VIENTIANE, LAO PDR – On August 22, 2019, the U.S. Embassy partnered with the Lao tech-incubator firm TOH-LAO as well as top tech firms including Facebook to officially launch the AC STEM Lab – a training program designed to cultivate and grow the number of highly skilled workers available for employment in the tech sector in Laos.
The AC STEM Lab is a yearlong initiative at the American Center in Vientiane. It trains participants on skills like designing iPhone and Android apps, coding, web design, and business development – all to increase awareness and prepare young professionals to join the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in Laos.
U.S. Ambassador Rena Bitter hosted the launch event, which welcomed special guests from Facebook Asia-Pacific Headquarters in Singapore, as well as business leaders and representatives from leading tech companies in the Lao PDR. “This initiative is investing in some of Laos’ richest resources – its young people,” said Ambassador Bitter. “We hope that by developing local talent in STEM fields, we help accelerate medium and long-term growth in the digital economy of Laos.”
Funded by the U.S. Embassy, one of the primary goals is to help close the gap between demand for talented workers in STEM fields in Laos and the number of trained workers available within the country. “With the AC STEM Lab, we first want to create awareness for young people about STEM fields,” said Souphaphone Souannavong, implementer for the AC STEM Lab and founder of TOH-LAO business incubator. “We also want to attract top tier international companies to Laos, who value STEM and need good workers. We want them to know – we have people here, ready to work.”
During the launch event, Rafael Frankel, Facebook Director of Public Policy for Southeast Asia, highlighted the importance of programs like AC STEM Lab and pledged to send expert trainers to help teach special sessions during the program. “Facebook is committed to helping develop technical skills in key markets throughout Southeast Asia, and we’re proud of this new opportunity to help in Lao PDR,” said Frankel.
As part of the STEM Lab program, leading tech companies like Bizgital and Lao IT Dev will teach free courses, while other tech companies like LOCA, Datacom, Cyberia Co. Ltd, and KP Group are offering paid internships to program participants.
The AC STEM Lab is the latest effort by the U.S. government to help support the Lao PDR to harness the growth potential of the digital economy across ASEAN countries. ASEAN is the world’s fastest growing region for internet usage, primarily driven by increasing mobile phone usage. Between 2006 and 2015, the number of mobile internet users in ASEAN grew from 198 million to 784 million. The ASEAN region’s rapid economic growth and large youth population mean the region is well-poised to benefit from the digital economy.