LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS FOR ASIA’S DIGITAL WORKFORCE
Speaker at ConnecTechAsia2020 Dr Michael Fung, Deputy Chief Executive (Industry) of SkillsFuture Singapore, outlines Singapore and the region’s digital journey in today’s climate
The global pandemic has disrupted the livelihoods of individuals and many businesses across Asia. Companies and employees have had to adjust to working-from-home, and education and training had to be conducted virtually. Singapore’s first half 2020 GDP shrank by 6.7 per cent year-on-year, and the recovery phase is expected to be challenging and uneven.
However, the crisis has also brought about an accelerated, widespread adoption of new technologies, as well as behavioural and consumption changes towards a digital world. As we continue to adapt to the new environment, we will see such technologies fundamentally alter the way we work, live and communicate with one another.
To ensure a digital-ready workforce that is equipped with the relevant capabilities, both public and private sectors need to collaborate to support individuals and employers through this challenging period. Businesses have to transform to the new normal, and individuals have to acquire digital skills to cope with the changes to work processes and adoption of new technology.
Leading Asia’s digital economy
In pursuit of its Smart Nation vision, the Singapore government has implemented a range of policy measures to develop digital skills and literacy, including introducing programmes to teach basic digital skills so that no one is left behind. According to INSEAD’s 2020 Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), Singapore is the only country in Asia to make it to the top ten in terms of digital readiness, although key findings also showed a massive reskilling required at all levels to prepare the workforce for the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI).
To help the different sectors adapt, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) has put in place Skills Frameworks for 34 industry sectors, which maps out relevant emerging skills (including digital and AI skills) for different job roles. Companies and individuals can take reference from the Skills Frameworks to map out changes to the job roles that are impacted by the adoption of new technology and develop reskilling and upskilling plans for their employees.
The INSEAD report also noted a significant and growing gap in talent competitiveness separating nations like Singapore from the rest of the global community, especially the developing countries In this regard, SSG has partnered regional governments and the industry to extend skilling efforts to countries such as the Philippines, India and South Korea. Through these partnerships, we advance regional collaboration to learn and share best practices.
Looking inwards within the little red dot
In the same way that Singapore is working closely with other countries to advance the region’s overall digital readiness, we also have to ensure that our local workforce is future-ready. Success in national efforts toward digitalisation require strong multi-stakeholder involvement, across entities in the education, labour, industry, and ICT domains. Public and private sector stakeholders – such as government agencies, industry associations, the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), private training providers, unions, and the workforce – must come together to drive a skilled digital workforce.
Enterprise transformation and workforce transformation go hand-in-hand. Businesses must ensure that their employees are equipped with the skills to support digital transformation and investments in new technology. This plays a major role in building and cultivating an agile workforce with the skills necessary to contribute to the continued growth of the economy. It also involves an integrated and responsive education and training system to support the needs of individuals with multiple pathways for lifelong learning.
In Singapore, the close collaboration with the IHLs, employers and private training providers form an important bridge between the education landscape and adult training, as reflected in our SkillsFuture movement. Through these partnerships, skills training and upgrading for individuals continue to be readily accessible throughout their lives, including programmes with substantial company involvement through the SkillsFuture Work-Study programmes, and emerging skills training at basic, intermediate and advanced levels under the SkillsFuture Series.
In addition, Singaporeans can tap on a range of SkillsFuture initiatives to enhance their digital literacy. They can search for relevant digital and technology courses on MySkillsFuture portal and use their SkillsFuture Credit to defray the training costs. Companies can enrol their employees in the national SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace programme to pick up digital skills, and less IT-savvy individuals can attend the Digital Learning Beginner Workshop.
In view of the current pandemic, SSG had also collaborated with other government agencies, IHLs, and the private sector to introduce the SGUnited Jobs and Skills programmes, as well as the Enhanced Training Support Package to support affected individuals and employers.
Digital-first mindset takes priority
Still, one of the critical success factors is to nurture a mindset of embracing change and lifelong learning among our citizens. This will increase the resilience of our workforce in the face of technological advancements, globalisation, and broad-based economic disruptions.
Asia’s economy is highly dependent on how digitally ready its workforce is. With the ongoing pandemic, many may believe that our progression as an economy should take a pause, but it is in fact the complete opposite. Especially in today’s climate, individuals are encouraged to take charge of their learning journey, see it as a long-term investment and adopt a learn-for-life mindset. Companies also need to adapt with changing times and continue to look into investing in technology and supporting employees in developing digital skills.
The journey has only just begun. Now more than ever, building a digital-ready workforce should be made a top priority at all levels. Government agencies must step up collaboration efforts between nations to foster regional innovation. Singapore’s private sector, in particular local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), should also see the value in encouraging capability building through training. Most importantly, for the individual, this means having the right mindset to embrace change, handle ambiguity and seek out innovation.
Dr Michael Fung will be speaking at the AI Summit at TechXLR8 Asia, a part of ConnecTechAsia, on Singapore’s talent strategy in developing world leading AI workforce. Register today to attend his speaking session on Wednesday, 30 September 2020 at 1500 SGT.
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