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Building a learning ecosystem for Asia’s workforce

The future of work has the ability to surprise and confound us. If we cannot predict it, we can certainly be prepared for it.

Like the rest of the world, Asia is experiencing an accelerated transformation of digitization and automation. However, this transformation has the potential to cause a workforce crisis.

The 2022 Digital Talent Insight report noted that by 2030, Asia Pacific will face a shortage of 47 million tech talent while more than 50% of chief executives within the region will grapple to hire digital talent with the right skills.

Other than that, the transformation will have an unequal impact across Asia. It is estimated that within the next 18 to 24 months, 20 – 25% of workers across Asia will have the flexibility to work away from physical offices. However, only 5 – 10% of workers in Southeast Asia will have that flexibility.

How can Asia’s workforce prepare itself for the future of work?

LEARNTech Asia interviewed Patricia Chew, the Vice President of Talent & Learning at Sembcorp. Patricia has over 33 years of experience as a HR Practitioner, Leadership and Talent Designer and Facilitator, and Coach/Mentor. Patricia relocated to China between 2016 – 2021 to facilitate the development of Walmart Retail University with an impact over 200,000 employees in the organization, and helped Walmart win the top 2 corporate universities award by China HRM in 2019.

The learning industry throughout the years

“Many people, especially the older generation still prefer the classroom style of learning and though they do enjoy gaining knowledge, it doesn’t always mean that they will apply it at their workplace.”

Therein lies the issue with traditional training workshops and learning styles. Learners do not only want an experience, they want the opportunity and ability to apply what they have learned to improve their work and grow their careers.

Chew shares her observation of how learning and training have changed over the years

Additionally, L&D teams are gradually realizing that “some love to learn from Ted Talks, some love to learn through games, while others love to learn by reading, workshops, or networking.”

The different styles of learning and desire to apply their skills is why “businesses are exploring simulation-based training wherein people are allotted different roles to tackle real-life cases and problems.” It is also the reason why pure lectures have had to make way for gamification, case studies, and simulation-based learning styles.

Despite the growing number of learning styles, Asia continues to struggle with two pillars of challenge. “Firstly, the Asian workforce isn’t ready for self-driven learning. Secondly, many of the learning resources are produced or led by an expert trainer or curriculum designer familiar with the traditional training workshops.”

Chew highlights a lack of self-driven learning as a pillar challenge of Asia’s workforce
Chew emphasizes that training providers and learning content must adapt to different learning styles

Self-driven learning

Self-driven learning is an experience that shifts the responsibility of learning from the instructor to the learner. It allows the individual to explore and direct their own learning experience according to their career interests and needs. Instead of being instructed to attend specific training sessions, learners are taught to independently choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.

At present, the Asian workforce has access to a multitude of learning platforms that include learning content uploaded and digitized from in-person courses. However, as technology advances, the workforce needs access to better learning platforms that allow them to utilize technologies such as VR and AR that match quality learning experiences.

“It is not easy to identify a single platform which enables such self-driven learning. The world of learning is lacking a platform that allows for content creation, teaching and learning, sharing of knowledge, networking amongst learners, different styles of learning, and tracking of learning behaviors under one roof.”

When Patricia designed Walmart China’s learning platform in 2016, she partnered with a gaming company to create the learning experience platform (LXP) for them. This partnership was vital because there were no available learning platforms that could meet the different learning styles and needs of Walmart China’s workforce and the organizational needs of the retail company.

Chew explains how Walmart created a network of learners through experiential learning

The Walmart Retail University app features a community tab that encourages its workforce to converse with each other and show off their achievements within the app itself. Additionally, Walmart China’s learning ecosystem encouraged self-driven learning by enabling employees to learn in teams of five.

Chew stresses the value of team collaboration and mentorship

“They can learn together as a team of five and they can source for a mentor within the app itself. The mentor will facilitate their digital and technical competencies. The idea is for each team to create a product, introduce a new approach to business development, marketing strategies etcetera for the benefit of the organization. And if they are able to get it out running on the ground, they will be rewarded for their efforts.”

Such an immersive learning experience is vital for any workforce to thrive in the future of work but especially for Asia where traditional learning styles and the inability to view the mobile device as a learning tool remains the norm.

Shift in expertise

“Designing a traditional workshop is greatly different from creating and designing lessons for a bite-size resource.”

Expert L&D teams comprise educators and curriculum designers who are equipped with the skills needed to conduct in-person learning sessions. However, the rapid hybridization and digitization of Asia’s workforce called for these educators and designers to create bite-size learning resources that allow for people to “learn within the shortest span of time, apply what they learned, and create significant input to the business outcome.”

Chew shares how organizations can swiftly develop effective L&D programs

As such, they must expand their skills and reconsider “how to build a learning ecosystem with topics that are relevant, that allow learners to learn anytime and anywhere, create opportunities for learners to feel and be more confident at the workplace, and enable them to have some impact at work.”

Furthermore, they need to develop data analytic skills as the future of learning requires them to monitor and track the learning development of each employee, and make suggestions and/or conclusions based on those findings.

For instance, the mentors available in the Walmart China app are not L&D educators or curriculum designers. “They are experts from different departments of the organization. While the mentors facilitate the teams of five, L&D educators and curriculum designers track each learner’s professional development and continuously reconsiders how to approach learning in a way that facilitates inter-department and interdisciplinary knowledge sharing and networking.”

The future of Asia

Evidently, the future of work and learning in Asia is ripe with plenty of opportunities. The L&D teams across Asia “need to reconsider a learning environment that better suits the lifestyle of the workforce today.”

They need to create a learning ecosystem that “entices people to find the time to learn, to know what skills they need to develop” and enable organizations to create a learning environment wherein “people know that when they develop new skill sets their companies will appreciate their growth and reward them accordingly.”

Chew concludes with an advice on how organizations can integrate learning into the flow of work, in a post-pandemic world
LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia showcases innovation in learning in Asia. We feature stories and resources in online learning, workplace learning, adult education, EdTech, and creative solutions by teachers and trainers in learning institutions, non-profits, and enterprises that enhance human capacity and inspire communities of lifelong learners.