Malaysians must embrace life-long learning to remain relevant in post-Covid job market
By Karamjit Singh & Tan Jee Yee July 10, 2020
- MDEC continues to create pathways for digital upskilling, looking at ‘place and train’
- Akademi GA’s custom pipelines to reskill, NEXT Academy’s affordable, blended learning
[Article has been updated with comments from Howie Chang, founder of Forward School.]
Advancements in technology have always been a cause for a great deal of anxiety, both individually and socially. Being in a mode of constant change, as a professor at Bentley University describes, causes social anxiety to increase.
It can be terrifying to think about it in perspective of our jobs. We’re not strangers to headlines informing us on how 90% of the jobs humans used to do have been taken over by technology. Our jobs today will likely be rendered obsolete or changed in many ways over the next few years.
And we too, have to change and adapt instead of complaining or demanding the government do something for us. As technology driven change has proven to be constant, so too has to be learning on our part.
If location, location, location is the mantra of property investment, then lifelong learning has to be the mantra of anyone who wants to adapt and succeed in the digital economy.
This is especially crucial in the age of Covid-19, where digitalisation has been accelerated, not just nationwide but globally. The good news is that Malaysia is not lacking in terms of resources, initiatives and institutions that can help us brace for the waves of change.
Recalibrating one’s mindset for continuous learning
Infact, next week sees the exciting introduction of yet another initiative to power Malaysians into the driver’s seat for the digital economy with the launch of 42 KL, an innovative French based digital skills+work program with the Sunway Education Foundation as the partner for Malaysia.
Yet, for all the upskilling, reskilling and continuous skilling initiatives out there, Sunway Group’s chief innovation officer, Matthijs Van Leeuwen (Matt) (pic, right) can’t stress enough on the importance of mindset when it comes to actually practicing lifelong learning.
“It requires a healthy dose of passion for learning as well as perseverance to see through courses and then apply it in their day to day lives or in the workplace. When learning and practicing happens together, knowledge retention will be much higher as well,” states Matt, who is closely involved in 42 KL.
In Matt’s opinion, embedding this desire for continuous learning into one’s mindset is the best tool to help us thrive amidst the changes going on.
Those changes are seeing jobs increasingly being digitalised. Despite initial gloomy projections, experts increasingly believe that technology will enhance jobs as much as replace them. But the onus is on employees to be constantly up-to-date with the right skills and this generally means digital skills.
Malaysia outperforms some developed nations in Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2020
Cue the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), created in 1996, and tasked with leading Malaysia into the digital economy. Keenly aware of the importance of digital skills, MDEC has long introduced a slew of initiatives to help Malaysians adapt and thrive in the digital era. One of the most recent, introduced in March, is the #mydigitalworkforce initiative to upskill and reskill employees.
According to Surina Shukri (pic), MDEC CEO, “MDEC continues to create pathways for digital upskilling and reskilling, to resolve the gap between talents graduating and the new digital skills sought. We are currently assessing the demand and supply in the digital job market, specifically to identify the roles and skills requiring attention. Job matching is top-of-mind for both the government as well as the private sector.”
“We will organise the #mydigitalworkforce campaign next month to bring the talent supply and demand to one focal point and drive activities that will facilitate matching. The aim is to also explore ‘place and train’ as a new norm as it will better match the skills required by employers to the people already available or with a baseline skills that can be upskilled to requirements. The end goal really, is to enable both the supply and demand of our workforce to take that digital leap as the nation embraces the era of the 4th IR and gear towards achieving the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030,” she adds.
The government’s vigorous efforts to improve the competitiveness of its citizens has not gone unnoticed. In January, the country earned the distinction of being the only country from the Upper-Middle Income bracket to place in the top quartile of the respected Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2020 (GTCI 2020). Malaysia outperformed high-income economies such as South Korea, Spain and ASEAN neighbour, Vietnam.
The GTCI 2020 is a comprehensive report that INSEAD University, Google and Adecco produce to track and measure the world’s talent performances.
Malaysia placed 26th from among 88 countries, its highest ranking yet.
A big part of why Malaysia does well in various global talent rankings are down to the strong partnerships that the public agencies form with the private sector in rolling out key reskilling and upskilling programmes.
And MDEC is especially adept at leveraging on the private sector to amplify its various talent initiatives and support market efforts. For instance it is also involved in bringing 42 Inc to Malaysia.
The introduction of 42 KL, along with existing initiatives is timely as the 2020 LinkedIN Emerging Jobs Report Malaysia has revealed yet again that the promising jobs of today and the future all have a strong tech element to them. Even in construction, one of the key job openings are for BIM (Building Information Modelling) Specialists.
And even in customer service oriented jobs, possessing digital skills is a must. LinkedIn notes that Customer Success Specialist roles require such professionals to have a hybrid of soft and hard skills, as they’re responsible for both understanding the technology and managing the customer relationship. Other emerging roles identified are no surprise today and range from Big Data Analysts, Data Scientists, Full Stack Engineers and Cyber Security Specialists.
The 2020 report builds on the 2019 version which underscored the demand for jobs which require hybrid skills to help organisations in Malaysia navigate their digital transformation journey.
