Upskilling to thrive in the new digital normal

  • Skills to sharpen for six new job categories that will emerge in six months
  • Must collectively act now, to implement reskilling revolution begun by WEF in Jan 2020

Upskilling to thrive in the new digital normal

Upskilling to thrive in the new digital normalIf Covid-19 is not contained in six months, 65 million jobs will be lost in Asia, estimates the Asian Development Bank. The International Labour Organization reports that one in six young people worldwide is unemployed since February; others had their working hours cut by around 25%.

But not everything looks gloomy or bleak as Covid-19 has triggered an acceleration of digitalisation across various business lines. Digitisation efforts and strategies pre-Covid-19 that initially focused on increasing productivity have quickly shifted to increase resilience and optimise business processes. As of June 2020, global share prices of 237 companies across five sectors indicate that businesses are bouncing back, across four indices. With digital companies experiencing the highest boom from lockdown-induced behaviours (table above), we are set to see a new array of opportunities. The onset of it requires the workforce of tomorrow to be more agile and adaptable – further emphasising the need to upskill or reskill talents. 

As outlined by Digital News Asia in a recent article, lifelong learning has to be the mantra of anyone who wants to adapt and succeed in the digital economy.


Jobs of the future?

Here are six job categories individuals can sharpen their skills for in six months – regardless of whether they are a Gen Z, millennial or baby boomer. Underlined by digital literacy, emotional or social skills, these jobs are all in the gig economy that is borderless, allowing individuals to offer their services on a part-time basis to companies of all sizes

Upskilling to thrive in the new digital normal

Digital craftsmen and women

The unicorns of the 2030 decade will be born in the digital transformation, automation and modernisation of traditional arms of existing business. It could be in finance, telco, manufacturing, automobile, or transportation. A new digital normal is emerging from consumer behaviours going digital.

At-home food and alcohol consumption are expected to remain at higher levels for an extended period. In response, PepsiCo developed a new direct-to-consumer platform, where consumers can order specialised bundles of PepsiCo’s top-selling brands. Liquor license holders that support pop-up bars, like, have shifted to online selling and delivery of alcohol.

Covid-induced digital innovations are shaping the customer experience journey in travel and mobility, tourism, service industries and public spaces. They are helping people adapt their lifestyles to new social norms.

Skills in engineering, application and product development, user interface and experience design, and cloud computing will be highly prized. Creativity in problem solving through human-centred design will be key for a business to stand apart from its peers. This will require an understanding of user behaviours, business opportunity and technology. The demand will skyrocket for digital strategists, coders and IT technicians to support them. Businesses will listen to digital craftsmen and women on how to accelerate delivery of exceptional digital experiences.


Upskilling to thrive in the new digital normal

Youth savvy advisors to social media influencers

Content creation, advising and promotion will be amongst the most highly paid commission-based jobs. In six months, influencers will see their commissions double. Subsequently, so will monetisation of affiliate links, brand deals, and merchandising, off-platform.

Six and four-year-old brother duo Vlad and Nikita are 2020’s top YouTubers, with over 34.5 million subscribers. They raked in an astounding US$64 million in total earnings indulging in their favourite past time: unbox toys, play and tell stories. American teen star Charli d'Amelio has over 60 million followers on TikTok. She earns an estimated US$50,000 per video post of less than a minute.

It does not matter whether you are a Cristiano Ronaldo with 223 million Instagram followers, earning US$1 million per post. You could also be a Fernando Magalhães with 37,000 Instagram followers, making US$200 per post.

What matters is the ability to understand what holds digital attention: carefully curated and thought-provoking content. This is critical when the audience is getting increasingly younger and is overwhelmed with information. The top skills range from digital content creation advising, marketing, public relations to identifying new business needs. Any takers for a subscription-based database that collates influencers’ metrics by category, rating and ranking them in real-time?

Upskilling to thrive in the new digital normal

Data detectives and digital media police

445 million fraud attacks were reported in the first quarter of 2020, by Arkose Labs, a top 10 disruptor in the risk management space. The 20% spike compared to first quarter of 2019 is because of digital behaviours shifts during lockdowns worldwide, reports Arkose Labs. Human-driven attacks from low-cost, sweatshop locations declined. Spikes were caused by automated attacks that are easy to scale. The top targets are e-commerce, information technology and gaming companies benefiting from recent surges in data use.

