From finance to health care to banking and auto, digital solutions are now propelling growth throughout all sectors of today’s global economy.
Key to this growth, however — and vital to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 8) — is a workforce equipped with entirely new sets of digital skills.
Governments worldwide are taking measures to address the critical talent shortages created by the rapid pace of technological change.
Among those in the vanguard of such efforts is regional tech leader Singapore, a country that puts heavy emphasis on digital skills education as part of its Smart Nation vision.
Seeking to enhance its position as a “gateway to Asian innovation,” Singapore recently reaffirmed its commitment to spend SGD 2.4 billion (USD 1.73 billion) on ICT tenders in the 2017 fiscal year to drive the country’s digital transformation and Smart Nation efforts. Moreover, it is expected that there will be 53 000 new ICT professional hires between 2016–2018. But given that some 20 000 ICT vacancies in Singapore went unfilled in 2015, investing in skills development will take on an important role as Singapore moves forward in this digital era.
“It’s not just a vision, it’s about making sure that we continue to be relevant in the global marketplace,” Tan Kiat How, Chief Executive, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), told ITU News in a recent interview. It’s about “building the future workforce and making sure that our young and next generation will be relevant in the digital economy.”
In addition to the Lab on Wheels programme, in which school children are introduced to technology in a fun environment, the government launched company-based mentorships for graduates to gain hands-on tech skills.
The Company-Led Training programme (CLT) supports the job market by fast-tracking new professionals and upskilling or reskilling experienced professionals to gain skills for technical job roles in demand, such as data analytics.
Private-sector companies co-invest in professionals by providing structured on-the-job training for up to 12 months. This means that companies get access to top talent, while helping to fill the industry pipeline more widely. This structured programme has helped more young people choose technical careers they may not have otherwise chosen.
“Even though a lot of Singaporeans have won the math Olympics internationally, for some reason, it is not a very ’sexy’ career option and people may not choose this career path,” said Tan Poh Choo, Director of Operations at SAS Singapore, a business analytics software and services company, and partner under the CLT programme. “So we thought that if the government has a structured programme and it benefits the industry sector, then I think we should hop onto it.”
PIXEL Studios is a dedicated facility for content creators and game developers to experiment, collaborate and innovate while growing their skills and platforms.
“We want to help people to not just develop a product, but to develop a viable, sustainable business,” says Dr Ng Kian Bee, Deputy Director of the Nanyang Polytechnic School of Interactive and Digital Media, and Lead Facilitator of Pixel Studios. “Then, if your product fails, we know that you have enough know-how to build your business to carry to the next stage.”
The business acumen gained from this startup experience is helping transform Singapore’s technical talent into a workforce that can drive domestic innovation that will fuel future growth.
Entrepreneurial digital content makers like online video creators and game developers, including Wah!Banana and Ratloop Asia (developers of Rocketbirds 2 for PC and Sony PlayStation 4), have benefitted from PIXEL Studios support and resources.
“The vision is to make all Malaysians ICT literate, to make sure at least every Malaysian has basic Internet access and also basic Internet knowledge…” – Norman Razali, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)
In neighbouring Malaysia, another digital transformation is underway — one focused first on providing better access and basic ICT skills to citizens spread out in rural areas.
Last year, 17.8% of Malaysia’s national GDP was derived from the “digital economy”, according to government figures, and Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, declared 2017 as the year of the Internet economy. However, there remains an urban-rural socioeconomic development divide. As such, driving local ICT-enabled economies is an important goal for the country.
“The vision is to make all Malaysians ICT literate, to make sure at least every Malaysian has basic Internet access and also basic Internet knowledge, so we can come towards a developed nation in 2020. This is one of the steps to become a developed and more advanced nation in 2020,” says Norman Razali, Assistant Director, International, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
Thanks to Internet access and training through government-run rural Internet centres, Malaysia’s local entrepreneurs are boosting their online presence and reaping the rewards.
Using the facilities in an Internet centre in the small seaside town of Melaka, entrepreneur Tajul Rusydi Akasyah Bin Abd Aziz, owner of Tapai Pulut Sarimah, updates his company Facebook page selling boxes of tapai, a local fermented rice delicacy.
The 26-year-old started coming to the centre in 2016 — and it has helped take the business to the next level. Now new customers from outside the village can enjoy his beloved family recipe.
“This Telecenter helps me to advertise my product on the Internet more frequently, more efficiently. I am currently using Facebook, my webpage, and Instagram,” Bin Abd Aziz said. “We increased our revenue by about 20%. It makes me happy.”
Additional training is provided through Malaysia’s e–Rezeki programme which helps low-income individuals find “side work” to boost their income. Those training centres are located throughout Malaysia to train people in how to find work online. In 2016 alone, 150 000 registered users earned MYR 17 million (close to USD 4 million) through the programme.
Given that a significant portion of today’s schoolchildren will be employed in jobs that have yet to be created, new digital skills programs like these will be important to prepare workforces for the future.
By Lucy Spencer (@inquisitivelucy), ITU News
© All Photos: Julie Marchand/ITU News
[For more on-the-ground examples of how ICTs are accelerating the SDGs, read the latest edition of ITU News Magazine.]