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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Vietnam gears up for investment
Karishma Vaswani
BBC World Business Report reporter, in Hanoi

Internet cafe in Vietnam
Computer-literate Vietnamese with language skills are in demand

Phan Hi Yen studies at one of Vietnam's most prestigious universities, Hanoi Polytechnic University.

Although she is uncertain what she wants to do when she graduates, she is sure that learning English will help her to do it.

Previous generations of Vietnamese students studied Russian, in keeping with their Communist nation's ideological allegiances.

But now, as Vietnam makes a big push to integrate itself into the global economy, English is popular.

"When I go out into the world, I need to be able to speak English to communicate with other people," says Phan Hi Yen.

The growing number of students learning English is attracting Western companies to set up shop here, bringing much-needed foreign investment to a country which is still one of the poorest in the world.

Global recruitment firm Harvey Nash has set up a computer programming centre in Hanoi, employing more than 600 people.

They work on projects for Japanese car maker Honda, TV broadcaster the Discovery Channel and the Prince's Trust, a charity linked to Britain's Prince Charles.

Work ethic

Skilled labour is cheap in Vietnam, where most computer programmers earn between $400 and $500 a month.

That is high by Vietnamese standards, where the average monthly income is no more than $100.

But a European IT worker would get paid at least five times as much.

Vietnamese street peddler
Better paid relatives can help their family start small businesses

"The Vietnamese are very resilient people. Previous generations showed that at war. This generation is using that resilience and energy, and channelling it to succeed in the working world," says Graham Davies, Harvey Nash's managing director in Vietnam.

"There are a lot of young people in this country, and they don't mind working hard. They'll work until the job is done, even if it means staying beyond their assigned working hours."

That may be because a job as IT project manager in Vietnam is seen as a high status profession.

"I'm proud of the work that I do. There aren't many of these jobs around in Vietnam - and I don't mind working long hours here," says Pham Quang Hai, a 28 year old project manager with Harvey Nash.

Spreading wealth

For many Vietnamese, a well-paid job with a foreign firm offers the chance to help their family start a small businesses.

Take Bui Xuan Truong, a 33-year old computer programmer at Harvey Nash who studied in Prague and speaks fluent English and Czech.

He has lent some of his salary to relatives to set up a small primary school. Among other things, it teaches English.

Western firms outsourcing computer work to Asian countries is not a new business trend, and it has become the subject of growing debate in the US and Europe, drawing opposition from labour unions.

During this year's US election campaign, US firms have come under fire for outsourcing work to Indian computer programmers to cut costs.

Vietnam is only just starting its drive to become an Asian outsourcing centre.

It aims to encourage foreign firms to set up there in the hope that an injection of Western capital will boost local living standards. But with that capital, complaints may follow.

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