As the ASEAN region prepares for this year’s integration, which is poised to solidify its position as the seventh largest economic superpower in the world, countries are sizing up the market that is about to dwarf even the European Union and North America.

With the third youngest number of professionals in the world (just behind China and India), Southeast Asia’s highly capable workforce is in the running to overtake the aging populations of Japan and South Korea, currently among Asia’s top manufacturers. As 2012 Bloomberg report highlighted, the literacy rate in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia is above 92 per cent (versus India’s 63 per cent), and the labour force from the three SEA countries is expected to grow by double-digits through 2020.

There is a good reason to be optimistic. And here’s why.

More Southeast Asia’s young professionals are working online
At, we’ve noted a phenomenal influx of Southeast Asian professionals over the past year: close to 500,000 new digital workers have registered on our platform during the last twelve months. That number though is still way behind India, where 760,000 new users signed up in 2014, but the fact that these freelancers have earned close to US$5 million convinces us that online work is becoming a norm in Southeast Asia, where we now have 1.6 million workers.

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There are other interesting developments in the region as well: while Jakarta is still’s top Southeast Asian city by number of users, its 25 per cent increase in 2014 pales in comparison to Ho Chi Minh, which has risen by 92.4 per cent. Two other cities in Vietnam — Da Nang and Hanoi — trail that fast growth closely behind, with their numbers increasing by 79.5 per cent and 72.1 per cent.

How can ASEAN professionals stay competitive regionally and globally?
With an ever-increasing number of employers hiring online, we at have a good bird’s-eye view on how ASEAN professionals can stay competitive in a globalised market.

Around the world, employers are seeing the potential of online work beyond the run-of-the-mill data entry jobs: our recently-released 2014 global jobs report shows that’s workers (74 per cent of which are Millennials) are being hired for work that require highly technical skills. Engineering-related projects have shot up, with civil engineering and building architecture projects rising by 136 per cent and 89 per cent last year respectively, versus in 2013.

On the other end of the spectrum, creative design has increased by 254 per cent, with creative writing and photography increasing by 157 per cent and 135 per cent in 2014. Marketers are definitely also taking advantage of the activity of young professionals on social media, which was evident in the rise of Pinterest jobs (394 per cent).

In Southeast Asia, Golang programming jobs top the list of work being outsourced to freelancers on, followed by PHP, graphic design, and HTML. On the other hand, the top job being offered by employers from the region are related to PHP, with graphic and web design and HTML close behind.

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That should be an indication to further encourage STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education in Southeast Asia, which should go alongside the improvement of the region’s liberal arts programmes. Already, East and Southeast Asia are catching up with the US, with their economies seeing “an increase in their combined share from 25 per cent to 34 per cent of the global total”. To keep the momentum of growth, it is imperative to enhance interdisciplinary skills, standardise professional qualifications, and improve infrastructures that will facilitate seamless sharing of knowledge within the ASEAN region.

The ASEAN economic community’s battle cry should be the push our leaders need to ensure that our Millennial talent is fully equipped to accommodate employment both from within and outside of the region.

The views expressed are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them.

e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested to share your point of view, please send us an email to writers[at]e27[dot]co

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