“Indonesia’s workforce in need of total overhaul,” blazed the headline on a recent opinion article in the Jakarta Post, with writer Victoria Fanggidae painting a poor picture of Indonesia’s education standards and projections that Indonesia will not be able to supply the estimated 113 million semi-skilled and skilled workers that the country will need by 2030.
The author, a social policy researcher at Perkumpulan Prakarsa (the Centre for Welfare Studies), based her article on an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey on adult skills, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which ranked Indonesia dead last of all the 34 countries in every single PIAAC competency category in every single age group.
“For instance, the mean literacy score of Indonesian adults aged 25-65 with [a] university education is lower than the average OECD countries’ adults aged 16-24, who are not even in education and only went to primary school,” she wrote. “In other words, our adults with university degrees are less competent in reading than OECD countries’ primary school graduates.”
She said that the “embarrassing” statistics meant Indonesia would not be able to supply the medium-skilled labour, let alone high-skilled labour, needed as the Indonesian economy continued to expand, pointing to a projection by the McKinsey Global Institute that the demand for semi-skilled and skilled workers would hit 113 million by 2030.
Bagus Hendrayono, the managing director of executive recruitment company Monroe Consulting Group Indonesia, said that despite the damming assessment of Indonesia’s education system and quality of the country’s workforce, he maintained a slightly more favourable outlook.
“Yes, the education system is poor, with a focus on rote learning, few chances to question the material students are being taught and outdated course books, to name a few issues,” he said. “But recently there have been a few positive changes and I believe we will start to see an improvement in the quality of our human resources, our workforce. And we are already seeing vast improvements in the quality of senior executives across a number of industries that are continuing to expand, including banking, information technology, digital and E-commerce, though there are still significant shortages.”
Cicin Ruruh Winedar, human resources (HR) director at multinational consumer goods company Godrej Indonesia, said she didn’t entirely agree with the survey findings, saying many Indonesians enjoyed successful careers in both national and multinational companies, either within Indonesian or abroad.
She did, however, concede that the skill levels of locals beginning their careers tended to lag behind other comparable countries because of the educations they received, at both the high school and university levels, had less real-world applications. “However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t adapt to meet the demands of the corporate world,” she said. “And we find that once they have adapted, they are able to compete with expatriates.”
Cicin said that as long as corporations understood the potential, placed trust in their staff and provided ongoing training, “then Indonesian manpower will grow and give optimum achievements to the company they are working for.”
Sondang Saktion, head of human resources in Southeast Asia for online classified marketplace OLX, said that although she hadn’t seen the raw data or the results of the survey herself, the findings “obviously paint a bleak picture of our education system and will negatively affect how others see the country's overall talent markets.”
Asked to comment on particular shortfalls in talent in specific industries, Sondang said the information technology sector was one area, particularly in Web and mobile application (app) development. She said the relative youth of the industry and its rapid expansion in areas such as E-commerce in the last five years, meant that the available talent pool was stretched.
Bagus said the demand for high-quality executive-level talent was outstripping supply, resulting in a number of negative consequences that included “job-hopping” where people often jumped from company to company and increasing salary expectations.
“Matters are made worse as the few people that are coming through Indonesia’s top universities or with degrees gained overseas are not all moving into the corporate sector,” he said. “Some of Indonesia’s best and brightest look to secure work overseas and many more join family-owned businesses.”
Bagus said the talent shortage was a problem not only for the Indonesian government, parents and schools. “Everyone needs to get involved, the media, industry, everyone needs to work hand-in-hand to increase the quality of our human resources,” he said. “If we need to speak English, let’s learn English; if we need to learn computer programming, let’s learn computer literacy; if the world needs workers who can think for themselves and problem solve, then we need to nurture this culture. The world in changing and we must also.”
Sondang said she was in favour of the implementation of a curriculum that prepared tomorrow’s workforce for the challenges of the future. “The ability to look after yourself, lead others, communication, presenting thoughts, innovation, creativity, agility and entrepreneurship are attributes that we need to cultivate in our young generations.”
Cicin agreed, saying Indonesia needed to improve the education system from early childhood and above with an “emphasis on helping to build well-structured minds, and young people who were able to speak their mind and explain their thoughts and opinions clearly and constructively.”