NAYPYIDAW - Disparate skills standards in Myanmar are depressing employment and wages while posing a hurdle for foreign investors.

To tackle that, its government plans to standardise skills certification, and has roped two Singapore organisations into its effort.

Yesterday, Myanmar's ministry of labour signed a memorandum of understanding with Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Foundation to train the country's senior policymakers to draw up a workforce development system.

Although this programme is the polytechnic's first foray into Myanmar, it builds on previous capacity building programmes that the Singapore Government has run in Myanmar for years.

Hobbled by an ailing education system, Myanmar's workforce receives technical training from private firms as well as 200 private and government-run industry training centres. But workers are trained according to a variety of local and overseas benchmarks and there are no mandatory standards for technical skills such as welding or electrical work, for example.

'It does affect wages and it does affect employment,' said Myanmar Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein, through a translator on the sidelines of the signing ceremony in Naypyidaw yesterday.

Under this $212,000 programme, mostly funded by Temasek Foundation, the polytechnic will conduct two workshops later this month and in September for 30 of Myanmar's senior policymakers.

The workshops will share Singapore's experience in developing its vocational and technical training system, and get Myanmar officials to identify their needs and the specific standards they want to achieve in their workforce.

Myanmar's government has already tabled a Bill in Parliament to raise skills development and encourage cooperation between the government and the private sector on this aspect.

Mr Myint Thein added that his ministry wants to impose mandatory skills standards in the future, and also set up a Singapore-style workforce development fund to support training. Once foreign direct investment starts flowing in, 'we need quality assurance for labour mobility in the country and within the region', he said.

Local entrepreneurs such as Mr Soe Aung Kyaw were glad for such a move.

The director of a private training centre in Yangon said that a unified skills benchmark would make it easier for local workers to tap the growing job openings created through foreign investment, including in its substantial oil and gas sector. It will also help Myanmar nationals to land more jobs in the region.

Raising employment in South- east Asia's poorest country is a key objective that has been voiced by both the Myanmar government as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Temasek Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Singapore's government investment firm Temasek Holdings. Together with Singapore Polytechnic, the foundation has embarked on similar projects in Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia and Thailand.