Economic Update

Published 29 Nov 2018

As part of efforts to meet changing labour market requirements brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Myanmar is harnessing private sector investment to develop its vocational and technical education system.

Speaking at this year’s World Economic Forum on ASEAN summit on September 12 in Hanoi, Vietnam, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stated that greater investment in skills-based training will be necessary to close the skills gap with more developed countries.

“We have to be prepared for the 4IR with the right knowledge and skills,” she said. “The education system of a country is crucial in how we face the challenges of our times, but we also need to shift the emphasis in education to practical skills rather than just academic qualifications.”

She also highlighted the need for increased efforts to nurture creativity and innovation as a means to boost domestic entrepreneurship.

Bridging the skills gap and changing public perceptions

In September the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office released its annual report on the country, which suggested that Myanmar needs to expand its educational offering by emphasising vocational training to provide the necessary skills and know-how to ensure sustainable long-term development.

According to the report, improvements in training for manufacturing workers and further market-orientated reforms of the education system will be essential for the country to take advantage of the 4IR and move up the value chain.

Vocational training is particularly significant for the growing garment industry, which is one of the leading industries, generating $2.2bn in exports during the first half of FY 2018-19, which began on April 1.

The burgeoning tourism industry is similarly struggling to find employees sufficiently trained in foreign languages and hospitality, while financial services providers are experiencing a shortfall of trained banking professionals.

According to the Myanmar Construction Entrepreneurs Association, the construction sector is also facing a shortage of skilled tradesmen, a necessary component of Myanmar’s ongoing overhaul of its infrastructure and housing.

Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs that the government is recognising the need to expand vocational training in the sectors and services that are key to continued development.

“The government is trying to change the common mindset that a university degree is necessary to find a job by creating holiday education centres and providing occupational training,” U Kyaw Htin Latt, CEO at the education, health care and retail services provider Seezer Soesan, told OBG. “And in the process, Myanmar is diversifying its educational sector to meet the real needs of the country.”

Open door to private sector

Faced with budgetary constraints, the government is increasingly looking towards the private sector to achieve its education and training goals.

In April the Myanmar Investment Commission formally granted authorisation for full ownership rights for foreign investors in private education. This reform includes vocational and technical institutions but stipulates that schools must either teach the syllabus established by the Ministry of Education or an equivalent international curriculum.

Following the announcement, a number of new institutions have been established, and numerous international education providers have expressed interest in investing in Myanmar.

In August the Singapore-based education and hospitality operator Myanmar Strategic Holdings opened its third Wall Street English language training centre in Yangon. This followed a move in June by Kaplan Myanmar University College, a subsidiary of US educational program provider Kaplan, which opened a new campus in Yangon that offers university degree programmes, professional certifications, MBA programmes and other courses.

The overseas development vehicle Korea International Cooperation Agency, meanwhile, is currently building a teacher training college for technical and vocational educators. Work on the $12m Yangon facility broke ground in May, and the institute is expected to accept its first intake of specialist trainee teachers in late 2019.