Digital skills are crucial to bolster workforce innovation

By Dr Sumitra Nair


AS digital technologies have notably begun to play an even more critical role in the economy, it is increasingly clear that there is a real need to prepare talents – newly graduated or now in the workforce – for digital jobs.

More companies are becoming digital by default, with 91% of local organisations having to adopt or have plans to become a ‘digital-first’ business strategy.

In fact, an average of US$15.3 mil over the next 12 months will be spent on digital initiatives in Malaysia, according to the IDG Digital Business Survey 2019.

The Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) had revealed that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) now comprises 48.4% of Malaysia’s employment and another similar report from Huawei revealed how 48% of SMEs recognise the lack digital skills.

In Malaysia, eight of the top ten emerging jobs will require digital tech skills. This includes jobs in data analysts and scientists; Internet of Things (IoT) specialists; digital transformation specialists; and cybersecurity specialists, says the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2020” report.

The same study also forecasted that 50% of all employees will need re-skilling by 2025.

On the supply side, according to a 2018 Randstad survey, close to 90% of the workforce in Malaysia believe they do not have skills for a digital workplace, while graduate unemployment had also seen an increase due to the lack of digital skills.

The Ministry of Education Malaysia’s (MOE) Graduate Tracer Study 2018 states that one out of five graduates are unemployed and acquiring digital skills have been clearly acknowledged as part of the solution.

The question now arises of whether Malaysians have the right skills to survive and thrive in the digital economy.

A holistic talent pipeline to face a K-shaped economic recovery

The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) was quick to recognise the need for a holistic talent pipeline that serves to digitally up-skill Malaysians as the nation accelerates towards becoming a digital society.

A holistic approach is required, simply because digital literacy and skills is now a necessity at all strata and segments of society as the nation becomes increasingly digital by default.

From the future and emerging talent pipeline to underserved – rural communities, differently-abled and the lower B40 populace, to those looking for opportunities on an intricately landscaped suite of careers, all of them can only be filled via those who have specialised digital talents.

With these features, Malaysia’s particularly diverse workforce calls for opportunities being offered through a movement with spokes and hubs that reach out to each category of society that now constantly seeks digital upskilling through specific pipelines.

As is, the digital economy is expected to make significant contributions to the country as the projection is based on the forecasted economic growth rate of 6.7% next year, according to a World Bank Report and the significant contribution of 20% to the national gross domestic product (GDP, based on the DOSM report.

In this regard, MDEC will continue to drive forward the digital economy initiatives centred towards ensuring Malaysia’s role as the heart of digital Asean.

All this will be guided mainly via its focus on three main strategic thrusts: Empowering Malaysians with digital jobs and skills, enabling digitally-powered businesses and attracting digital investments.

Building talent pipelines for emerging jobs

At one end of the talent spectrum that serves the future talent pipeline, movements such as MDEC’s #mydigitalmaker are aimed at cultivating digital innovation, creativity and problem-solving skills amongst Malaysian students.

In partnership with the MOE, the EdTech and Maker ecosystems, this movement had impacted more than 1.6 million school students nationwide.

More institutions of higher learning are joining this programme in 2021. The value of building a talent pipeline that cuts across the entire spectrum, starting with the next generation, is key in creating a resilient future workforce.

At the other end of the spectrum are those seeking employment through upskilling and reskilling digitally, for future jobs.

MDEC’s COVID-19 Impact Survey 2020 revealed how 70% of Malaysian businesses will have retraining needs in a post-pandemic era. A further 83% shared how the focuses would be in the areas of digital marketing and digital productivity tools, with the latter including remote working skills.

Closing the skills gap in the digital era

Even MDEC CEO Surina Shukri said that it is critical for the workforce to up their game by learning new skills and abilities in order to meet the demands of the digital era. She belives that only then can we truly accelerate ongoing efforts to grow the digital economy.

Today, the tech sector contributes 18.5% to Malaysia’s GDP – the highest in the region, and 30% to ASEAN’s Internet economy.

Talent is a crucial component in the nation’s digital ecosystem as digital competencies among these talents are catalysts for digitalisation across SMEs, industries and among the rakyat at large. – Feb 17, 2021


Dr Sumitra Nair is the vice president of digital skills and jobs division at MDEC

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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