Having spent five years on getting an economics degree from the Brandeis University in Massachusetts, 27-year-old Phi Thai Kien now works in Singapore as an Investment Banking Analyst at Swiss multinational investment bank UBS.
With previous experience in financial institutions like the World Bank, Kien wanted to work in the high-level finance sector, so began to look at countries close to home that provides the best conditions for his career.
“Singapore is as close as you can get to Wall Street in Southeast Asia, still able to make the maximum impact on Vietnam’s market. Other than a high salary, I can find top level learning and networking opportunities, and the government is very friendly towards expats,” Kien said.
“Going abroad for many Vietnamese professionals means higher pay, exposure to professional international working environments, gaining of highly technical work experience, as well as crucial life experiences that they cannot otherwise get in Vietnam,” he added.
Like Kien, many skilled Vietnamese workers are opting to work abroad, especially in Southeast Asia.
According to a survey in 2018 by JobStreet, one of the largest employment portals in Southeast Asia, found that Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand were the most popular Southeast Asian destinations for the global workforce, with Vietnam being one of the top three nationalities preferring to work in Singapore and Thailand.
“Those with professional training, higher education degrees, fluency in foreign languages, especially English, have more opportunities to find work abroad,” said Dr. Nguyen Thi Lan Huong, former Director of the Institute of Science, Labor and Social Affairs. “This is also a great opportunity for Vietnam’s skilled workers to get exposure, improve professional skills in developed countries, and increase the ability to adapt to a professional and multicultural working environment.”
Several experts attribute the preference shown by many skilled workers for working in Southeast Asia partly to the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. This has not only facilitated a more integrated regional economy, but also a freer movement of professionals and highly skilled labor within the region.
Currently, eight occupations fall under the scope of ASEAN’s Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA), which allows the mutual recognition of professional qualifications between member countries, and sets out procedures for highly skilled workers to work outside their home country in engineering, nursing, architecture, medicine, dentistry, tourism, surveying, and accountancy.
Higher remuneration is a major factor. Many new graduates are being recruited by foreign companies for starting salaries of $2,000-$3,000 a month.
Dr. Pham Huy Hoang with the Institute of Information and Communication Technology of the Hanoi University of Science and Technology had told local media that out of 100 students the institute trained every year, 20 go on to receive a job in Japan with a monthly salary of $2,500-3,000.
Meanwhile, median salaries for entry and experienced positions for finance/investment, banking, information technology, and marketing, the highest paid sectors in Vietnam are VND6-15.6 million ($259 – $672) per month, according to a survey by local recruitment firm VietnamWorks this March.
For professionals looking for work experience in fields banking, finance and hi-tech sectors, Southeast Asia is becoming an increasingly attractive location, with major firms like Facebook and Google choosing to establish regional headquarters in Thailand, Hong Kong or Singapore.
“Globally established finance and banking firms usually have their main operations in countries like Singapore, whereas in Vietnam, the offices are likely a branch that is small with less potential for growth,” Nguyen Vu Hoai Trang said who works for an investment firm in Singapore.
Many Vietnamese students feel international work experience will give them the edge when they return to Vietnam and look for jobs with large corporations at home.
“Working abroad for multinational companies would give young employees an advantage over those who have only worked at home,” said Bong Thu Suong, 26, who works at a multinational corporation in Malaysia.
Another reason is that many big Vietnamese companies are expanding internationally, opening offices in big cities across the globe. They need Vietnamese manpower in these regional headquarters, professionals with the capability and desire to work abroad.
“When they return, workers who have gone abroad will have work experience and an international mindset. They can combine this mindset and experience with their understanding of local culture. It’s obviously an advantage,” said Phan Truong Son, deputy head of human resources at trade firm in Hanoi.
Son also agreed that people with overseas work experience are often usually more sought after and have greater opportunities for career advancement in Vietnam, the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia.