The World: Insider's view - Vietnam

Vietnam is growing rapidly but, unlike China, it does not have the same pool of human resources on which to draw, Alex Clegg writes.

Vietnam is the second fastest-growing economy in the world after China, even though its population is far smaller, at just over 80 million.

In October this year, Vietnam is likely to be made a member of the World Trade Organisation and there is widespread talk of a "new wave" of foreign direct investment into the country. Chambers of commerce, journalists and politicians talk a great deal about the pressure this growth is going to place on Vietnam's fragile and under-developed infrastructure. However, the biggest issue for many in the marketing world is not transportation and power supply, but human resources.

Who is going to make all this growth continue to happen? The Vietnamese are young and dynamic; 60 per cent of the population is under 30 and they have never had it so good. The mood and energy the past ten years of rapid economic growth has created pervades most walks of life.

But the supply of qualified talent is not keeping up, probably nowhere more so than in the field of marketing and communications.

To address this issue, Vietnam is again following in China's footsteps. However, while China was able to turn to its countrymen and women in Hong Kong, as well as members of its huge diaspora, for advice on how to build a market economy and compete internationally, Vietnam has a much smaller overseas talent pool from which to draw.

The overseas Vietnamese, Viet-kieu as they are known, are almost exclusively those who left Vietnam by boat during and after the Vietnam War. Some left when they were very young and have few memories of their home country. But they represent a valuable resource that combines cultural awareness, good education and a lifetime's experience of a more developed market. In 1986, 8,000 Vietkieu visited Vietnam. In 2004, 430,000 came, and Vietkieu now remit around $3 billion to relatives in Vietnam each year.

However, the situation is more complicated than it seems. Many parts of the overseas Vietnamese community are still vehemently opposed to Communist rule. Relations between Vietkieu employees and local Vietnamese can also become strained, with both sides dismissing one another as "not understanding". Being a returnee is not always easy and many Vietkieu describe finding themselves in a confused state where they neither feel neither Vietnamese nor American.

Unlike China, Vietnam is not brimming with foreign students feverishly studying Vietnamese and eager to make it in the new land of opportunity. As the market develops and globalisation drives its roots deeper into the soil of their parents' homeland, Vietkieu will increasingly find they fly back to their homeland business class.

- Alex Clegg is the planning director at Ogilvy Vietnam.


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