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FEATURE STORY

Understanding the Skills of Lao Workers to Prepare Them for the Future

February 8, 2013

To find and keep a job, more and more workers will need a broader set of skills and abilities, which go beyond the ability to read and write.

Vientiane, February 8, 2013---The economy of Lao PDR, commonly known as Laos, is modernizing rapidly and this has important implications for the work skills that are needed. To find and keep a job, more and more workers will need a broader set of skills and abilities, which go beyond the ability to read and write. In the future, workers will be asked to quickly learn how to operate new machinery, work in larger teams, and solve more complicated problems.

Evolving job requirements

These additional job requirements may come faster than expected, with Laos’ economy opening wider for trade. In addition, part of ASEAN’s goal of transforming itself into a single market means that it will allow skilled workers to look for jobs across the region by 2015.

There are some signs that many of these changes have already taken place. In a recent World Bank survey in Laos, businesses said that their biggest constraint to growth was finding adequately educated workers.

Equipping Lao workers with such skills is not done overnight. The government recognizes this and has put skills enhancement at the very top of the national agenda. In fact, it’s one of the major goals of its Seventh National Socio-Economic Development Plan.

A challenge to developing skills

A major challenge which policy makers are facing is that the state of skills of Lao workers is unclear. To design a good strategy to improve the skill level of workers, one needs a solid understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the current workforce. 

In Laos, the number of school graduates is known. However, the kinds of skills they master (or do not master) and how they fare compared to graduates from neighboring countries is unclear.

There are also unanswered questions. How much effort will be needed to address basic literacy problems versus trying to create sophisticated critical thinking skills? Should more resources be put into improving the quality of basic education or strengthening the type of technical skills taught in vocational schools?  Information on these will make better use of the government’s efforts and resources.

Supporting the government

The World Bank is supporting the government by trying to paint a comprehensive picture of Laos’ current human resources. The data that will come out of it will be used to strengthen the government’s future policies in skills development.

The findings will be summarized in a Lao Development Report on Human Resource Development, which will be completed in October 2013. The report will provide important baseline information about gaps and challenges. It will be informed by eight background papers, including studies that will report the findings of large surveys involving 2,800 households, 4,000 firms, and 2,500 recent graduates.