“IT sector allows employees to earn a globally competitive salary in Mongolia”
- Lowering the opportunity gap -
With the rise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, fast paced dissemination of information, and extraordinary advances in communications, internet, and technology, possessing coding and programming skills have become just as vital as learning English to become a valued workforce in the modern age.
Countries around the world have already started giving weight to their university programs to prepare their workforce who will work in the information technology field that will design and control robots, and have added more hours to their coding and programming courses. Furthermore, coding classes have been incorporated into high school programs. In other words, there will only be two options available to us in the future - to control computers, or, be controlled by them. And as such, countries have been wrapping their heads around on how to prepare their students and young people for this day and age.
However, in our case, it can be assumed the trend is going in the opposite direction.
In the 2017-2018 academic year, 3,606 out of the 155,248 students enrolled in colleges and universities were studying towards a degree in information and communications technology. In other words, a mere 2.3 percent of the total number of students were studying in this field, and this number is faltering.
Graph 1. Percentage of students pursuing a higher education degree in information and communications technology (last 5 years)
As shown above, the number of students in Mongolia choosing to study information and communications technology take up only a small percentage of the total number of university students, and it is showing signs of decline.
We sat down together with A.Azbayar, CEO of Specialized Career Consulting LLC - a major supplier of labor services in the Mongolian labor market, to discuss about the Mongolian labor market’s demand for IT sector employees, the correlation between education and the labor market.
This Mongolian company was established in 2010 and provides labor recruitment and outsourcing services. It has been supplying workforce to large local and foreign invested companies since its establishment, and has vast experience in supplying the workforce for Cummins Mongolia Investment LLC, Oyu Tolgoi LLC, Rio Tinto Group, and KHAN bank. As of today, the company cooperates with over 160 organizations.
stepping into the workforce straight out of secondary school...
-First of all, how many open positions do you have right now? And in what sectors are the majority of the vacancies?
-As of today, we have 120 open positions in local and foreign invested companies operating in Mongolia. Out of the job orders, 45 per cent, or nearly half of it is in the information technology and communications sector.
-You stated that job orders in the IT sector make up nearly half of the orders. How long has this scene been present in your company?
-It is my observation that regardless of the sector which a company or an organization is operating in, the move towards digitization and introduction of new technology to improve their operations and simplify services have created a strong demand in IT professionals.
From this, we can conclude that our secondary schools and universities are not preparing sufficient number of professionals in this field.
In this regard, we are working closely together with employers, schools, and universities and conducting meetings with secondary school and university students, organizing workshops to pique their interest in, and prepare them for the IT sector. Namely, we worked with our client, Huawei, and organized recruitment fairs at National University of Mongolia, Mongolian National University of Science and Technology and Khuree University.
Moreover, due to the low number of students and graduates in the IT sector, we have started approaching secondary schools. “Sant” school offers coding and programming as an elective course from its sixth grade, and the first batch of students who have completed the course are graduating this year. We took IT skills assessment tests from these students and have offered them to our clients whom have also started expressing their interest.
-Does this mean secondary school graduates can step straight into the job market without having to earn a degree as long as they have IT skills?
However, it is essential to incorporate these classes into secondary school programs and offer it continuously for at least three years so that students can learn, practice, and master these skills. The students who have participated in the tests have learnt to code on platforms such as Java, C, and Python.
This shows us that secondary school students are interested in learning IT, and that they have the ability to learn it as long as it is included in their educational program.
-The large companies you cooperate with have shown their interest in employing these students who have passed their selection criteria. Could you share with us more details on this?
-We are currently taking pre-employment tests from graduating secondary school students. Some of them have passed the tests with a high score. We’re planning to go to their graduation day with a job offer as a surprise.
-Could it be concluded that the need to attend a four-year college or university is diminishing? There would be certainly those who oppose of this.
-There is an inclination towards this for some professions. That is to say, for some professions and students. This point should be noted.
There are numerous open positions in the IT sector, with a sufficient salary and good working conditions. However, we can’t seem to find candidates who meet the criteria to offer them to companies. In short, there is a shortage of IT professionals in Mongolia. That’s why we’re leaning towards this approach. The great thing is that secondary school graduates have the same skills and abilities as college and university students graduating with a degree in IT.
With this, it should be noted that we are not opposing higher education, we are simply offering an alternative for skillful high school graduates.
"The entry-level salary for IT graduates is 2-3 times higher than other sectors"
-Could we assume that the main reason for this is that the Mongolian education system and the labor market do not correlate with each other?
- You can say that.
