By Surina Shukri, CEO of MDEC

Our Perspective of Education

In the first installment of this blogpost, I shared information about the skills being demanded by employers and the facts that support these assertions through the data we see on trends in jobs. In this second and final part, I summarise the role and attitude required of three parties that must come together to ensure that jobs and skills are matched.

Educational Institutions And Educators

While technology has shifted our paradigm, universities cannot forgo their focus on content development and learning analytics.

Online education platforms like Coursera, Microsoft and Udemy can play a useful role by tapping their expertise in online programme design, choice of tech platform, and digital marketing to develop the best content either with or for the traditional players.

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” is a quote from Albert Einstein.

Would you say this is the mantra that education institutions too, have got to start imbibing, so that they can continue to be a part of a student’s learning journey?

The Government And Its Agencies

In the case of the government and its agencies, I’ve shared what MDEC offers in facilitating employment and education. In fact, MDEC is well aware of the skill demands of the current economy and has been thus actively in conversation across ministries such as Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE), MOE, MOSTI and MITI as well as government agencies such as HRDF and PERKESO – not forgetting the Economic Action Council too, to build a bridge that links jobs to skills demanded and vice versa.

Another MDEC avenue that will interest is the #mydigitalworkforce week during the last week of August. It aims to bring the talent supply and demand to focal point, to facilitate matching. Why we are organising this is because MDEC understands the need to explore ‘place and train’ as a new norm, so that people with baseline skills can be upskilled to requirements. Please go to mdec.my to know more about #mydigitalworkforce.

Employers

Perhaps first, let’s look at that worrying statement we often hear about – replacement of people by technology.

Khazanah Research Institute’s (KRI) opines that technology is a double-edged sword — it can replace workers, but it can also create new jobs. However, it is also true that for the vast majority of SMEs in Malaysia, which account for 40% of the total workforce and 98% of businesses, even automation is not yet an option.

Nonetheless as competition stiffens, more businesses will take that Digital Leap to transform digitally ensuring they are relevant. And they will actively seek skilled talents! If the workforce does not keep up, many may fall behind in their output levels and affect business. Dealing with lacking skills in their existing talent pool or in newly sourced talent, will be an uphill task for employers!

Employers can counter these issues by increasing private sector cooperation in apprenticeship, training and internships; increasing collaborations with universities and career centres; increasing the level of on-the-job training for fresh graduates in the initial year of employment to overcome the issue of skills mismatch. The last-mentioned measure has worked well in Japan as workers in most of the sectors are reskilled in the first year of their employment to cater for the demands of the industry. Improving the quality of TVET for youths as quality and access to vocational training is another one, as it is linked to youth unemployment rates.

But the onus for change does not just rest on educators, governments and employers – students and the workforce must pitch in too!

To the workforce and student population, I say think about the fact that life skills are as crucial as digital skills or hard skills! Flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction can go a long way to help reduce the mismatch between skills employers demand, and what you graduates offer.

Survive Adversity Through Digital Avenues

You know, Malaysia’s strong history in the basis of education as well as its development through the times, brings it to a mid-point. A point that allows us to strategically chart paths ahead, and yet look back to learn from past successes and failures.

So, I have two messages I’d like to close with.

  • Digitalise, Cooperate! You can put employment and thus the economy back on course!

We need both education and labour market policies to synchronise; Education policies must be complemented by a matching job creation strategy that addresses the demand side of labour. Otherwise, our workers will be taking up jobs below their skill levels or moving to other countries, resulting in brain drain.

Speaking of the brain drain, some believe that there aren’t any jobs created at the level that skilled members of the workforce desire. Perhaps it is time we realise that digitalisation or technology may be the route to bridging this gap and bringing home talents;

For instance, more than 500,000 Malaysians work in the 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) sector in Singapore. If Malaysia were to reduce the number of unskilled foreign workers and automate some jobs, we can pay our citizens at a certain level for them to do jobs that were previously outsourced to foreign workers.

  • Innovate to push the education industry to a space that can withstand the impact of COVID-19.

Looking at education worldwide, 90% of primary, secondary and tertiary learners are no longer physically able to go to school. Educators struggle to introduce solutions for remote learning, especially in emerging markets, where major issues are financing and available infrastructure.

All levels of education are facing challenges but higher education is the level that can activate some sort of learning revolution.

“Universities are distinctive as their students are both old enough to handle the rigours of online work and technologically savvy enough to navigate new platforms”, according to the World Economic Forum. It may be that traditional, campus-based universities must adapt and choose the right technologies or approaches for educating and engaging their students. All this, while continually tracking changes in how skills needed are evolving to serve the changing economy.

The thought to leave with you is this; students may not be the only ones entrusted with the responsibility of learning. It may be that institutions of education may have to do the same.

This article is the second of two parts. You can view the first part here.

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