Talent: Vital Building Block for Malaysia’s Digital Future

In my previous article Outsmarting Smart Robots, I said that there is an increasing consensus that jobs are changing in drastic ways and getting our current and future workforce ready for such changes is critical.

More of the same will no longer be enough. This message has been recently affirmed by LinkedIn, the global professionals platform, with the release of its 2019 Emerging Jobs in Malaysia Report. The study, which analysed millions of unique, user-input job titles from the last five years, noted that the top five emerging jobs were linked to technology. And just as important, the report highlighted the demand for ‘hybrid’ skills.

Developing a rounded skill set, which rests on digital competency, needs to be balanced with other core soft skills such as problem solving, communication, creativity, and a measure of what has been called EQ (emotional quotient).

Our strategy to become a stand out nation in the global digital world is powered by five building blocks. Implementing much of this strategy lies within the remit of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), a government-owned agency under the Ministry of Communications & Multimedia (KKMM). The KKMM Minister, YB Gobind Singh Deo, first outlined these building blocks towards the end of last year.

These building blocks, which are important drivers of a strong online ecosystem, are: high-quality infrastructure at affordable prices; tech talent development; increased cybersecurity vigilance; development of platforms and enablers such as Digital ID, open data and so on; and the legislation, policies and industry structures to support the growth of the digital economy.

While the building blocks are intended to produce two key outcomes – widespread digital adoption, and the enhanced growth of digital entrepreneurship throughout the nation – building the right talent is the fuel to power our trajectory into the our future.

Deepening the Momentum

When we look at the top five emerging roles highlighted in the LinkedIn report (data scientist; full stack engineer; drive test Engineer; user experience designer; and content writer), we note that the easiest to teach at scale are the technical skills. While advanced digital skills are usually top of mind – such as coding, data analytics, and so forth – the basics are just as important for all of us to adapt to the workplace of the future.

A vital aspect of our nationwide initiatives is inclusivity. Everyone has an opportunity in Malaysia’s digital future. The basic digital skills required to perform daily tasks online need to be shared across underserved communities, the disabled and the elderly.

Our digital future will increasingly come into the hands of the next generation. MDEC has been actively complementing the Ministry of Education’s initiatives to integrate and embed computational thinking, computer science including coding into the national school syllabus. We are also work closely with a premier group of local universities to strengthen tertiary-level Computer Science curricula and teaching.

Meanwhile, the collaborative approach amplifies another public-private-academia movement, MyDigitalMaker, to transform Malaysian youth from digital users to producers in the digital economy. Digital skills both feed and complement the hybrid skill portfolio by developing problem solving and creativity among our young generation. More than half million students are actively participating in digital making activities such as coding, robotics, data analytics and more.

Transformative support to help teachers includes learning tools and further training through an Educator network. Essentially, short courses and certification programmes on programming/coding, embedded systems, digital making and more offered by #mydigitalmaker partners and university-based teacher-training hubs during weekends and school holidays to support educator readiness. To-date more than 30,000 teachers have become part of this network.

MDEC’s efforts to prepare our future workforce includes working with 12 universities to act as local training hubs for teachers who need to get trained in various digital tools. MDEC provides a computational thinking specialist to train the universities and accredit them to be training centres for the teachers. Some of them are also acting as Digital Maker Hubs, which gives students another option outside of their schools to go and explore and learn about various digital tools. There are currently 48 Digital Maker Hubs around the country, some are hosted by private companies and non-governmental organisations.

MDEC and industry partners further develop students with especial digital innovation and creative potential to help them into tertiary studies with Premier Digital Tech Universities and Preferred Digital Tech Polytechnics. The Premier Digital Tech Institutions comprise local universities and polytechnics with high graduate employability in the digital technology sectors and which have the potential to becoming top regional institutions. To date. MDEC and the Ministry of Education have jointly endorsed 8 Premier Digital Tech Universities and 5 Preferred Digital Tech Polytechnics.

Learning as a Way of Life

Before I sign off, I would like to again stress the importance of remaining relevant in the world we have entered. We must together address the 4th Industrial Revolution as an opportunity to enrich our lives through evolving ourselves and our skills by constantly learning.

One of the results of rapidly evolving digital age is that most of us will have different jobs through our lives. Very few will remain in the job for which they were formally trained. I believe that every day is a day for learning something new: An essential sign that we are producing the right talent for a standout digital future in the world will be a mindset that includes adaptability and one that is tuned always to learning.

Sumitra Nair is the Vice President for Talent & Digital Entrepreneurship in MDEC

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