Strong digital talent pipeline only possible when industry, academia & government form tight collaboration
By Tan Jee Yee August 21, 2020
- 50,000 students are annually impacted through MDEC’s collaborations with IHLs
- Industry must make time, tell hard truths to institutions about what is lacking
Muhammad Zakuan Zin (pic, below) was in the fifth semester during his studies in Kolej Kemahiran Tinggi MARA (KKTM) when he first heard of the eUsahawan Programme, a Malaysian government initiative that integrates digital entrepreneurship into existing entrepreneurship studies.
eUsahawan modules have been integrated into more than 550 institutions, training centres and TVET (technical and vocational education and training) colleges across the country, with KKTM being one of them.
Zakuan was initially sceptical that the programme would help, but his first steps into eUsahawan turned out to be his first steps as a successful entrepreneur. “Alhamdulillah, after entering the programme, it changed the way I thought about business, especially in terms of sales and management,” he tells Digital News Asia.
His experience with the programme has helped him tremendously since. During an eUsahawan seminar in Cyberjaya, Zakuan received coaching from Wan Nong Muzafar, an entrepreneur, whom he is now friends with and still networking.
By the time he graduated at 21, Zakuan was already an owner of his own online jersey wholesaling business. “This wouldn’t be possible without the knowledge I received from the eUsahawan program,” he says, adamantly.
Zakuan is one of the many success stories out of the eUsahawan program, which has trained more than 180,000 students since its inception. According to MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation), students under eUsahawan have generated additional sales of more than US$16.7 million (RM70 million) via these hands-on courses.
He is one of the success stories in MDEC’s many efforts in developing digitally-skilled talent in Malaysia.
The pipeline…strong collaboration with institutions of higher learning
The thing about the digital economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that it can’t exist without talent. As a Randstad study notes, shortage of skilled talent can hamper the growth of IT and fintech in Malaysia.
The good news is that the country is well on its way to nurture more digitally-skilled talent. MDEC, for one, is hard at work with welding the pipeline for Malaysia’s emerging talent. They do so through collaborating with universities and colleges across the country.
These collaborations cover various states and disciplines. On data and digital tech-related disciplines, MDEC is working with more than 60 institutions of higher learning (IHL) comprising universities, colleges and TVET institutions, spanning every single state in Malaysia.
The states with the most IHLs engaged are Selangor (with 19 IHLs), Kuala Lumpur (10), Perak (7), Johor (5) and Terengganu (4). Of the 66 IHLs engaged, 29 are public IHLs and 37 are private IHLs.
They are also working with more than 500 universities and TVET institutions across all states in Malaysia at developing e-commerce talent as well – Muhammad Zakuan being one benefactor.
MDEC works with IHLs through facilitating industry-relevant training, mainly via developing trainers. They also provide advice on the IHLs’ digital tech and digital entrepreneurship curriculum, as well as establishing a Centre of Excellence within the IHLs.
“Consistent with our vision to make Malaysia the heart of digital ASEAN, MDEC is committed to a nurturing talents by collaborating with industry partners to produce industry-ready graduates. This includes strengthening the talent pipeline from universities and colleges across the nation to digitally skill Malaysians, as more businesses embrace technology in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and actively seek suitably skilled talents,” MDEC chief executive officer Surina Shukri (pic, right) tells Digital News Asia.
“MDEC aims to enhance our digital ecosystem and further cultivate a workforce that is future-proof and filled with digitally skilled Malaysians; Through our collaboration with more than 500 universities and colleges nationwide MDEC’s initiatives impact 50,000 students annually.”
On the data economy front…higher interest leads to more scholarships
In their goal to meet the growing demand for data professionals, MDEC has – to date – introduced data science modules into the curriculum of 23 IHLs, with more than 3,000 student enrolments.
These are industry-driven programmes, and have since seen significant success. The 2U2i (2 years in university and 2 years in industry) Data Engineering programme that was offered by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) in 2016, for example, saw 100% of its programme students being snapped up by the industry for the 1-year industry attachment.
MDEC has also established a partnership with seven companies and three universities to introduce the MyAI Scholarship initiative, with the aim to encourage post graduate studies in AI and Data Technology. To date, more than 1,400 students have applied for the scholarships to work on Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing AI.
One of MDEC’s partner universities is Heriot-Watt University (HWU) Malaysia, where they have started working closely with since 2016. Through the partnership, Heriot-Watt’s academic staff got to attend several industry-led “train-the-trainers” programmes.
“After attending the programmes, they then transfer the know-how back into the classroom or training camps for our students. In this way, our students are exposed to the latest industry practice and are able to pick up what the much sought after technical skillsets by the industry,” says Professor Dennis Wong, Deputy Provost of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia.
With the help of MDEC and the Department of International Trade (DIT) of the British High Commission, HWU has launched the Data Futures Scholarship in 2019, a three-year scholarship program worth US$620,097 (RM2.6 million).
Here, the university provides nine scholarships (three 100% scholarships, six 50% scholarships) for three years. As part of the scholarship, three industry partners – namely PPG, Fusionex and Experian – will provide mentorship and internship opportunities.
“For example, the partners were invited to be panellists on a career seminar in data science last semester. The partners also help us to select the right candidates for the scholarship,” Wong explains.
According to Wong, the collaboration with MDEC, DIT and their partners has allowed them to raise awareness of their Statistical Data Science programme. “We saw that applications for the programme have increased significantly and we have made 40 offers to students for the programme,” he notes.
On the digital creative industry…
Beyond data science, MDEC is also bolstering talent for the country’s digital creative industry. They are currently supporting 13 IHLs to nurture talent in animation and video games. To date, more than 17 digital creative content studios have been established by graduates from IHLs that MDEC has been working with.
