Support for and training the workforce, on the face of it, should not be much of a problem: One of the rare countries run by a workers' party, Vietnam has labor protections from paternity leave to pensions for freelancers. But can an authoritarian state that brooks no criticism also foster the problem-solving and critical thinking that high-skilled work demands?
That is hard to do in a society that discourages people from questioning authorities, from teachers to officials, said Ha Dang, founder of fair-labor consultancy Respect Vietnam. She added there is a dearth of substantive training to benefit workers long-term.
"Many companies like employees who do what they're told, they like discipline," she said in an interview.
But the perennial complaint among bosses is their struggle to hire creative and self-directed staff. Managers, professionals and technicians comprise 10.7% of Vietnam's workforce, the lowest in Southeast Asia's six big economies, according to the International Labor Organization.
The next gripe from investors is logistics costs eating up margins, equivalent to 20% of gross domestic product, compared with an average 12.9% in Asia and 10.8% globally, according to a 2021 report from business research firm Vietnam Industry Research and Consultancy.
Land transport claims most of the cost, though highways are less than 5% of roads, the report said. Congestion and disrepair are rife, as Vietnam struggles with major projects: a north-south expressway; a second airport for Ho Chi Minh City; and the country's biggest port, planned for the city.