Upskilling is top on the agenda for governments all over the world. But what does it actually mean for working citizens?

Aryani Suhardi is a true-blue success story of this concept. After twelve years as a contact centre consultant at insurance provider Prudential Singapore, she became the company’s first-ever chatbot trainer. She is using her years of experience working with financial consultants to develop artificial intelligence that can respond to common customer questions.

“My in-depth knowledge of the business meant I could “train” the chatbot with the information it needed,” says Suhardi. The company launched the IBM Watson-powered chatbot in 2017 to help financial consultants answer customers’ questions faster.

From hiring to transforming

The entire experience has been quite a learning journey for Suhardi. She is now training colleagues to train the bot and use it to help them in their work. “Our team as a whole has moved on to performing higher-value tasks, thanks to a bot that is now fielding routine queries on our behalf,” she explains.

To further enhance her technical skills, Suhardi attended a six-month training programme with data scientists, where she learned how to feed the bot question-and-answer pairs from the company’s database.

Companies such as Prudential are now recognising the need to retrain their staff to keep up with disruptive technologies. “It’s not just about hiring new people,” remarks Chief Information Technology Officer Arvind Mathur. “I think the bigger, more impactful challenge is, how do we transform our existing workforce?”

Mathur notes that the insurance environment will likely look very different in the future, and “we need everyone who is in various levels of experience to bring on new capabilities; learn new things; try new stuff”.

In 2017, the company invested more than 25,000 hours in training employees in leadership skills, design thinking, innovation and digital skills, according to Chief Human Resources Officer Sheela Parakkal. Prudential also invested S$70 million in technology capabilities to benefit customers and to help its workforce work smarter and more productively, she adds. “We want to develop multi-skilled professionals who are adaptable and agile,” she says.

Singapore’s skills movement

More broadly across Singapore, the government has streamlined efforts to reskill and upskill citizens into one movement, SkillsFuture. Employers, employees, and training providers all need to be on board, and there are programmes available to support them in preparing for the jobs of the future.

Tertiary institutes here are integral to Singapore’s efforts. Future gGraduates will need to have a firm grasp of data analytics, and the Infocomm Media Development Authority recently teamed up with private sector on a data skills competition hosted at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Students analysed data of various social problems to come up with insights and solutions.

“This is the way of them contributing, and telling their stories with data,” JY Pook, Senior Vice President of Asia Pacific at ‎Tableau, told GovInsider. “We can have a generation of ‘This is my own view’.”

Meanwhile, Temasek Polytechnic is actively ensuring that students are prepared for AI-heavy jobs. “This is an area where we want to not just train finance and accounting students in basic bookkeeping or principles of accounting, but also to help them understand how AI can help them do their work better in the future,” said Principal and CEO Peter Lam at the recent THINK ASEAN 2018 summit.


“As we all know, students don’t operate on office hours, so the chatbot is able to provide course advice to them 24/7.”

AI is helping this institute to work much more efficiently too. It has developed a chatbot of its own, which provides course advice to students and parents. “As we all know, students don’t operate on office hours, so the chatbot is able to provide course advice to them 24/7,” Lam added. Since its launch in November, the chatbot has fielded over 20,000 conversations.

But at the heart of interesting new technologies such as this one, is how the humans themselves can boost employability and further their learning journey. For Prudential’s Suhardi, upgrading her skills gave her the opportunity to pivot her career. “It has been rewarding to be able to do this at mid-career,” she remarks.

And for anyone looking for inspiration: Suhardi is now as comfortable with HTML coding as she is with answering financial consultantscustomers’ emails questions.

Image from SkillsFuture Singapore Facebook Page

This article was produced in partnership with Prudential Singapore.