No end to tech education

News April 5, 2021

The article “No end to tech education” was published by QISHIN TARIQ at The Star

AS the nation attempts to recover from the pandemic’s economic ravages, government agencies and experts say seeking employment in the digital industry is the way forward.

Social Security Organisation (Socso) CEO Datuk Seri Dr Mohammed Azman Aziz Mohammed said the pandemic has dealt a big blow to the labour market, causing many companies to cease operations or temporarily close.

He revealed that 107,024 workers were retrenched last year.

This not only added to the unemployment glut, but also made it more challenging for the 300,000 or so fresh graduates entering the labour market annually, who now had to compete against experienced workers seeking new jobs.

He cited the Statistics Department, saying the country’s unemployment rate rose to 4.5% in 2020, the highest since 1993 (4.1%). In 2019, the unemployment rate stood at 3.3%.

“The high number of unemployed individuals in the country in comparison with the reported loss of employment at Socso suggests that the pandemic has also impacted the informal sector and graduates, who have yet to be registered with us,” he said.

Digitally driven

In a report, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan said two government initiatives – National job placement portal Myfuturejobs and the Hiring Incentive programme (Penjanakerjaya) – are leveraging online resources to help citizens land jobs.

Since launching last June, Myfuturejobs has helped 185,493 individuals gain employment – 161,603 in 2020 and 23,890 this year.

Meanwhile, Penjanakerjaya helped 146,258 individuals get a job by subsidising their salary between 40% and 60% for 18,653 employers at a cost of Rm354.34mil.

In a press statement, he said the ministry targets a 20% increase in job placements through the Myfuturejobs portal this year.

Socso, an agency under the Human Resources Ministry, acts as the job broker, supplying the portal with job vacancies. As of Feb 24, the portal had over 137,000 job listings.

The efforts appear to have yielded results, as the Statistics Department reported a 1.5% increase in employment as of last December, with a total of 15.22 million people employed in the country, up from 14.99 million in June 2020.

Saravanan said the success of Penjanakerjaya 1.0 has led to another Rm2bil being allocated to Penjanakerjaya 2.0, allowing the ministry to increase the scope of assistance to include locals from at-risk communities and people with disabilities.

“At Socso, we are always prepared to be one step ahead be it via technological means or other innovative solutions.

“Even before the pandemic hit Malaysian shores, almost all of our services were accessible via online,” Mohammed Azman claimed, when asked how the movement control order (MCO) had affected its operations.

Though all Socso counters were closed in states under MCO and conditional MCO, the agency claimed it adapted by transforming physical events and activities such as career fairs and talks into virtual events and webinars.

In 2020, it organised more than 130 virtual career fairs which resulted in 532 individuals being employed, it stated.

Tech talents

“Worldwide, the pandemic has caused a shift to an economy that’s reliant on technology across all sectors.

“Digital skills are required in many industries, including retail, food and beverage, health and social care, and farming,” said Mohammed Azman.

Socso’s Loss of Employment statistics revealed that the hardest hit sectors were manufacturing (23,281 jobs lost); wholesale and retail (15,023); and food and beverage, and accommodation (14,427).

By age group, the worst off were those aged 25 to 29 (21,303 jobs lost), 30 to 34 (18,332) and 35 to 39 (14,761).

To address this, Penjanakerjaya was established as a platform to incentivise employers to hire unemployed individuals and job-seekers. The programme provides employers financial incentives for hiring, as well as avenues to reskill fresh graduates and unemployed individuals.

Penjanakerjaya allows new recruits that meet its criteria to be sent for professional certification programmes worth up to RM7,000 while those joining as an apprentice can be selected for training courses worth up to RM4,000.

To ensure there is enough manpower to train a total of 200,000 participants under the programme, each person is allowed to undergo only one training course.

According to Mohammed Azman, the most in-demand training courses are professional certification in Information and Communications Technology, Logistics, and Office Management.

