A worldwide digital talent gap is hampering countries intensifying their efforts to use digital transformation agendas to enrich COVID-19 battered economies and societal life.
The rewards are considerable, according to The World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society platform, which believes that addressing the global skills gap could add US$11.5 trillion to global GDP by 2028. Understandably, WEF called for a ‘reskilling revolution’ back in January 2020 to provide better jobs, education and skills to 1 billion people in the next ten years as a critical step to future proof countries, companies and workers, as well as to build a more inclusive, fairer society.
Taking a look at one country in the reskilling stakes, Malaysia showed that even before the coronavirus crisis, it had set various digital economy aims in motion. These included the inauguration in 1996 of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia), formalised with the launch the following year of a digital economy zone – Cyberjaya. Then came the first edition of the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to seed digitalisation initiatives across industries and deepened collaboration with international tech companies.
However, much of the practical success of these aspirations depended on the long journey of continually addressing the core conundrum of transitioning a traditional workforce to one ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR or IR 4.0) era.
To take stock of current government initiatives, Disruptive.Asia talked in-depth with Datuk Shahul Dawood, chief executive, HRD Corp (Human Resource Development Corporation), an industry veteran with a background in higher education, career recruitment and entrepreneurship, who took up at the human capital development government agency’s helm in April 2020.
Formerly known as HRDF (Human Resources Development Fund), the statutory body under the human resources ministry has been recently rebranded as HRD Corp and remains tasked with driving the country’s talent development aspirations.
“The raison d’être of our organisation is to promote life-long learning and the acquisition of future work skills among Malaysian talents and businesses, across every sector and at every level,” explained Shahul. “We have a responsibility to shape the future of Malaysia’s talent pool by building a highly skilled and empowered workforce with diverse capabilities to support the country’s socio-economic growth while playing a positive role in the communities we serve. I believe we have all the tools to succeed in these areas and more.”
As the driver of Malaysia’s human capital development efforts for the past 28 years, he said HRD Corp has a responsibility to help Malaysia tackle the challenge of rising unemployment.
“I believe that our evolution, from a statutory authority that collects levy, and funds training and development programmes for Malaysian businesses, to become a centre that drives Malaysia’s overall talent pool development in a multitude of ways, have placed us in good stead to do so.”
“In my time here, the world and by extension, Malaysia, has changed in numerous and significant ways,” he pointed out. “We ventured into unchartered territory almost immediately with the movement control order (MCO), which led to rising unemployment and an economic slowdown.”
To better address changes and needs arising from the current and post-pandemic world, Shahul realigned HRD Corp’s purpose and transformed the way it viewed human capital development.
“Where we used to fund training programmes for existing members of the workforce or Malaysian individuals in the hopes that this will equip them with the needed capabilities to land a job; we now focus on matching and placing individuals into the right jobs first, before catering to their training needs for said role. This was initially delivered through the Place & Train scheme, under the PENJANA HRDF program introduced last year, and which has since benefitted over 18,000 participants.”
Speaking about specific hurdles in the path to driving the country’s talent aspirations, Shahul commented: “A lot has been said about Malaysia’s supposed skills gap where we are lagging in providing enough of the right skilled talent in high tech and high-value industries.”
“From our experience, however, we realised that the problem is two-pronged:
- We are not developing talents with the right skillset fast enough to meet the rapidly evolving industry demands.
- We are not matching highly skilled individuals to the right industry or organisation that can provide them with long and fulfilling careers.”
Realising this, he encouraged partnerships with industry players and associations to develop the Industrial Skills Framework (IndSF). This document provides a holistic view of the career opportunities available within each industry, based on skillsets, training sessions, qualifications, and competencies.
Shahul explained that the framework also guides individuals, employers, and training providers to develop job descriptions and map out career trajectories for their workforce.
“This is aimed at addressing the unemployment and skills gap in core industries and matching the right individuals to the right opportunities in the long term. To date, we have developed seven (7) IndSF documents for Retail & Warehousing, Hospitality, Oil & Gas, Digital Technology, Machinery & Equipment, Plastics, and Water & Sewerage System,” he continued.
The pandemic also created significant disruption in how HRD Corp works as an organisation and engages with partners and stakeholders.
“Despite being an organisation that relied heavily on face-to-face interactions with our customers and funding physical hands-on training for our registered employers, we had to pivot to a virtual environment almost instantaneously,” he said.
However, as an organisation used to leverage technology to drive its growth since its inception, this transition has been relatively easy, Shahul reveals.
“However, this isn’t the case for many of our stakeholders and registered employers. They lack the capabilities, skillset, and technological infrastructure to do so, which inadvertently affected the way they attract, nurture and retain talents in their organisation. This is particularly the case for SMEs and businesses outside of Klang Valley.”
To address this, HRD Corp created more personalised ongoing engagement sessions to encourage a mindset change and help these organisations turn to digital transformation. In addition, HRD Corp introduced IT Training and Computer Based Training schemes that are claimable from employer levy.
“We also worked with the Ministry of International Trade & Industry (MITI) for the RiSE4WRD for Industry4WRD initiative, which is geared at supporting businesses in embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution),” Shahul said.
Outlining other new initiatives, he continued: “Since then, Place & Train has been incorporated into our HRD Corp Placement Centre (HPC). Launched in April this year, HPC is a one-stop virtual portal that provides employment and income-generating opportunities to Malaysians through job matching and placement, training and development, as well as career counselling and coaching.”