Most of them have become prominent studios in the industry and more importantly are now contributing back to the ecosystem, leading to the creation of a self-reinforcing loop, strengthening the creative industry.
One of them is Monsta, the animation house behind the Boboiboy franchise. Their recent theatrical release, Boboiboy Movie 2, broke local box office records with an almost RM20 million gross. CEO Nizam Razak says that Monsta has benefited from various MDEC initiatives, including the “Buyer Fly-in program” as well as being part of the MAC3 (Malaysia Animation and Creative Content Centre) incubation program.
But it was the nurturing of talent that benefited them most – Nizam himself is a graduate of an MDEC-supported IHL. Today, he is giving back to the industry by regularly sharing Monsta’s experiences in talks, as well as participating in industry panels during students final year presentations. The studios also regularly have discussions with lecturers about the needs of the industry, and sponsor various PhD research related to the creative industry.
UOW Malaysia KDU University College is another frequent collaborator of MDEC’s in developing local video game talents. MDEC was a major partner with UOW Malaysia KDU’s MyGameDev initiative, which – according to UOW Malaysia KDU Associate Professor Tan Chin Ike – represented the start of a strategic collaboration between educational institutions, industry and relevant government agencies to create a video game talent pipeline.
In 2019, UOW Malaysia KDU spearheaded the formation of the Game Development Council of Malaysia (GDCOM) under the Ministry of Higher Education, with talent develop initiatives being part of its primary objectives. MDEC was another valued partner.
“All of our initiatives are to serve one purpose – to create a talent pipeline for game development in Malaysia. We work very closely with MDEC to ensure that not only UOW Malaysia KDU’s students are industry relevant but through the various councils and initiatives that other game development programmes in Malaysia also benefits,” says Tan, who is also chairman of the Game Development Council of Malaysia.
He points to MDEC’s Level Up KL Conference as another major event that has benefitted both academia and students in networking in the industry, on top of allowing students to acquire much-needed knowledge.
On cybersecurity…plethora of initiatives including reskilling women to re-enter workforce
Recognising that cybersecurity is a huge requirement in the country, MDEC is working with 28 IHLs to build a pipeline of talent to address mid-to-long term requirements of cybersecurity talent. Close to 800 students and lecturers have been trained as part of their engagement with IHLs.
Additionally, 640 students have successfully participated in the NxForce Programme since 2017, which provides CSX Fundamental certification – a globally-recognised cybersecurity certification by ISACA – to the students.
To date, MDEC has also helped in establishing three Security Operation Centres (SOCs) in various universities, including one with Asia Pacific University (APU). Its SOC became fully operational in February 2019, when the first cohort of Level 2, Semester 2 Cyber Security, Forensics and Information Security students started their duty with the Centre.
According to APU’s Dr Julia Juremi (pic), students are given one semester to experience life as a Tier 1 SOC Security Analyst at the centre, where they have to monitor and analyse real network traffic from within a real SOC infrastructure.
“This program aims to equip students with industry-like experience in cybersecurity operation for better career readiness and employability,” explains Julia.
“Students get to carry out threat analysis and log monitoring, as well as investigate, document and report security problems as they merge and learn to anticipate and prevent the likelihood of them occurring.”
The SOC is only one of the several significant developments and skill-up programmes under the APU-MDEC partnership. Since 2019, MDEC introduced the Empowering Women in Cyber Risk Management programme, an initiative aimed at reskilling women looking to re-enter the job market, of which APU is one of their strategic partners.
With support of the Ministry of Education, APU also collaborated with MDEC to host three cohorts of students under the Cyber Security Immersion (CSI) for Youth programme. Here, students went through 3-days-2-nights programme at APU with seminars, brainstorming sessions, AR-QR forensics games and presentations that were delivered by APU’s academic team.
Since 2018, MDEC has also collaborated with cybersecurity firm LE-Global Services to run a six-week cybersecurity programme as part of the Asia Cybersecurity Exchange platform. APU has been one of the supporting universities in driving participation to the programme.
Closer industry-IHL collaboration crucial to create win-win outcome for all
The examples above demonstrate something important – that producing employable talent requires more than just collaborations between the government and IHLs. They require the industry’s help, too.
“Universities are the main talent pipeline for the industry, thus it is crucial for the industries to partner with academic institutions. By infusing industry-based skills into education, we ensure students gain the practical know-how to match theories, and graduate with a holistic view of the specialisations and stand out among their peers when entering the workplace,” says Julia.
“By integrating industry into students’ learning experiences from as early as the first year, we empower them with the competencies they need to thrive when they pursue their careers.”
Animonsta’s Nizam believes that the industry needs to be in constant dialogue not only with students and graduates, but also with educators. “The creative industry is moving very fast, especially in regards to technology. There needs to be a platform for the industry-academia to exchange opinions and keep each other informed. This will ensure that future graduates will always be equipped with the current know-how and the latest trends in technologies.”
Tan from OUW Malaysia KDU concurs. “The most important aspect is to just share on not only the skills and knowledge aspect of studios but their expectation of employees. I have seen first-hand how the sharing of an unvarnished truth of working expectations jarred students from an early semester and how it changes their mindset about the working world.”
Tan adds that there is a gap between what is taught and what is being practiced in the industry, not just in the context of skillsets, but also the process of how industries (such as the game industry) work.
“That is the main reason why we do have a lot of game graduates out there who are not able to get a job with some of the large game studios. They just lack the fundamentals. So, industry must make time and tell the hard truth to these institutions about what is lacking and what they need to teach. Thankfully, MDEC has been doing an excellent job in linking tertiary institutions with industry.” This link needs to be strengthened and solidified to ensure a talent pipeline that is co-created and symbiotic to produce a win-win situation for all stakeholders.