Lean into Learning: China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and The Philippines

March 11, 2021 | Activate Learning, New Workplace Leadership | 7 min read

There's no question that the global pandemic has changed our world. It's also changed the way we do business. The massive shift to remote work may have felt unnatural at first, but now we're seeing the positive effects of the pivot: acceleration of brilliant technologies, better work-life balance, and new opportunities for leadership and employee advancement. We are shaping the future through digital transformation.

Our team at Skillsoft recently released our Lean into Learning report, and it revealed some great information about what occurred globally before, during, and after 2020. As I work and partner with many organizations in Asia and the Pacific, I thought it would be interesting to take a more focused view and share some insights for the region in a series of short blog posts.

In part one, I focused on Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand. Now, I'll touch on China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and The Philippines.

APAC Learning: An Overview

Prior to 2020, a learning disruption was already occurring across the APAC region, based on digital transformation and consumer demands. But unique cultural influences accepted norms, and government regulations can sometimes hamper the flexibility and resilience needed to restructure operations in a time of global crisis. For instance, the Mercer Global Pandemic Study found that 59% of APAC organizations still don’t see managers accountable for employee development; 29% rely on external international searches for successors of senior leaders, and 37% of organizations have only 5% of female employees in senior leadership positions. The study also found that leaders' attitudes and lack of workforce management skills was cited as the biggest obstacle to implementing a flexible work policy.

The study also found positive trends. Over 60% of those surveyed believe that a flexible work policy would improve the attraction and retention of a more diverse and critically skilled workforce. And with over 59% reporting that more training for managers would help, it's clear that a robust learning culture can offer businesses a tremendous competitive advantage when it comes to having future-fit leadership.

Subscribe to the Skillsoft Blog

We will email when we make a new post in your interest area.

Select which topics to subscribe to:


The government's public health policies and centralization of response and communication have been key to South Korea's successful battle against COVID-19. And South Korea possesses an important edge (or two) when it comes to thriving in a post-COVID business world. An already mature internet infrastructure and large usage of online classes in higher education mean workers are much more comfortable using online learning when they hit the workforce.

Additionally, the South Korean government, along with private sector investors, support aiding industries in skills identification and training to help ensure the country stays competitive.

In light of an alarming trend towards nationalism in response to disinformation around COVID-19, globalization has lost some precious ground. China has acknowledged this tense environment with a new strategy for a “dual circulation economy.” I'm now seeing a new focus on branding and marketing in China— especially foreign branding of their products and services. That means many organizations have ventured into learning to build skills around social media marketing and selling. And I also see a demand for leadership “hard tech” skills related to communications, especially in 5G It's sometimes seen as tech-based "domination economics" — and it has far-reaching implications domestically and internationally.

Japan, on the other hand, is focused more on learning and technology that supports people. The COVID-19 crisis has led to modern employee demands based on personal growth, safety, security, and professional mobility. The outmoded corporate system in Japan requiring strict adherence to managerial hierarchies and brutally long office hours is on the brink of "obsolete." A recent PwC survey shows a new focus at the CEO level on attracting talent, identifying talent gaps in organizations and offering training to address staff churn.

Interestingly, Japan is already ahead of the game when it comes to women in leadership roles. In response to a shrinking population, a law passed in 2015 requires larger firms to set targets for hiring and promoting women. Other legislation set a national limit for overtime at 100 hours a month, encouraging a healthier workforce and generating opportunities for new roles. Learning that supports reskilling and upskilling is mission-critical to these shifts, especially for managerial level staff.


Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, fell into recession in 2020 as it reeled under the blow of COVID-19. Millions of job losses — hitting 9.77 million in August 2020 — plunged many into poverty, erasing years of progress. A vastly dispersed workforce, poor infrastructure, and traditional reliance on imports have further contributed to the decline. In response, the Central Government has promised to prioritize policies and initiatives that support economic recovery. As case numbers have continued to rise, the government announced a controversial vaccination program prioritizing economically productive segments of the population, aged 18-59.

They’re also welcoming foreign investment as they acknowledge the need for change. One exciting development is Microsoft's Berdayakan Ekonomi Digital Indonesia initiative. Their plans to establish a new Indonesian data center region will accelerate digital transformation and empower millions of workers to transform their lives through learning. Microsoft is committed to working with the Indonesian government and industry partners to help 24 million Indonesians become digitally future-fit.

Microsoft Indonesia President Director Haris Izmee says it best:

“Our mission in Indonesia is to empower every person and every organization to achieve more, and that includes enabling the workforce with the skills and support needed to transform Indonesia. There’s been a dramatic shift in global labor markets, and we have learned that more than half of the employees in any organization today will need to be reskilled."*

In the Philippines, a recent Robert Waters survey found that training for accounting, finance, and banking skills is in high demand due to the rise of people using banking services. Although only a third of Filipinos use a bank, that's actually an increase of around 20% more than a few years ago. Incidentally, India’s usage is similarly driving the need for skilled people in that vertical — with about 80% of India now using banking services, a sharp increase over 50% a few years ago. In fact, we’ve seen entire teams achieve affluence and security because they focused on and acquired in-demand financial skillsets.

Still, there are hurdles to overcome as unemployment in the Philippines continues to rise. According to this GOV.PH article, their Secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority, Karl Kendrick Chua, says: “Workers now need to adapt to the changes in business operations brought about by the pandemic as economic activities resume. Online or blended learning programs will now play a key role in providing opportunities for Filipinos who will require retooling and upskilling, especially those whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic.” Unsurprisingly, I agree.

Encouragingly, enrollment in the Philippines' Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Online Program (TOP) has risen dramatically. In fact, 62% of their active users, 70% of which are female, registered during lockdown, citing the need to learn new skills.

The Global Future: Learn Before You Leap

No matter where we live and work, the concept of the "lifelong learner" is one whose time has come.

Digital transformation is not a destination but a journey with no clear end in sight. Progress and innovation will continue, making previously valued skills obsolete, and so we must develop a growth mindset — learning, unlearning, and relearning as we go.

Source: Chief Learning Officer® 2020

As we face the global challenges that 2020 brought us, we also stand on the brink of tremendous growth and opportunity. Our resilience depends on finding new ways of working and communicating. Our success depends on supporting that journey through the democratization of learning for all.

I'm looking forward to our next chapter.