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Laos Needs 70,000 More Skilled Foreign Workers

Laos needs to bring in 70,000 more foreign workers as the country grapples with a shortage of skilled labor in its emerging economy, according to Labor Minister Onechanh Thammavong. And it also needs to train its domestic workforce. 

Want a big leap up the career ladder? Consider Laos: The emerging Southeast Asian nation needs 70,000 more skilled foreign workers to keep pace with future economic growth and its domestic workforce is not properly trained.

The country currently has 20,000 foreign workers, but the number needs to be more than tripled in the near future, said Onechanh Thammavong, the labor minister, to meet the 90,000-head count needed by Laotian businesses to operate, reported Radio Free Asia, a regional news outlet, on Monday.

Laos, currently the third-poorest country in the region after Myanmar and Cambodia, has welcomed a flood of investments from neighboring China, Thailand and Vietnam in recent years, which has helped boost its economic growth to 8 percent per year.

But some say that the flurry of investments has not created as many jobs for Laotians as they should have. Many foreign companies bring thousands of workers from their home countries to build development projects such as hydropower dams and mines, Radio Free Asia reported.

Even though Laotian labor laws permit any company operating in the country to have unskilled foreign laborers comprise as much as 10 percent of its staff and foreign technical specialists comprise another 20 percent of its staff, companies can receive permission to hire more foreigners. Some, reportedly, bring in foreign workers illegally.

Foreign investors often bring workers because Laotian locals they hire can be undisciplined or unreliable. Many fail to show for work when rice-planting season begins, tending instead to their own fields.

Others believe poor government training programs are to blame. The local business community and the International Labor Organization, a U.N. watchdog, have similarly warned that a shortage in skilled labor could hold the nation back in emerging sectors.

Training will become especially important if Laos wishes to keep up with its neighbors when Southeast Asia integrates into a single market in 2015, under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community. Aside from Laos, the association comprises of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

In an effort to boost labor force skills, the Laotian government introduced a certification system for national technical vocation education and training in January, but critics say the program failed to be wide-ranging enough and to target the right fields, producing too few in the needed sectors. Low-paying jobs in rubber plantation projects and construction have difficulty sourcing workers, while business administration, banking and finance have a surplus of local skilled labor, Radio Free Asia reported.