educated workers have experienced hard times, with 30% of employees in the banking industry losing their jobs.  The situation is about to change, and that’s a golden opportunity for global human resource firms.

The economy is starting to improve, and as it does the labor market is expected to see more mergers of foreign and domestic human resource businesses — especially online services for Vietnam’s burgeoning Internet users.

So far this year, the American company CareerBuilder has bought Vietnam Online Network (VON) which owned one of the biggest job websites in Vietnam. Also, a Japanese investor bought 90% of the domestic site Vietnamwork for $22 million.  And other foreign groups — including JobStreet, Asia’s biggest online job resource — are reportedly scrambling to make deals with domestic firms that have high volumes of Internet visitors.

All of this activity reflects a dramatic change in behavior over the past five years.  Workers have shifted from print media to the Internet to look for jobs.  Vietnam Internet Center research finds 31 million people (more than a third of Vietnam’s population) using the  Internet.

That number is growing rapidly.  The job market in Vietnam is expected to surge.  And that means opportunity for human resource firms.



Vietnam’s Worst — And Best — Jobs

The Financial Times highlights the plight of thousands of “zombie” employees of state-owned companies in Vietnam who haven’t been paid for months but report to work to protect their back wages.  Their companies can’t pay them because Vietnam’s fragile economy has ridden them with debt.

Vietnam Television reports more than 60,000 workers were going without pay in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City late last year.  Workers are afraid leaving their jobs would cause them to forfeit back pay,  but many are considering changing jobs anyway.

The situation underscores inefficiency and corruption in Vietnam’s public sector, which is estimated to have absorbed 45% of investment in Vietnam in a recent 5-year period without having any impact on employment.  About 100,000 companies went out of business over the past two years.

As a result, a press report in Vietnam listed the following as the five hottest jobs for Vietnamese workers today:

  • Babysitting. A person who helps a mother with her newborn baby  earns up to $350 a month, triple the salary of a newly graduated physician and, in some provinces, the most profitable job.  In addition, they save on food because they have meals with their host families.
  • Freelance nursing.  People who take care of patients can earn up to $600 a month, well above a level considered high income in Vietnam and about four times the wages of a factory worker.
  • Running a tea shop.  Tea shops serve a wide range of customers in Vietnam and require very little investment capital — less than $50 for tables, chairs and cups — while shop owners can earn up to $500 a month.
  • Shoe repair.  Shoe repairmen are always busy in the cities, where they charge at least $1 to resole shoes and can expect to earn $50 a day.  Exceptionally skilled repairmen earn much more.
  • Motorbike oversight.  High volume makes tending cars and motorbikes one of the easiest and the most profitable jobs in Vietnam.  Workers typically collect nearly 15 cents to tend each of 1,000 motorbikes a day.  That’s $150.

The Wall Street Journal’s Asian Wage Myopia

The Wall Street Journal publishes an article on wages in Southeast Asia and, as usual, ignores the labor market that has the most to offer global manufacturers: Vietnam.  The spectacular omission calls into question the newspaper’s credibility as a serious chronicler of business activity in the region.

The article, published last Thursday, is headlined “Southeast Asia at a

A worker at a Vietnamese battery factory
A worker at a Vietnamese battery factory

Crossroads on Wages” and promotes the idea that “dirt-cheap labor” is no longer a given because workers want to get paid more.  No surprise there, but here’s the problem:

The article cites World Bank data on average wages for factory workers in six countries — Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, China, India and Thailand — that now range from $209 to $538 per month.  The article doesn’t mention the country of nearly 100 million situated in the center of all of them; Vietnam has a labor force four times size of Malaysia and much larger than Thailand.  The story even mentions Myanmar, a country half the size of Vietnam and far behind on the path to economic development.

The omission of Vietnam is roughly equivalent to a story on wages in American cities without mentioning Chicago, or for that matter, any city in the Midwest.

Including Vietnam would balance the story — and give global manufacturers a

A fish processing plant that employs 1,500 in Vietnam

A fish processing factory that employs 1,500 in My Tho, Vietnam

much better picture of the opportunity in Southeast Asia, where factory workers are typically paid less than $150 monthly in Vietnam.

The Wall Street Journal seems to project the archaic notion that Vietnam is an insignificant little land of rice paddies, but at least the newspaper is consistent: The Journal has yet to discover that Vietnam has a stock market.

The Key to Vietnam’s Social Infrastructure

Nine people from 6 countries (Holland, Ukraine, Australia, Belgium, Vietnam, and the US) exchanged stories during lunch yesterday in a remote Vietnamese village near the China border.  Whether experiences were related to the whole table or in side conversations — for example, the Dutch couple talking with the Belgians — the conversations had one thing in common:  English.

The event signified in microcosm the quickest and most effective social infrastructure investment Vietnam can make to grow its economy.  And teaching English to the Vietnamese is the most important social investment in Vietnam that is available to foreigners, especially Americans.

Proficient English underlies Vietnam’s future success in global commerce and tourism — and the lack of English-speaking Vietnamese is a huge drag on its economy.  The Vietnamese government is well aware of this and now requires English to be taught in all 3rd grade classrooms.  But the trick is connecting children with native English speakers, especially American Midwesterners whose pronunciation is the most accent-free in the world.

The importance of this objective to Vietnam’s economy can’t be over-emphasized.  Vietnam needs foreign investment and international visitors to thrive. It needs workers who can understand an Australian boss.  It needs exporters and importers who can conduct trade with Thailand and Korea and Taiwan (How would you do this except in English?)  It needs lawyers who can negotiate international deals and make sure the contract reflects the agreement.  It needs scientists, academics and doctors who keep up with their peers worldwide and who publish their own research in a language their peers can comprehend. It needs hotel receptionists and retailers who can talk with their customers.

Of course all of this may seem Western-centric.  It also is part of the start-up cost of being a player in the global economy.

Students in northern Ha Tinh practiced English with the first Westerner ever to visit their high school