As Asia intensifies its digital revolution, its economies are facing a surge in demand for new digital skills. For instance, 42,000 new IT jobs will be created in Singapore over the next three years, according to the Communications and Information Ministry.

Singapore is home to an ageing workforce that has “lost touch with their technical skills”, said Adrian Ong, deputy director of Singapore’s Tech Skills Accelerator Office (TeSA) of the Infocommunications, Media and Development Authority (IMDA), at a recent skills development workshop. The digital skills of these veterans are quickly becoming obsolete by emerging tech like artificial intelligence, and they risk becoming unemployed.

In neighbouring Malaysia, the opposite is happening: the country’s youth are struggling to upskill themselves. “Driven by the rise of AI, there’s a lot of fear that jobs are going to go away,” Sumitra Nair, vice president of the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), shared at the workshop. People cannot find jobs easily in their hometowns, and are moving to cities in droves.

The digital skills of local workforces need to “keep up with tech”, says Justin Li, Senior Product Manager from Huawei Learning Service, a team that consults with governments and companies to help them meet demands for new digital skills. GovInsider shares how Singapore and Malaysia are innovating to develop and support workers of the future.


In Singapore, IMDA wants to fill manpower gaps through training. The tech skills accelerator (TeSA) works with employers and industry leaders to develop specialised training programmes that cater to people in different stages of their careers, from students and early-career professionals to mid-career veterans and even the elderly.
One sector TeSA wants to develop is healthcare, as Singapore needs to better serve its ageing population. “It’s important that the sector itself has the necessary tech and expertise to look at IT systems to improve hospital efficiencies,” says IMDA’s Ong.

TeSA is training people with non-ICT backgrounds in basic skills like coding. By the end of their training, they will have the tech skills to join entry-level ICT jobs – helping to fill manpower gaps.

They are particularly focused on mid-career professionals, working with companies like Google and Huawei to create training programmes. These three-to-four month long programmes can help veterans develop the new skills they need to remain employed. Veterans are able to deepen the skills in “an adjacent area” that will help them in their work, like computing or graphic design, so they can stay relevant to the industry, Ong says.

Revamp tech education

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, the government is looking to the gig economy to help solve youth unemployment in secondary cities and semi-rural areas. “Graduates cannot find jobs in their hometowns,” Nair says. MDEC shares freelancing and sharing economy platforms with youth, teaches them how to bid for jobs and develop new tech skills.

The programme has since empowered youths to find freelancing jobs online. “We’ve had people from a village doing projects for a multinational corporation in the US,” shares Nair. Around 80,000 Malaysians have come under this programme, but MDEC still needs to iron out safety net issues – for instance, ensuring that freelancers are duly paid for their work.

“We’ve had people from a village doing projects for a multinational corporation in the US.”

Malaysia will need “education institutions to keep updating their curriculum with new tech knowledge, and employment education programmes to equip students with skills for the industry”, advises Huawei’s Li. MDEC is doing just that – it is integrating computational thinking into the national curriculum at the pre-university level, so students can learn basic tech skills right from their very first school year. Apart from computer science classes, MDEC has also embedded digital skills in subjects like design.

Meanwhile, MDEC trains teachers to teach these tech courses. “Teachers were trained for a different kind of education,” Nair notes, and “need to be trained as well”. It works with the education ministry and universities to train teachers to integrate computer science into their lessons. Since the project’s inception, MDEC has trained 70,000 teachers and integrated tech into the curriculum for 10,000 schools.

Beyond the classroom, MDEC works with tech companies to launch data science programmes for students. Tech talents uncovered from these projects are brought into a “digital ninjas” programme, where they learn soft skills like pitching to complement their tech expertise. The programme is currently at its third intake with 300 students.

Private sector partnerships

Private sector companies must play a leading role in helping governments build and run new skills and training programmes.

Huawei, for instance, wants to “provide more ICT talent insights to the government, and also to the education institutions, and more tech knowledge to others”, says Huawei’s Li. Its Seeds for the Future programme brings international students to the Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen, where Huawei professionals give them tech training for two weeks. By the end of 2017, the programme had trained 3,600 students from 108 countries at Huawei’s headquarters. And earlier in May 2018, IMDA brought 10 local ICT undergraduates to Shenzhen for the programme.

Earlier this year, Huawei set up an ICT academy with Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore to train students on the tech skills they need to get employed. Globally, it is currently working with over 350 universities to launch ICT academies, with over 12,500 students trained just last year. And in Malaysia, it recently launched iTalent@Digital, an app for ICT professionals to learn new tech skills any time, anywhere.

So long as governments continue working to equip their workers with the necessary tech skills, and with some help from private sector, workers can learn to keep up with the digital revolution.

Image by Ahmad Zamri Ahmad ZahirCC BY-ND 2.0