In addition, the labor market’s needs and demands are changing rapidly. For instance, in 2017, the economy revived and companies expanded their operations. At the time, sales and marketing related employees were in high demand.
In just two years, the scene has changed and IT professionals are in high demand at this day and age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Regretfully, a recently published survey indicates that the workforce being prepared in this field is not enough and the numbers are showing signs of decline in the future.
The efforts that some organizations and schools are starting to make to change this situation are highly appreciated. Our company is also focusing on this issue and have expanded our operations.
We are currently working towards officially registering our company in Japan. In doing so, not only will we offer our workforce to Japanese employers, but also engage IT professionals in Mongolia and outsource them. In other words, we will offer positions that will allow employees to work in an international company without having to leave the country by performing their work online.
"IT sector allows employees to live in Mongolia, work at an international company and earn a globally competitive salary"
- Are there specific cases of skillful Mongolian IT sector employees working in country without going abroad?
- There are several. In 2014, we successfully worked together with Rio Tinto group to recruit their IT team. We interviewed and sifted through 100 IT engineers and professionals, and as a result shortlisted 15 engineers for their IT team.
They have grown into a team of more than 70 members, which eventually turned into “Rio Tinto Mongolia” that supports Rio Tinto group’s information systems and technology operations. Before, they employed the services of Indian professionals but now they have engaged Mongolians.
- Compared to employees working in other sectors, the wages of those who work in the IT sector tend to be higher. Could you elaborate more on this?
- The salary offered to recent IT graduates tends to be 2-3 times higher than those offered to business or human resource graduates.
That’s why I hope that apart from their advantage over their peers in terms of salary and profession, students should give consideration to the changing world, labor market and its needs and demands when choosing to study in this field.
-The demands and needs of the Mongolian labor market have these inclinations. What about international trends?
-The same goes for international labor market needs and demands. A recent study showed that China has an annual of 4.7 million students graduating with a degree in STEM, with countries such as the US and Russia following its lead. Through these numbers, we can establish that these countries are focusing on the future of their educational sectors and labor markets.
Graph 2. The countries with the most STEM graduates /Source: World Economic Forum /
Furthermore, new jobs involving artificial intelligence and robots are being created and making their move into different sectors. So, logically speaking, it is being said around the world that eventually, there will only be IT engineering jobs left to write codes for artificial intelligence. Accordingly, I suppose that IT sector jobs will be one of the jobs that will stick around for a long time.
-I believe it can be deduced that the issues in the labor market, needs and demands all boil down to the quality of secondary education. What is your stance on this matter?
-I do not work in the educational sector, so I cannot say anything detailed on this. But, as an individual who works for both employers and employees, I do want to share my observation that there is a certain degree of inconsistency between the educational sector and the labor market.
The inadequate number of IT graduates shows that something needs to be done by the educational sector to bring about change. I think that educational professionals will be able to elaborate more on this.
"The perception of IT sector and its connection to males is changing. Half of the IT employees of Rio Tinto Mongolia are female engineers."
-We have a stereotype that the majority of people working in the IT sector are males. Could you give us a picture of the gender situation of this sector?
- Our attitude towards the perception of males working in the IT sector is changing. For example, half of the IT employees of Rio Tinto Mongolia are female engineers. A very few talented Mongolian professionals who are in charge of an organization’s IT architecture are mostly females and are working in Khan Bank. Khan Bank has given significant amount of importance to its IT division, and the changes can be seen through the services being offered to its customers. Before, the customers had to go to a branch and wait for hours to receive a service. Now, with the internet bank and ATMs, customers can receive the necessary services without all the hassle. We should keep in mind that IT engineers are behind all of this convenience.
If you look closely, there aren’t a lot of sectors left that do not use technological advances. We know very well the consequences of not exploiting these advances and how far we will lag behind others.
So, each and every sector is striving to utilize these technological advances, and the opportunity to grow at a fast pace is open to anyone who makes use of them more.
-Finally, what is your opinion on integrating coding and programming classes into secondary school educational programs?
-I hope that not only private schools, but also public schools incorporate and offer coding and programming courses as an elective.
Because in this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, coding and programming skills should be just as important as English. It should be offered as an elective course just like English and Russian languages. As such, I think young people will also become interested in this sector. And even though they may be specialized in a different sector, they will have an advantage over others.
Lastly, some parents and teachers may be confused as to stepping into the labor market straight out of secondary school. However, some students have already mastered the required skills of a profession that is in high demand, and where there is a very low supply. So in a way, we are only offering an alternative to these students.
Obviously, these graduates can work in the IT field and gain valuable experience, and then go on to pursue a degree in their desired field of study or widen their knowledge through short-term training courses.
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