Talent, Training and AI: How Asia is (Again) Emerging as the World’s Laboratory


There are three key variables that businesses, investors and educators must understand with respect to Asia’s future rise and its impact on the world’s industries and workers.

One, the trajectory of Asia’s educational achievement from K12 through post-graduate education, including English language, STEM and other skills capabilities.  As I have noted previously in this blog, Asia’s education markets dwarf American levels by a magnitude of 10 times the number of K-12 enrollments at over 600 million. According to an OECD report, of the 204 million 25-34 year olds with a tertiary education in the world by 2020, Asia will account for well over 55% of them, with China and India accounting for 29% and 12% of degree holders, respectively (notably, the US is predicted to lag behind India at 11%). This so-called human capital quotient of growth is already altering the balance of economic power within Asia, and outside of it, spurring innovation, new investment opportunities but also direct competition with the West for white collar jobs in the service sector.

Two, the ability of countries in Asia to harness their massive (and increasingly educated) labor pools towards more productive ends.  This is double-edged: while the opportunity to raise the quality and speed of growth is always present, achieving this will be a race against time in places such as the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and the Philippines where youth populations and expectations are skyrocketing.  A study at Stanford yielded the labor market projections to 2050 in Asia that is illustrated in Figure 1, with India expected to have 318 million additional workers, Pakistan 115 million and to lesser extent Indonesia adding 28 million — all of which, it should noted, lag far behind the OECD and other Asian peers in both high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

 

Working Age Population, 2010-2050 by Country (in millions)

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Three, the impact of AI and robots on workers is not confined to more developed economies, such as the US and EU; it will cut through Asian markets just a quickly. Unfortunately for many countries, automation of routine tasks in manufacturing and services will take place at a time as vast population centers in Asia–rural, urban, developed and backward–have yet to reach middle-income economic status.  China’s commitment to leading the world in AI research is one of the best examples of how this technology is already creating entire new industries for workers but also is set to displace jobs in rapid succession. As Kai-fu Lee notes in his excellent primer on AI in China( see AI Superpowers” China, Silicon Valley ans the New World Order), the country’s built-in advantages of world-leading app usage, mass data collection, hungry entrepreneurs and government funding and support for AI start-ups is rapidly changing manufacturing and service industries.

In Asia, all three of these forces are now interacting and colliding in real-time and on a massive scale.  They will deeply impact local production, consumer demand, employment, affordability, capital markets, safety nets, and social stability, to name a only a few items on the menu.  Markets and investment are already responding and moving rapidly into employment technologies.  To make sense of this groundbreaking change, I’ll be posting a continuing series of research here that analyzes these trends as well as assesses the potential impact on US businesses, universities and investment priorities.

But let’s first set the stage.

Back in 2015 I wrote an article titled “How Asia is Emerging as the World’s Edtech Laboratory,” the gist being that Asia’s education markets, e-learning and technology application, labor market challenges, R&D spend, and low-cost mass market use cases was going to propel growth in edtech far beyond the US. What followed was adoption and innovation on a mass scale, continuing through the present day.  Trust me, you can travel to practically every major Asian city and now find edtech communities, start-up weekends, government sponsored initiatives, and investment conferences on demand.

But as this was progressing I also began to see a similar thing happening in the so-called Employment Tech and Talent Tech sectors.  The key question was this: now that Asian populations were enjoying higher educational achievement, what is being done in the private and public sectors to more efficiently match Asia’s massive populations with work based on their skills, location, innate talent, and interest?

Asia-Based Start-Ups in Talent and Employment Technologies

We can understand the answer to this question by following the money, particularly at the start-up and early stage segments of the marketplace.  Private sector actors have been the main drivers for Edtech; they undoubtedly will be for employment technologies and innovations as well.

What are the emerging themes?