The courses offered under Penjanakerjaya are delivered by training providers that have registered with the Human Resource Development Fund, Department of Skills Development or Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation.

However, to ensure the courses are beneficial, they are presented for approval to a training committee comprising external experts who deliberate on the suitability and relevance of the subjects offered based on industrial demand.

Pandemic priorities

Eric Ku, the co-founder itrain Asia, one of the approved training centres, revealed that the most popular courses at his centre are data analytics, digital marketing and cybersecurity.

He said the choices reflect the shift in priorities brought about by the pandemic, with a focus on automation and collaboration.

“Employers want to use tech to help employees collaborate better, especially as they are required to work from home,” he said.

When asked about the candidates who signed up for the courses, Ku replied that retrenched workers made up the majority, accounting for about 70% of attendees. About 20% were newly hired employees while students made up the rest.

“With the right mindset, seasoned employees will find the courses especially beneficial, as they will be given the necessary knowledge and digital resources to solve existing real-world problems,” he said.

He explained that they would already have an understanding of how a particular organisation functions, making them a subject matter expert and allow them to better employ what they learned to save cost for the company.

For instance, itrain, which provides training to bank staff, found that such employees are more likely to kick start a digital project to review and improve work processes.

“Last time, organisations used to hire from the outside for digital change, but now find it faster to hire from the inside, as you need to know what problems need to be fixed,” he pointed out.

Staying ahead

Trainocate Malaysia country manager Ruby Kaur also found that the people seeking training are mostly unemployed. “However, I do believe that tech training will benefit not just the unemployed but everyone,” she said.

Asked if older staff had more trouble understanding new technologies, she said both young and old students often had problems with self-paced learning for challenging technical courses. Videos and reading materials alone are not enough, she said, if there isn’t an avenue for students to explore further, such as being able to reach out to a trainer. However, due to MCO, many training centres had to shut down their physical classrooms – both Trainocate and itrain have seen their offices closed for nearly a year.

“Our trainers have had exposure to online teaching prior to the pandemic and have adapted easily to this teaching method as being the primary mode.

“Though they are conducted virtually, the element of engagement is still there,” she said, adding that students could also call or message instructors after class to clarify any issues.

Ku made a distinction between virtual learning and e-learning, saying that virtual learning imitates a classroom with trainers on-hand to interact with students so it is essentially a class being conducted online. In comparison, e-learning is mainly based on recordings with no interactions. “Hiring managers generally don’t like the latter, as the training is not validated by a pro

fessional so they would not consider such certificates of completion as acceptable.

“These classes could even be problematic if people learned something wrong and were not corrected,” he said.

Customised courses

Ruby said continued education is especially important in the fast changing IT world and related fields, noting that some working adults in the IT field are struggling to cope due to this.

Cybersecurity firm LGMS founder Fong Choong Fook agreed, saying that cybersecurity too requires continuous learning, as experts could become “obsolete” in a very short period if they don’t keep up with the threat landscape that is continuously changing.

“This is a criteria for people who want a career in cybersecurity and it’s the reason why it’s very taxing – cybersecurity is a lifelong learning journey.

“It is, however, a very joyful career for people who enjoy learning,” he said.

Beyond security consultancy services, his firm has been providing training under Penjanakerjaya for nearly 16 years.

“Training we provide is niche, as we try to avoid general subjects. This still covers a range of topics from ethical hacking, ISO audit and corporate crime investigations,” he said.

Ku echoed this sentiment, saying that courses have to be tailored to the needs of the industry.

While courses itrain made for companies could be customised, those offered via Penjanakerjaya had to be more broad, as they are meant to accommodate a wider range of participants.

He said there is a need to develop niche courses or localised lessons that are relevant, including taking into account the software commonly and popularly used here, as that would allow job seekers to meet the requirement of employers.

“It needs to be localised if you want to make people employable. Sure, we cannot be 100% accurate unless we work with a particular organisation but we will give the candidate a better shot by localising,” he said.

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