JAKARTA – Huawei, the China-based tech giant, has launched a five-year $50 million budget to develop 500,000 ICT talents in the Asia Pacific region.

Experts from the region convened on Tuesday at the Digital Talent Summit 2021 webinar co-hosted by the ASEAN Foundation and Huawei to explore ways to step up developing digital talents as a huge shortage of skilled personnel continues.

International consultant Korn Ferry estimated a shortage of 47 million tech talents by 2030 in the Asia Pacific region. PwC found in a survey that more than 50 percent of Asia Pacific CEOs say it’s difficult to hire digital talent with the right skills.

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The challenges have also entered a new phase as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the digital talent landscape in Asia Pacific like never before, according to Huawei’s 2022 Digital Talent Insight.

The world is in the midst of disruptions with emerging technologies such as 5G, cloud computing, big data, AI, IoT, and blockchain poised to dramatically reshape the digital economy. 

“We have gone beyond skill development (which can be learned) to seek ‘transformation leadership’… It’s all about the mindset…of talents who think of customers first…and who can take to the challenge the status quo,” said Gokhan Ogut, CEO of Malaysia’s telcom Maxis at the webinar.

Dr Vu Minh Khuong from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, said apart from the ability to “make a breakthrough” new digital talents also need to have the skills to foster synergy, and even to transform the world with innovations.

He coined a framework for step-up talents called “Smart Model” with S standing for strategy role; M for momentum building; A for acquisition of knowledge; R for rethink; and T for trust building.

Huawei’s Digital Talent Insight concurred that governments need to lead the way and work closely with industries (demand) and academia (supply) in terms of planning and development of their local talent population.

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The study grouped countries into three digital talent development categories: Frontrunner (Singapore, South Korea, Japan), Adopter (China, Malaysia, Thailand) and Starter (Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh).

It found that the Adopter countries show a government’s initiatives and investment in digital development can differentiate the pace at which a country achieves its digitalization initiatives. However, the efforts are still insufficient as talent policies can aid younger generations but not mid-career converters, for example.

Mohamed Djelid from Unesco Asia Pacific echoed a parallel view from a recent World Economic Forum-Sea Co survey of 80,000 people showing SMEs are more enthusiastic on the tech change and keep to advance the challenge than other groups. “It’s the state of mind,” he added.

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Dr Syed Ismail Shah of ITU SE Asia said for anxious workers, the reskill of senior people is more about “mindset”. He called for more collaboration among ASEAN countries and seriousness in development digital ecosystem so that the tools can be made widely available. 

Maxis’ Ogut said that while partnerships with the academia are essential, his firm is also use M&A to acquire talents from specialist small and medium-sized startups and digital service providers.

Huawei is rolling out its new talent development program in four more countries to bring the total to eight in the Asia Pacific region, said Jay Chen, Huawei Asia Pacific’s vice president. 

Huawei signed on Wednesday the “Seeds for the Future” cooperation with the ASEAN Foundation.


Digital Talent Development Maturity Score: Asia Pacific 


  • > 40 policies, initiatives and public-private partnerships, driven by various agencies under the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Trade and Industry and more

  • Invests 8 percent of government expenditure in digital talent related initiatives – involves grants, subsidies and cash payouts for citizens of various age groups, career phases and community

South Korea 

  • Invests > $ 3 billion to support AI education in its country – directly aimed at support private enterprises in the industry such as semiconductor to upskill and be future 


  • Japan’s digital education is hardware or non-software engineering focus because of culture. They have bold plan to more than triple the bench of digital talent, focusing disproportionately on software developers, data engineers, data scientists, machine learning engineers, product managers, agile coaches, designers, and other types of new jobs 

  • However, limited actions have been seen in realizing the above. They have not shifted the education nor have flagship PPP been announced for this plan 


  • China takes a top down approach in digital talent development. PPP in the country seems to be limited to only homegrown private enterprises and limited collaboration with foreign ones. For instance, Alibaba runs the Global Digital Talent Program 

  • Furthermore, limited investment was made to help build digital talent in marginalized area of the country. Most of it is concentrated in first and second-tier cities. This report estimate that China spends 2-3 percent of its annual government expenditure on digital talent development


  • Malaysia ministries and government agencies rarely collaborate, despite driving similar initiatives. For instance, MDEC, MIDA and MyDigital all run different programs and initiatives that rarely overlap 

  • A fairly new initiative named MWIT (Malaysia Work in Tech) aims to invest RM100 million ($24.14 million) to develop digital talents, which is much lesser than neighboring countries, which are spending above $200 million


  • Thailand's digital policy is heavily focused on infrastructure building rather than talent.

  • In 2021, the government was reported to likely spend $10-13 million in digital talent building, which is very much lower than neighboring countries. 


  • Vietnam recently introduced a new digitalization strategy, as mentioned above. None of the goals in the strategy took into consideration of digital talent building.

  • Language barrier is a key reason preventing the country from becoming a top notch digital talent hub, yet no serious initiative is available to mitigate this issue.  Thus, with no initiative, limited investments are made in digital talent building by the government.  

  • However, due to cultural preference for software engineering, Vietnam digital talent cultivation is promising.


  • Ever since the appointment of Gojek’s founder as the minister of education, culture, research, and technology, the country has relied on that ministry to drive all digital initiative, talent included. Thus, limited collaboration between other ministry and agencies under them were reported. 

  • There were a lot of mention of government focus in digital talent building in 2019, but such announcement and news faltered in 2020 and 2021.

  • However, the country established PPP with Tokopedia to introduce a large scale digital talent program to upskill its citizen. In addition, Alibaba Cloud commits to invest $1 billion to support digital talent pool.

  • The government focus on tax deductions for enterprise who support digital talent building but actual fiscal investment is rarely mentioned


  •  NASSCOM – a not-for-profit organization in India has partnered with the government and IT industry to offer free/subsidized programs, viz., “National Skills Prime”, encompassing ten emerging technologies, including certifications 

  • Credit to global enterprises and NGOs, digital talent supply in India is high and will remain high if the landscape remains unchanged


  • National Level Training Program (DigiSkills.pk) launched by Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication through Ignite National Technology Fund has been providing free of cost training in freelancing and other marketable skills to youth. The program comprises of 10 courses including Freelancing, Digital Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Graphic Design, Digital Literacy, e-Commerce Management, Creative Writing, QuickBooks, AutoCAD and WordPress. i. Unknown collaboration between other agencies and ministries 

  • Punjab Skills Development Fund to join the Reskilling Revolution and partner with the World Economic Forum on a Closing the Skills Gap Country Accelerator in Pakistan, named Parwaaz. Parwaaz is a multi-stakeholder alliance representing both the public and private sector. It focuses on three areas: lifelong learning and upskilling, future-readiness and youth employability, and innovative skills funding models


  • In Oct 2021, the country launched a Digital Job Programme led by Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) o The imitative creates jobs but it is unsustainable because the citizen does not have access to programs that can train them for needed digital skills 

  • There are also limited mention of PPP to develop digital talent in the country.

  • In Aug 2021, a Philippine tech company invests PHP80 million in grants to its academic partners to fund programs focusing on emerging technologies, sustainability, and inclusion and diversity. There was no mention of government collaboration in this initiative


  • The government famously launched the Digital Bangladesh initiative a few years back in bid draw investment for digital infrastructure and to an extent digital talent. The government introduced policies and incentives such as 50 percent income tax relief for foreign talent importation, 100 percent profit repatriation and more.

  • However, that initiative was left dormant since 2019 without any replacement or active efforts. Government became solely dependent on international enterprises to invest in digital talent building