  • Investment is pouring into AI and job matching algorithms to (a) eliminate the middleman in recruitment; (b) increase speed to market for job-seekers; and (c) lower the cost and friction.
  • Social networks and recruitment tools are being used to help optimize referrals and contacts, and smooth the process (and frustration) of applying for work.
  • Assessment platforms are used increasingly to validate skills and talent en masse, from online auditions for films to cognitive and non-cognitive measures, allowing employers to weed out the lies on resumes, and candidates to discover the type of strengths and credentials they can apply to specific jobs.
  • Finally, specialized communities are being formed based on vertical classes of job seekers and industries, including areas such as international students returning home, construction and blue collar workers seeking work online, and specific areas from IT and LGBT professionals.

The following early-stage investments are an illustration of where investment priorities–and society’s needs–are focused.  They provide both clues to the future as well as specific relevance to certain countries based on three areas:  AI and Job Matching Platforms, Assessment and Validation, and Communities and Networks.

AI and Job Matching Platforms

  • Scouty is a AI crawler on social media that predicts when engineers might change jobs and can be poached by recruiters and attempts to address Japan’s static labor market.
  • Mitsucari analyzes corporate culture fit for candidates and provides assurances on this to Japanese employers.
  • Spottle.ai targets the Gen Z, mobile workforce in India, by helping talent find the right fit jobs in real-time.
  • Snaphunt predicts matches based on skills and culture fit in Singapore.
  • Moseeker is a social network base recruitment tool in China designed for talent acquisition teams, while Zhanjob provides an AI + SaaS smart recruitment suite for employers. Mesoor is another domestic AI recruitment platform in China, one of many.
  • AI recruitment platforms in other Asian countries include employer match platform Kalibrr (Philippines), iRecruit (Australia), and Ekrut (Indonesia), who variously match candidate backgrounds (skills, personality, interest, geography) with available jobs.

Assessment and Validation

  • Based in India but serving international markets, Mettl (recently acquired by Mercer Consulting) is a leading work-based assessment platform, from psychometric to cognitive skills tests matched to industry profiles.
  • FirstCut and TalentNext facilitate online talent auditions in India and Bollywood, it entertainment industry.
  • Shortlist is also based in India and provides predictive chat-based interviews and competency based assessment for employers. Aaasanjobs offers a large verification database for potential employers to peruse.
  • Beisen in China is a cloud-based talent management group offering measurement solutions.
  • Helpster, in Singapore, connects pre-screened seekers with jobs in real-time, while Robin verifies CV data and checks references across Southeast Asia.
  • Yizijob is a video recruiting platform in China.

Communities and Networks

  • Eureca is a Singapore-based marketplace that “auctions” talent to work in tech start-ups.
  • CTurtle, based in Vietnam, has created a job matching network and training platform for returning international students from Australia, the UK and US, and alumni in later stages of their careers.
  • MintMesh, with offices in the US, India and Australia, uses AI and bots to optimize referral networks.
  • VentureSky is a talent challenge platform that allows skills to be demonstrated and noticed by employers ad provides education and start-up platforms for college students and graduates.
  • GetLinks is a mobile app for job seekers and employers in Asia’s IT and digital economy (with recent investment from SEEK and Alibaba)
  • A few other representative job platforms include Career Frog (Chinese students), Josudo (Asia wide e-sports players matched with professional coaches), Sheroes (women in India),  Liepin (Chinese interns), and JobRainbow (LGBT in Japan)
  • TigerJob (self-employed) and Suzhi (mid to low-level employee jobs boards), both based in China, focus on lower-level, gig economy and entrepreneurial job seekers. While Zike segments the high-end professional market.

These are but a few examples.

Next Up?  Global Education-to-Employment Platforms

Looking ahead, with global workforce mobility increasing and skills differences narrowing, we can expect to see a surge of investment and partnerships in cross-border AI, assessment and matching platforms that attempt to match labor with work on a global scale.  This will impact not only multinationals, which already have global recruiting needs, but start-ups and SMEs everywhere that will increasingly leverage a globally vetted labor pool, on demand.  Universities in search of better career solutions for their graduates will also play a role.  Within Asia, the regional integration of its economies and, to some extent, labor markets will be (again) the world’s laboratory.

Finally, improved education and training options will no doubt be integrated onto these platforms–in a sense, a marriage of Edtech with Employment Tech, providing end-to-end solutions for those of working age facing an exciting–but disruptive–future of work.