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Adapting to the new job market with training and development in Malaysia

With the drastic transformation towards a digital economy hastened by disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, workers will have to upskill and reskill themselves to survive the changes.

An average of 10,000 Malaysians per month lost their jobs in 2020, exacerbated by the Movement Control Order (MCO) implemented by the Malaysian Government in March as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report in Free Malaysia Today (FMT). 

“This represents an increase of 278% compared with 2019,” said Malaysia’s Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) CEO Mohamad Azman Aziz in an interview with FMT. “If this trend continues, loss of employment cases are estimated to be more than 100,000 by the end of 2020.”

Based on the reports of job losses that SOCSO received, the manufacturing sector suffered the most at 23% of cases, followed by the hospitality, food, and beverage industries (15%) and the retail industry (14%). 

In terms of positions, professionals, managerial posts, and technicians were the most affected, Aziz added.

Fourth industrial revolution

But even before the spread of the coronavirus, which resulted in economies around the world coming to a grinding halt, the trend of job losses was already prevalent with the arrival of Industry 4.0 and automation taking over many of the functions of workers.

Despite the bleak conditions in the job market, online recruitment company JobStreet observed that certain sectors such as computer and technology, banking and services, retail and merchandise, and healthcare are still actively seeking workers to fill positions in Malaysia.  

Photo by Mimi Thian

A survey by recruitment and human resources services company Randstad Malaysia revealed that Malaysian employees and job seekers were well aware that they needed to upskill to take advantage of the opportunities that came with digitization. 

About 89% of respondents said they would need to acquire new skills to work in a digital-led environment, while 93% said they were willing to acquire these skills themselves to guarantee their employability.

Most felt employers should be the ones to provide such digital-skill training. However, only 63% said their employers offered such a benefit, and 76% said they are investing in themselves to learn about technological advances such as AI. Digitization has also become more essential in this present work climate as many employees have to work from home.

Online learning has become the new normal during this pandemic. Malaysians who have lost their jobs and young graduates are tapping this resource to upskill themselves to remain relevant in the job market. 

EdTech players in neighboring Singapore have also sought opportunities to bring resources to those looking to upskill and reskill as the job market evolves.

Keep learning to stay relevant

“Online learning is not a trend in East Malaysia, especially in my Iban community,” said Mactayren Jupiter, 30, referring to connectivity challenges in rural areas.

Jupiter is originally from rural Sarawak, where online learning isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds. He is now living in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. 

Mactayren Jupiter

“A college degree is not enough if you want to survive in today’s competitive job market. Skillset programs will help one to be more competent and well-versed in his area of expertise as well as improve employability.” 

Trained as a healthcare worker, Jupiter made a career shift and joined the creative industry in 2014 to pursue his personal interests. He is currently a group digital marketing manager in an engineering firm.

“For now, I’m glad to be part of a professional group that has its pulse on the rapidly evolving digital world. I hope to keep updating myself as I know my current knowledge and skills may not be fully relevant a year from now.”

“The world’s economy is not going to bounce back immediately after this pandemic, and demand for workers will surely shrink, and employers become more selective. Continuing to upskill ourselves with the right tools will open the door to future employment as well as entrepreneurship,” he said.

Preparing for the future

Jupiter, along with thousands of others, signed up for free access to Coursera courses offered in partnership with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), an agency under the purview of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Ministry.

The Malaysian government’s support of upskilling and reskilling are not alone in the region. The Singapore government’s SkillsFuture initiative encourages individuals to take ownership of their skills development and lifelong learning by offering credits for online classes.

Launched in May under MDEC’s “Let’s Learn Digital” campaign to digitally upskill the Malaysian workforce under its #mydigitalworkforce initiative, 3,800 courses, including professional certificates, were made available online. This served to equip employees through and beyond the movement control order period, focusing on future-proofing the workforce. 

By the time the campaign ended at the end of October, 22,721 students had signed up for various courses with modules such as ‘Programming for Everybody,’ ‘Excel Skills for Business: Essentials’ and ‘Technical Support Fundamentals’ proving to be the most popular choices.

Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation’s website

“Let’s Learn Digital was a partnership with Coursera as part of their Workforce Recovery initiative for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For MDEC, initiatives such as these were guided by the agency’s strategic framework, implemented under its first pillar, Digitally Skilled Malaysians,” said MDEC CEO Surina Shukri. 

