What if you could enroll in a school abroad for a semester and still be close to home? What if all you needed to do to work in a different country was to pass a few tests? What if you had the opportunity to be connected to some of the most interesting and diverse cultures in the world?
These aren’t just “what ifs” anymore. These are actually opportunities that will soon be available to students and young professionals living in Southeast Asia, thanks to the Asean integration.
A few months from now, the 10 member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will become a single bloc called the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
The AEC has four main pillars: 1) to develop a single market and production base through facilitating the free flow of goods, services, investment, capital and skilled labor; 2) to develop Southeast Asia as a competitive economic region; 3) to create equitable economic development; and 4) to fully integrate the region into the global economy.
The goal of the AEC is to create equitable economic development for its 10 member-countries and to ensure economic, social and political stability in the region.
The integration might seem to be the kind of issue that would mostly concern governments, businesses, civil society and the academe, but for Asian Institute of Management (AIM) professor Federico Macaranas, students and young professionals should also start reading up on the AEC and thinking about how the integration can affect them.
“The upcoming integration will be a challenge to students and young professionals because of the new opportunities that will be present in a visa-free region,” says Macaranas. “Students will have to equip themselves with new skills as they travel or study in other countries, like learning new languages, knowing the culture more deeply, and being aware of other cultures and histories.”
“They have to enhance their skills to compete among the best in the Asean region. Students and young professionals also need to be aware of new Asean laws to be able to work in other countries,” he adds.
For Philippine schools to be able to compete with their neighbors, Macaranas says that they will need to develop a more global outlook.
“To be competitive, the Filipino youth must be equipped with world-class education, one that is on par with the best educational system in the region,” says Macaranas. “The curriculum, calendar year and credit transfer system for the courses offered by academic institutions must be in line with others in the region. In addition, Philippine colleges and universities should bring in more top professors and researchers for various disciplines.”
Macaranas also advises young professionals to take the time to hone skills key to their profession: “In the tourism sector, for instance, professionals can focus on developing their communication skills, which can be applied in a hotel’s front office or in travel guides for tour operations services.”
He adds: “Another key skill would be learning about the global competency standards for food and beverage production and services, and getting certified for food service management.”
He noted that today’s students and young professionals should also take the opportunity to learn more about agreements within the Asean, such as the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA), which allow for the free movement of professionals within the region.
Currently, there are mutual recognition agreements for medical practitioners and nurses, dental practitioners, surveyors, engineers and architects.
As an example, engineers will only need to prepare a set of documents, such as a copy of their diploma, a certified true copy of their transcript of records, a letter of intent, a certificate of registration and an ID from the Professional Regulation Commission, among other documents, to jump-start the process of working for another Asean country.
The MRA allows for engineers to work with professional engineers in another Asean country, which ensures that they can pick up best practices to bring back to the Philippines.
For Macaranas, another opportunity for students and young professionals lies in pursuing careers in life sciences, engineering and advanced technologies. Some Southeast Asian countries can benefit from a young professional’s knowledge and experience in these areas.
“Singapore and Thailand may be looking for skilled workers who can fill in the gaps in these areas,” he says. “Today’s high school or college student may want to look into the job prospects in these growth sectors for the next few years.”
Need for managers
Macaranas points out that a business school in Switzerland, the Institute for Management Development, has noted in its yearly competitiveness surveys that the need for managers continues to emerge, particularly in agriculture, industry and services.
It’s not just students and professionals who stand to gain from the integration. Young entrepreneurs can also find new business partners or even discover new sources of raw materials.
“One of the things we’re seeing now is young entrepreneurs using social media to start their businesses and take advantage of the growth in the country,” says Macaranas. “With the advent of social media, small to medium enterprises are using the Internet to advertise, to sell or to locate sources of cheaper raw materials for price comparisons. It is also a source of potential partners for investments.”
He adds: “These social media sites will make it easier for entrepreneurs to locate prospective businesses and research their capabilities before going to the member Asean country.”
The Asean integration provides students, young professionals and entrepreneurs with a lot of options, from a semester abroad to an internship in another fast-growing country or new partners for a venture.
A potential round of brain drain might make some people cautious. “Brain drain will always be there as a result of better opportunities in terms of jobs and income,” says Macaranas. “To reduce it, the government must see to it that the same opportunities also exist here. Moreover, the safety and welfare of our workers going abroad as a result of integration must also be emphasized, including monitoring host government laws on migration, labor standards and protection of their rights, among other areas.”
With the Asean integration, I think that our generation will be opening new doors by collaborating with students and professionals from other countries and finding opportunities for growth and development. The integration presents us with ways to learn from other cultures, get experience abroad and connect with other high-growth countries, without having to travel for over half a day.
More than anything, it is an opportunity for us to connect with our Asean roots, to discover the ties that bind us to our neighbors and to let Filipino talent shine.