The future employee in the new world order

By TARANJEET SINGH / Pic By TMR

With all the ongoing discussions on the future of work, how it looks like, how it ought to look like and how we hope it will look like, it does seem that no one really know how it’s going to play out.

To better understand this area, at least from a national agenda development perspective, let us turn to some of the “architects” of Malaysia’s future workforce for probable answers, namely some noted national bodies.

The National Workforce Human Capital Development Blue Print 2018- 2025 that was recently unveiled alludes to the human capital trends that Malaysia is presently going through. It also refers somewhat to the notion of Industry 4.0; and there is much comment on what other countries are doing and how this could be viewed as case studies for Malaysia to emulate.

However, fascinatingly enough, very little mention is made about what is to be done with the nation’s talent pool so as to spearhead the development and subsequent sustainability of a high income economy. Incidentally as of 2018, the World Bank defined a high income economy as “a country with a gross national income (GNI) per capita of approximately US$12,000 (RM47,760) and above”. Malaysia, as of 2017, is categorised as an upper middle income nation of GNI per capita of between US$4,000 and US$12,000 respectively.

Perusal of this blueprint reflects that much effort is being spent highlighting the crucial need for training; ensuring that training providers comply with a star-rating mechanism; provide for improved compliance on the part of employers to pay the levy that they are obligated to do so by law, among other things. And admittedly, while there is some mention about human capital solutioning, much of these writings are focused on looking at, and to some extent, admiring what other countries are doing and very little about what we as a nation ought to be doing moving forward.

It is with this background in mind that I ask the following questions:

i) What are the future economic sectors that will be positively impacted by the digital economy that is now upon us?

ii) How are we preparing our national talent pool, no matter at what age group, as a workforce for the future?

iii) Will having trainers who, while meeting the stringent requirements of a star rating, come to naught if they themselves are unclear of what tomorrow brings to the table for us as a nation?

In all honesty and dare I say, sending folks in for training programmes is certainly not the only answer.

Instead, there must be some clear points of views that need to be expressed and the proverbial stakes must be firmly placed in the ground at a national level. While we may not have the answer to all questions, at least by having a view in this respect, we are now working towards answering these all-important questions that dangle high upon us like the mythical Sword of Damocles.

What is clear in my mind is that the nature of work can be divided into two distinct categories:

i) That which is driven by routine actions like machine operators, bookkeepers, bank tellers and the like, and;

ii) that which is driven by complex, emotional thinking skills such as managers, accountants, medical specialists, researchers and others like them.

With the evolution of the digital economy, as it stands today, and the seamless connect of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things of tomorrow, it will be but a matter of time before automation takes over the routine actions. Already the bookkeeping jobs are being lost to generic cloud-based financial management applications that cost under RM20 per month to operate; and it’s now uncommon for someone to physically visit a bank for transactions. Almost everything can be done remotely using a banking application of sorts.

So that then leaves us with jobs requiring “complex/emotional thinking skills”. This is something which cannot be replicated by any information technology software or autonomous robot. The linkage of such jobs to humanistic characteristics such as emotional intelligence as well as strategic formation and subsequently seamless execution is, for now, unique to the feeling and thinking human incumbents. In my view, it will be the jobs that fall within these two categories that will see the dawn of the new tech-driven economy.

So the proverbial 64 million dollar question that I will conclude with is, what are we, as true “architects” really doing to ensure that we are consciously and in a planful fashion shepherding our national talent pool forward in line with the digital evolution that is now upon us? And, a follow up to that, is what assurance can we provide to Mr Vijay (mentioned in my last column) the cab driver to say that he and others like him, have not been left out in this digital journey.

  • Taranjeet Singh, CEO of consulting firm Quantum Steppe Advisory, has returned to Malaysia after living and working in Central Asia for the past several years.