Conversations with some key tech education specialists reveals that some Malaysians are already jumping in to upskill themselves with tomorrow’s skill sets.
The NEXT step
One of MDEC’s partners is the homegrown NEXT Academy, one of Southeast Asia’s leading schools in full-stack coding and digital marketing.
Josh Teng, the director of NEXT Academy, wants the establishment’s outstanding track record to speak for itself. Approximately 65% of NEXT Academy’s students have had at least one full-time job before joining his programme. Following that, 91.3% of students have successfully transitioned into a tech role from holding other roles before.
This means that transitioning to a technology role is possible – one just needs the right place to do it. “Majority of our students come from a variety of backgrounds and generally most people cite greater levels of satisfaction when they transition into a developer role from their previous roles,” Josh adds.
NEXT Academy also addresses an issue with reskilling: time and cost. For the most part, asking a current employee to leave an occupation in order to attend coding courses might be difficult, as well as expensive. NEXT Academy, however, provides online courses that are available in both part-time (8 weeks) and full-time (2 weeks) courses.
“We are big supporters of online learning especially at the discovery phase. It is a cheap and easily accessible way for anyone to discover if he/she has remote interest in any subject matter. At least 60% of our students have attempted to learn the basics online before joining us,” he notes.
That said, in-person classes are still there, with its own benefits.
“A majority of people find mastering a skill to be extremely long and difficult with online learning. We are confident that for 90% of the population, our programme will yield better and faster result than they would obtain in the same amount of time trying to learn online.”
NEXT Academy isn’t the only establishment providing specialised tech lessons. New York-based Akademi General Assembly (GA), another of MDEC’s partners, similarly allows upskilling and reskilling of enterprises and individuals through data science and analytics, digital marketing and sales, full stack coding, designing and product management.
Akademi GA has three campuses in the APAC region, namely Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.
Its delivery model, according to Rouvin Thiruchelvam, director of Akademi GA, is a blend of online and instructor-led classes. “It has been shown that human intervention plays an influential role in motivating a student to complete trainings. GA also uses the physical world to teach technology. It has more than 33 campuses from across the globe including the three in Asia,” explains Rouvin.
GA operates in what Rouvin describes as “a marketplace between individuals and employers.” Under its Talent Pipeline as a Service (TPaaS) offering, GA will source, assess and train the companies’ workforce.
“Companies share their talent acquisition goals, and GA creates a custom pipeline that meets their needs. These goals could be met through radically reskilling existing teams, on-boarding new talent, or upskilling talent. We then design transformative training programmes to source and train employees,” Rouvin elaborates.
Impressively, 92% of students who participate in their long-term programme get a job in their field of study within 180 days of graduating.
Focus on Accessibility
For Howie Chang (pic), founder and CEO of the late 2019 launched Forward School in Penang, the mission is all about making quality tech education accessible to all. The principle behind Forward School is the belief that technology will help level the playing field and provide opportunities to all.
“All Covid-19 did is to accelerate digital transformation and learning,” says Howie. Before Covid, there was already a shortage of digital skilled talent, what more now? “The need is urgent and opportunities aplenty but the focus is on ‘quality’ and ‘accessible’,” he says.
At Forward School the question asked is “what is quality" and how do they ensure it is delivered. “How do we transfer tech and digital knowledge in the best way possible and how we can make it more accessible (cheaper, faster, anywhere, anytime),” explains Howie.
The answer to this, Howie and his investors believe is in designing a school curriculum that focuses on expertise and skills, not paper qualification. The school just started its 2-year Applied Software Engineering program, called NitroDegree which complements a selection of bootcamps, courses and classes where classes start from as little as US$5.90 (RM25) a day. Yes, they are dead serious about accessibility.
Continuous learning yes, but its not about mastery of single skill
Critically, while NEXT Academy, Forward School and GA are deep in tech, they are not blinded by it.
All three recognise that skills aren’t going to be enough. “The mastery of one single skill will not make an individual successful. It has always been the case and will continuously be the case,” Josh says. The future, he adds, belongs to those who are able to empathise and connect with people, as well as being capable of critical and creative thinking while being exposed to a variety of topics.
“The biggest demand is for a combination of skills – or what is commonly known as ‘hybrid jobs’”, adds Rouvin. “Coding skills, for example, are now being required well beyond the technology sector. These skills also help the users to acquire problem-solving and computational thinking skills which are critical in the workplace.”
Ultimately, it is also about understanding how technology, and the world, works. “There will come a day where literally every electrical component/appliance has computing abilities built-in. So much so, that computer science becomes as important as the natural sciences. If one does not understand how computers work, they do not understand how the world works. Having said that, learning to code does not guarantee success. Adaptability and courage will,” Josh concludes.
Sunway’s Matt could not agree more but also emphasises that executives must build their critical skills.
“In my mind, these critical skills, like problem solving, collaboration, and communication trump the hard or technical skills any day for me. Yes, you still need technical experts, but having a deep understanding on a problem and using creativity to come up with innovative solutions, is a skill set we need a lot more of.”