Moving on to other changes, Shahul said: “Where we used only to fund structured training programmes for our registered employers, we now offer a multitude of training programmes for all Malaysians, through our very own free online learning platform, e-LATiH. Introduced in February, the platform provides 300 courses ranging from technical skills development to leadership and personal growth. To date, e-LATiH has over 142,000 total registered users from all walks of life.”
“Where we used to only focus on training existing members of the Malaysian workforce that have undergone conventional education and career trajectories, we have pivoted to helping Malaysians build their capabilities while identifying and capitalising on new income-generating opportunities,” he said. “This is the case for our PENJANA HRDF effort where participants were trained to either take on gig work or become entrepreneurs. Today, we have also provided them with the platform to put their training and knowledge to use, with our soon-to-be-launched B2B and B2C online marketplace, Jana’Preneur.”
“At HRD Corp, we understand that upskilling, reskilling, and multi-skilling are not just buzzwords for the pandemic era,” Shahul emphasised. “Instead, they are critical endeavours that Malaysians must embrace to retain their competitive edge. It is also something that organisations need to offer to their employees in order to ensure business continuity. Therefore, we have worked tirelessly over the last 18 months to help more Malaysian talents and businesses achieve this aim.”
Aligned to a collaborative platform, HPC was developed to help Malaysians find employment and income-generating opportunities through a single, easy-to-use, centralised platform. Additionally, HPC effectively helps employers to find suitable candidates to fill immediate vacancies.
Another collaboration is with a soft skills training development company, zubedy, for the Malaysia Short Term Employment programme (MySTEP), which helps unemployed graduates and young people by providing them with training. This is followed by an opportunity to work in high demand industries through sales and marketing roles delivered through HPC.
“For the HPC platform to really succeed, however, we need to work with the right partners and industry players. JobStreet is a leading name in recruitment and employment over the last two decades, making them the perfect partner for this effort.” Shahul said.
Through the collaboration, HRD Corp will be offering an exclusive training incentive program through JobStreet where employers can claim up to RM3,600 (RM600 x 6 months) for on-the-job training allowances, which helps reduce the total cost of hiring for new talents, especially unemployed graduates and school leavers.
Available exclusively for hires made via JobStreet, it is geared at creating new job opportunities by helping companies manage total hiring and onboarding costs at a critical juncture in their business continuity and survival. It will also incentivise employers to open up new recruitment, training and retention opportunities as they seek to revive and future-proof their businesses in the coming year.
Delivered through the HRD Corp Placement centre, a one-stop portal that provides employment and income-generating opportunities for all Malaysians.
JobStreet Malaysia managing director Vic Sithasanan said the company was delighted to collaborate with HRD Corp to establish this initiative.
Shifting global trends, skills requirements and changing markets will require innovative programmes to inculcate future-ready skills and on-the-job training and experience.
“We will continue to work to further boost development for local talent and play our role as an industry leader to support the reskilling and upskilling of Malaysians,” he said.
Closing the skills gap
Closing the ‘hard and soft’ skills gap is a critical component of getting people into jobs, said Shahul and another underlying driver of HRD Corp’s levy schemes and financial assistance programs. Both are designed to enable employers to fund employee training across both soft and technical skills.
Employers are given the freedom to choose the right training programs by their trusted training providers based on their current and future business needs.
“In 2020, HRD Corp approved RM360 million for the purpose of levy utilisation and financial assistance for 527,478 training places as applied by our registered employers. This was done across our ten (10) claimable schemes,” he said.
“We also utilise various metrics to measure the success or overall effectiveness of each particular levy scheme and financial assistance programme.”
This includes the development of the HRD Corp Industry Training Participation Report, which provides HRD Corp’s stakeholders with valuable insights on the training participation landscape from various industries, as measured through five (5) indicators:
- Effective Training Duration;
- Employees Trained Ratio;
- Training Opportunity Ratio;
- Training Places Approved; and
- Industry Investment in Training.
In addition, HRD Corp also conducts the following:
- Output Assessments – to measure the overall quality of the programme, the trainees’ learning experience based on the delivery method as well as the resources used, and services provided by the training provider. In 2020, a total of 645 training providers participated in the assessment. This covered 7,378 courses, 1,821 trainers and 104,816 trainees across six (6) locations
- Outcome Assessments – to measure the overall training experience after a specific duration. This assessment evaluates the actual understanding and application of the skills acquired by the trainees after they have completed the programme. The assessment is issued to trainees around six months after the course’s completion. In 2020, three (3) Outcome Assessments were conducted based on HRD Corp’s initiatives and schemes that ran between 2017 to 2019.
Shaping the future with transferable skills
Commenting on upcoming demands expected in the 4IR era, Shahul anticipates: “Based on our experience of engaging with our stakeholders and industry players, we believe that together with technical expertise, transferable skills that enhance one’s ability to solve problems, work independently, and collaborate with others are required for the 4IR era.”
He outlined a positive perspective, adding: “With greater automation powered by AI and Machine Learning, people can move away from repetitive technical tasks to assuming roles that require greater analytical thinking and innovation, complex problem-solving as well as reasoning and ideation. Digital technologies will also free up individuals to develop other capabilities that enhance their value at the workplace such as leadership, negotiation, people management and more, all of which are timeless and necessary skills.”
“We expect the next 12 months to continue to be challenging as the world starts coming out of the pandemic and heads into a completely new reality,” he concluded. “Life as we know it has changed, and with that our goals, responsibilities, and expectations. I am confident, however, that we will continue to build on our strengths and experience, in order to roll out more dynamic programmes and strategic initiatives that will prepare Malaysian employers, industries, communities and talents for the low-touch high-tech future, post-COVID-19.”