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The role of mentorship in tackling structural unemployment

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Structural unemployment happens when there’s a mismatch between the talent available and the talent companies need to grow. As global economies continue to embrace new technologies to improve efficiency and stay competitive, companies and workers in Southeast Asia need to evolve accordingly to keep up.

Lately, economists have noted that as the pandemic eases and the economy slowly recovers, signs of structural employment are emerging as the economy struggles to grow at a rate that can comfortably accommodate the rate of growth of its workforce.

Across the region, we’ve seen how the tech industry has been relatively resilient throughout the pandemic, with some companies even thriving during this time. It’s a no brainer then that a focus on the region’s tech industry is likely to be key to the economy’s recovery and our long-term goal of moving more citizens into middle- to high-income households.

That said, countries like Malaysia were already suffering a talent shortage in the digital space, long before the pandemic hit. According to Dr Ram Gopal, Director of Strategy and Innovation at AirAsia’s tech training centre, Redbeat Academy, Malaysia currently employs 1.5 million foreign tech workers out of an employable market of 15 million people. This means that 10% of our current labour force is imported, and they work in tech.

Despite a growing number of unemployed fresh graduates and local talent, why is there such a huge reliance on a foreign workforce in tech?

Structural unemployment is a regional issue

In Indonesia, the story is much the same.

Back in 2016, Go-jek’s founder and CEO, Nadiem Makarim, spoke about the huge shortage of programmers in Indonesia and how it would limit companies like his to scale and grow quickly. It was also reported that the country would face a total skill shortage of 9 million tech workers between 2015 and 2030, forcing companies like Go-jek to acquire software companies in India. Traveloka, Indonesia’s fastest-growing travel tech company opened up offices in Bangalore to support its R&D efforts.

In 2020, the Indonesian government passed the controversial Job Creation Law to make it easier for startups to plug their talent gaps by hiring foreign workers.

Across the pond, 41% of FinTech companies in the Philippines reported having difficulties hiring for software development roles. Another 18% of companies reported having difficulties filling their product management roles.

What’s causing the talent gap?

The lack of supply for tech talent in Southeast Asia is a serious cause for concern. In Indonesia for example, the country only produces 278 software engineers per million people per year, which means companies are forced to recruit from abroad to fill up their teams.

In Malaysia, It is also common to hear that graduates do not possess the right combination of hard and soft skills to get them through interviews, even for entry-level positions. The Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Center (MAGIC) interviewed tech recruiters and found that only 1 out of 10 fresh graduates possess the relevant skills for the workplace.

What happened to the other graduates?

More often than not, companies say tech graduates lack industry-relevant knowledge as universities are unable to adapt their curriculum to keep up with the technology used in the industry. As a result, companies are also forced to spend resources upskilling or retraining new hires.

As the need for digital talent continues to grow, the shortage worsens and companies with great ideas struggle to find the talent and skills to execute their ideas.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Bridging the talent gap with mentorship

For graduates and individuals in between jobs, both opportunities and threats lie ahead. Fail to adapt and upskill, and you risk the chance of getting left behind as the economy transitions into IR 4.0. Successfully adapt and the opportunities to learn, grow, and innovate are abundant.

Here’s where mentors can step in to help mentees navigate the digital landscape.

Typically, mentors are individuals who have more experience in an industry or at a company, and can provide advice and guidance to less experienced individuals, accelerating the growth and development of their mentees.

1. Matching matters

It all starts with getting the right match.

According to Gallup, a successful mentoring relationship greatly depends on matching the right mentor to the right mentee. They need to have similar beliefs and attitudes, while mentors also need to come from relevant industries that mentees are interested in.

Given the growing focus on tech, FutureLab is also focused on recruiting mentors from IR 4.0 sectors to ensure that mentees get access to relevant advice and guidance.

2. Goal-driven mentorship

For mentoring to succeed, mentees need to have clear goals in place. Mentors, on the other hand, can help refine those goals and help their mentees make a plan to achieve their goals.

This includes upskilling, refreshing their CVs, and staying up to date with industry-relevant knowledge.

3. Taking action

While mentors can help to spot skill gaps and offer “insider advice”, it is up to mentees to do the hard work. Both mentors and mentees need to be committed to their goals to get the most out of the mentorship.


Despite the talent gap in the region, countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have been fortunate enough to attract and retain talent to drive the first wave of tech development. For these economies to continue on this trajectory, companies and professionals need to play their part to nurture the next generation of talent, drive development, and bring new ideas to life.

FutureLab offers mentoring solutions to companies and HR teams across Southeast Asia. Schedule a call with us to find out how we use technology to set up and supercharge your mentoring programmes.

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