Population Drop

Native populations continue to get smaller in many countries across Asia. If you’re in one of those countries, you’re likely seeing the immediate impact, and even if you’re not, there are some indirect effects hitting you. Don’t plan on the situation improving any time soon…if ever.

Japan is the country most often discussed in this regard, with a lot of concern about having an increasingly shrinking workforce supporting an supporting an increasingly growing elderly population. But it’s not just Japan; other highly developed economies, such as Singapore and Korea, have been experiencing falling birthrates for a few decades, and the impact is being felt. Other countries, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, have seen less of a decline, but still have been seeing birth rates below replacement levels, and their labor markets are getting tighter as a result.

Not every country is experiencing this; the Philippines, for instance, came into 2019 with a birthrate of 2.87 children per couple, still above the typical “replacement rate” of 2.1 children per couple. Does that mean the Philippines is safe from the talent challenges other countries are facing? Not really, because when other nearby nations fall short, they will try to recruit from other places, which may be one reason that, as of 2017. 2.3 million Philippine citizens were working overseas, about 85% of them in Asia.

If you are facing talent shortages, there’s a chance your government may be doing something about it, but ultimately there may not be much they can do. As countries develop, there are a number of reasons why they start to have fewer children (in part, it’s because childhood mortality goes down, so parents are less worried about making sure there are enough kids to take care of them in their old age). The authors of Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, suggest that lower birth rates have been the norm in developed regions, and even places like sub-Saharan Africa will shift to smaller populations. The post-World War II baby boom, they argue, was an exception, and we should not expect birth rates to pick up again.

Whether your government is addressing the issue or not, you can certainly try. Consider how you might expand your available workforce, or make better use of the people you have. For example:

Try to bring more people into the talent pool If your industry is dominated by one gender or the other — think women in retail, and men in construction — look for ways to recruit the other gender and encourage them to come on board. Tech companies in many Western countries have been doing this for years by trying to encourage female students to pursue STEM careers, which have historically been male-dominated.

Look for foreign talent Some governments are making this harder, some easier. Japan is opening up employment visas, while Singapore has slowed them down in the past few years. If your country makes it easy to hire foreigners, then go for it. If not, consider hiring remote employees who can work from their home country. If you don’t have the talent at home, go find it.

Automate In many places, automation is criticized for putting people out of work, but if you don’t have enough people to do the work, then automation may save you. Often thought of in terms of manufacturing, you should also consider how you can automate repetitive administrative tasks, even with such simple things as a bot on your social media pages, or internally to provide answers to the most commonly asked HR questions.

Reorganize, train, and lead If you cannot have more people, then you need to get more out of the people that you have. Look at the technical and “soft skill” training that will help your people perform faster and better, and remember that the most effective development may be found in building your leaders’ skills.

There’s not much you can do about population declines affecting the workforce. About the only direct solution available — making more babies — would require the efforts of a lot of people, and you wouldn’t see the impact for about 20 years. You need solutions now, so look for ways to either expand the availability of the people who are out there, or to do more with less.