Social media giants are under higher pressure to police platforms for inflammatory content in an increasingly fragile world. This was evident when hundreds of Facebook employees staged a virtual walk-out on 1 June. They were protesting Zuckerberg’s decision to overlook President Trump’s posts that are fuelling racial tensions in the Black Lives Matter movement.

In this havoc lies opportunity for those who understand big data analytics, statistical analysis, data mining, AI, BI, and blockchain technology. The job market will soar higher within six months for fraud detection, investigation, digital forensics and information security. This job market need not be centralised, even if the employers are localised in a country, or region. Freelance data detectives with credible certifications or qualifications will be able to perform policing, or monitor content for falsity, or misinformation.


Climate conservationistas

Teen activists like Greta Thunberg have forced governments to address climate impact of their policies on future generations. The need for a greener and more sustainable economic recovery from Covid is informing some governments’ stimulus plans. Renewable energy is expected to grow by 5% to make up almost 30% of the world’s demand for electricity in 2020. The global electric vehicle charging station market is forecast to grow at a CAGR between 40% - 48% in the 2019–2026 period. The global bicycle market meanwhile, will grow at a CAGR of 7.78% in the 2019-24 period. Both are driven by government incentives and the latter, by environmental and health consciousness.

Gen Z view consumption and brand use as an expression of individual identity, and a matter of ethical concern. They wish to pursue careers that allow them to make a positive contribution towards solving a pressing global issue. Climate conversationistas will be in demand in the form of electrical engineers, photovoltaic installers, wind turbine service technicians, professional bicycle repairers, marine biologists and oceanographers.

Upskilling to thrive in the new digital normal


For every percentage point increase in unemployment rate during the 2008 recession, there was a 1.6% increase in suicide rate, said the US National Library of Medicine. Suicide hotlines recorded historic spikes in April 2020. Anxiety and depression are rising, due to the ambiguity in the new normal. Isolation and fear are causing psychological trauma.

The average person in a developed economy consumes 15GB of data per month. He or she gets around 6.5 hours of screen time and 7 hours of sleep every day. They have to take the initiative to break their chain of online consumption. There are no in-built taste-breakers within the bubble created by AI-algorithms on which social media platforms operate. Overuse of digital technology is known to cause digital dementia. It is a breakdown of cognitive abilities in a way that is more commonly seen in people who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness. The human eye sends 10 million bits per second to the brain for processing. But the conscious mind seems to be able to process only 50 bits per second.

Mental health care was previously an underfunded, fragmented and difficult-to-access service. This is going to change, due to increasing demand in the next six months. Online counselling and psychotherapy services will be amongst the highest mental health services in demand. Not only for care and digital rehabilitation, but also to help older generations as they struggle to improve their adaptability quotient in a new normal.


Care Concierges

Nearly 900 million people worldwide are over the age of 60 years. Reverse parenting is on the rise. Patient and empathetic care givers will be in demand, in the absence of usual care givers. Millions of migrant and expatriate workers are unable to visit their aging parents in home countries, or even those in a different part of the country, due to travel restrictions. They need alternate ways to ensure their elders have someone to converse with non-digitally, accompany them on routine medical visits, a stroll around the neighbourhood, or run household errands for them.

Enterprising individuals can fill this huge void for non-medical care. There is potential for varying degrees of care services to suit every budget. The pre-Covid supply gap for personal care aides’ jobs in the United States alone was 0.4 million by 2025. Related skill sets include nursing, medical assistance, physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapy.

We can afford to lose a few million service jobs this decade, but not lose a generation of employees in the services sector. Except for Eritrea and Kiribati, governments in 194 economies have made policy responses to Covid-19, either fiscal, monetary and macro-financial, or to exchange rate and balance of payments. Few have shown true leadership in the human resource space by focused on reskilling as the Malaysian Government has. It has allocated RM2 billion for reskilling and upskilling programmes for youths and unemployed workers.

Countries, companies, and workforces must future-proof to economically recover from Covid-19, and face a brave new world. We must collectively act now, to implement the reskilling revolution begun by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January 2020. It anticipated the loss of 75 million jobs and gain of 133 million new jobs that industrial revolution 4.0 will bring. The pandemic might just have accelerated WEF’s goal of reskilling 1 billion people sooner than 2030.

Gayan Koralage is a digital infrastructure expert with 15 years of experience in Asia. The views expressed here are his own.

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