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UK told to “prep” East Asia students for skills gaps

Higher education institutions in the UK hosting students from China, Malaysia and East Asian countries should be helping them prepare for industry skills gaps back home, a new report has suggested.

Manufacturing is a seen as a high-demand skills in many parts of East Asia. Photo: Pexels

77% of China’s jobs at this time are at risk of falling victim to automation “one day”

The British Council’s Preparing students for the jobs of the future in East Asia report examines how the region’s industry skills gaps are developing, and how UK universities can help “guide” their students to subjects where their home countries will eventually need their expertise.

“China reportedly lacks nearly 30 million skilled workers, even as higher education enrolments and youth unemployment levels are at all time highs,” the report says.

“Workers of the future need to possess three types of skills to thrive in the modern workplace: Core skills, soft skills, and digital skills,” it continues.

“China reportedly lacks nearly 30 million skilled workers”

One key recommendations lies in developing East Asian students’ lifelong learning and soft skills – in the hopes that this adaptability will serve them better getting jobs in the future.

The other driver behind a shift in employment areas comes from an inevitability of AI. The report noted that 77% of China’s jobs at this time are at risk of falling victim to automation “one day”. Demand for employees with AI skills outstrips supply by a ratio of 10:1, it adds.

“Automation is most likely to displace workers with skills that can be done by a machine, but there will always be a need for higher-order thinking skills, managerial skills, and of course technology-related skills to operate the machines of the future,” Jazreel Goh, director Malaysia at the British Council, told The PIE News.

“One way to mitigate the problem is to ensure that students have transferable skills that will set them up for wherever the future will take them, including jobs that might not exist at all at present,” she continued, referring to the report’s recommendation to teach students more soft skills.

More immediately, China’s “more persistent” skills gaps lie in industries where “time taken to build expertise in the given role” – high-tech manufacturing in robotics and electric vehicles, banking workers specialising in digital solutions, even 3D design.

Healthcare is beginning to be needed more and more due to a rapidly “ageing population” in China.

Digitalisation is a prominent need in the Malaysian jobs market, where the need for workers with skills even just in Microsoft Office in IT jobs is rising fast – and more digital-facing jobs in healthcare including ​​radiographers, lab technicians and R&D scientists are needing more people.

Other East Asian countries see most of their skills gaps in the service industries – banking officers, healthcare assistants, desktop support engineers and and store management and finance roles need filling.

In terms of healthcare, it has been notable that East Asians come to the UK to work – the Philippines is the third largest nationality in the NHS – but when it comes to education, more do tend to return to their home countries to begin working in that sector, or return home after a short stay.

“Whilst there has been positive take up of the new Graduate Route that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will all stay in the UK long-term – working in the UK for a couple of years before returning to their home country is probably even better from a development perspective, because the graduates gain valuable experience that can help their home countries,” Goh noted.

So what can UK universities actually do as far as guiding students to certain degrees?

“The UK higher education sector has always been extremely strong in industry engagement and are leaders in institution-industry collaborations. This is the first step in identifying the skills and roles that employers demand in entry-level hires.

“Institutions need to both communicate more frequently with industry”

“Institutions need to both communicate more frequently with industry, but also more broadly, so as to reach different types of industries and employers in different geographic locations,” Goh explained.

She warned it isn’t only a task for career offices – academics, and even marketing and recruitment staff need to view the industry as “key stakeholder in their global engagement strategy”.

“By doing so, universities will avoid becoming too focused on the needs of only one type of employer or industry.”

Further down the line, Goh said that the skills gap could rue positive changes in how workers are selected and recruited in their home countries.

“Where a skills gap exists in other countries, we would expect wages to rise, and career prospects to improve, for graduates with relevant skills from those countries.

“That market force is often the major factor to compel many graduates to return home,” Goh concluded.

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