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by Jennie S. Bev, Santa Clara, Northern California

While many populations in the world are aging, Indonesia’s population is exploding. In terms of consumption, it means Indonesia is still a very attractive market. However, such a condition is accompanied by classic problems derived from overcrowding including, but not limited to, a high crime rate, unemployment, diminishing living space, mounting trash, water scarcity and risks of flooding. 

In terms of the oversupply of manpower, Indonesia enjoys a high number of blue-collar workers. With the right mind-set, attitude, skills, and knowledge base, Indonesia’s population explosion can be turned into a winning formula. 

According to a UN report titled World Population Ageing 1950-2050, there are four main characteristics of this aging world population: unprecedented, pervasive, enduring and has profound implications. In this century, aging in the world’s population is unprecedented, due to significantly lower birth and mortality rates. This is the case not only in developed Western countries, such as those in Europe, Canada and the United States, but also in Asian countries like Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and Singapore. 

Indonesia, however, is an exception. According to 2012 data, there are 17.7 births annually per 1,000 people. Every year, approximately 3.5 million to 4.5 million births occur, which is almost the entire population of Singapore. In Singapore, approximately only 7.72 births occur annually per 1,000 people, while in Korea and Japan, the ratio is 8.4:1,000 and in Taiwan, is 8.7:1,000 

The Philippines also enjoys a high annual birth rate of approximately 25 births per 1,000 people, while India has an annual average of 20.6 births per 1,000 people. 

These two countries now supply the world with unskilled and highly skilled workers as well as white-collar information technology (IT) workers and executives. Unfortunately, Indonesian migrant workers are notorious for their lack of skills, which could have been resolved with simple trainings and updated public education programs. 

The world has changed: It is highly interconnected and globalized. Thus, people, their skills and knowledge must adapt as well.

Today, people rarely sweep floors with traditional floor sweepers; instead, they use high-tech vacuum cleaners, such as those produced by Dyson. Society is also more conscious about safety and security issues; thus, migrant workers must upgrade their life skills. 

Nannies are no longer merely companions for children; they are also expected to possess basic medical skills in the event of an emergency, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Most migrant workers from Indonesia, however, lack these basic skills. 

In terms of highly skilled and highly trained workers, India and the Philippines score far higher than Indonesia. These two countries’ workers have been enjoying offshore outsourcing trends with jobs imported from high-wage countries like the US and those in the European Union (EU). 

India is renowned for hard-skilled workers in IT, accounting, taxation and medical technology. The Philippines is renowned for soft-skilled workers in areas such as customer service, research, writing, editing and call centers.

Both Indian and Philippine workers are by default capable of speaking fluent English, albeit with their regional accents. While Indians tend to be more British-inclined, Filipinos are more Americanized due to being a former US colony. Both countries have absorbed the English language, making it part of their lives, despite social and economic statuses. 

Thus, they are ready to be trained in English and they can perform tasks in this language naturally.

Indonesia, on the other hand, has not made English a significant part of daily conservation, other than in urban areas and among the highly educated. English is still considered a language only used by those with a higher social status. 

It is time to get rid of the notion that English is an “elite” language. No, it isn’t. It is a means of communication. And if you speak and write English well, you will definitely have better opportunities than those people who don’t.

With the right mind-set, attitude, skills, and knowledge, Indonesian workers have an unprecedented opportunity to break into the world labor market, especially in countries whose populations are aging. 

What is the “right” mind-set? The ability to speak, think and perform jobs in English, as it is the most widely used language in the world, and it the language of the Internet. We can no longer separate the face-to-face world with the online world; it is one and the same.

What is the “right” attitude? The right attitude is projected when someone shows confidence in working in other cultures. 

In short, cultural capital is often-overlooked capital that matters most in winning in the 21st century.

What are the “right” skills? Skills that were worthy in the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, may no longer be useful in the 21st century. IT, biotechnology, medicine, and other hard skills are more economically useful than skills in the liberal arts or knowledge. 

Science makes people’s lives better, healthier and longer. In contrast, although the arts do, of course, bring happiness and joy to many people, they cannot prolong lives with direct intervention as medical science does. 

What is the “right” knowledge base? Knowledge that is essential for living successfully anywhere in the world, including fluency in foreign languages, financial literacy, technological literacy and an awareness to continuously upgrade one’s existing knowledge.

The Indonesian government must rise to the occasion by sincerely assisting Indonesians of all social and economic classes to grow globally with the appropriate mind-set, attitude, skills and knowledge base. Let’s start with good governance with transparency and willingness in creating a safe environment for progress.[]

The Jakarta Post, April 25, 2013

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