“Given the accelerated pace of digitalization, it’s not surprising that nine out of the top 10 most popular courses were related to data and digital skills. As the organization that leads the digital economy forward in the Fourth Industrial Revolution towards a digitally accelerated society within Malaysia 5.0, MDEC is pleased to see the strong interest in digital upskilling and reskilling via online learning platforms like Coursera,” said Surina. 

Asked if the agency would continue to hold such collaborations, Surina said, “MDEC is continuously looking for opportunities to allow Malaysians to participate in lifelong learning, in particular, equipping themselves with digital skills.”

Improving skill sets and marketability

Having majored in Aviation Technology, Siti Nornajwa Hashimi, 24, has been unable to find a job since she graduated a year ago as there are very few aviation jobs these days.

Siti Nornajwa Hashimi

To make herself more marketable, she enrolled in ‘Effective Communication: Graphic Design’ and ‘Introduction To Data Analysis using Excel’ Coursera courses online.

“Learning ‘Effective Communication: Business Writing’ helped me pass prerequisites for job interviews, and I also took up Korean for fun,” she added. “At the moment, I’m helping my mum’s food business, so data analysis comes in handy. Eventually, though, I hope to be able to find a job in aircraft maintenance.”

“The current job situation is tougher than ever, and our country’s unemployment rate keeps on increasing. We have to stand out from the others to be able to compete in today’s market environment. We can’t stop the changes, but we can change ourselves by upgrading and reskilling to cater to market needs.”

IT engineer Mohamad Syaufe Harriz Abdullah, 29, from Johor, was forced to take unpaid leave between April and August this year.

Mohamad Syaufe Harriz Abdullah

He could not travel to Singapore for work because of the strict cross-border restrictions imposed by the Malaysia and Singapore Governments due to the pandemic.

In the meantime, he took up Coursera courses to upgrade his skills while waiting. Subjects such as Data Engineering and Project management programs were totally new to him but useful for work application.

“My job requires me to have technical and communication skills and the ability to solve problems. The courses provided valuable knowledge and skillsets to help me advance in my career and the confidence to move towards leadership positions,” said Syaufe Harriz.

Former women’s magazine editor Yang Mei Ling, 36, found herself out of a job overnight when publishing house Blu Inc in Malaysia suddenly ceased operations at the end of April.

Yang Mei Ling

Unfazed, she took this opportunity to equip herself with a Cambridge University Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) online, which would allow her to travel and teach anywhere in the world. Although the certification is not a requirement for teaching, Yang said it would come in handy in the future. At present, she is juggling multiple roles as a freelance editor, copywriter, translator, and educator.

“I’ve also taken classes in film studies from Stanford and am looking into digital studies as well as language courses. These certificates provide a form of assurance of a person’s credibility for the role for which they’re applying for. Digitization today is defining the future workforce and the way forward. Everything is moving so fast, and if you can’t keep up, you will be left behind,” shared Yang.

From the employer’s perspective

Continuous learning and personal self-development are essential due to the rapid changes in the workplace. Well-resourced digital or online learning platforms such as Open Learning, Coursera, edX, and Linkedin Learning, among others, can provide updated information, insights and analysis, new presentation approaches, and vibrant case studies. 

Ooi Lay Tin

“All these can help to broaden the mindset and increase a person’s understanding of situations beyond one’s local environment or condition. A ‘learner resume’ can provide a much-needed value differentiation when one applies for a better or well-remunerated job,” explained International University of Malaya-Wales’ sales and marketing head, Ooi Lay Tin.

“Most people, especially the younger ones, are transient and navigating their entry into the working world. They are competitive and eager to push ahead of others. I see this as an added advantage in the sales and marketing field.”

“For example, I would consider hiring someone with a science background who is interested in psychology. This would cover digital connectivity topics such as customer personas, the new customer journey, and various age groups’ online buying behavior.”

“Digitization makes relevant information accessible to anyone around the world at a very affordable rate. Reskilling and upskilling capabilities form routes to new growth opportunities for those who embrace this approach. One must adapt to the current and future labor market,” she concluded.

Patsy Kam
Malaysia-based journalist Patsy Kam is a contributor to Malaysia's English-language daily The Star. A wordster, author, and part-time baker, these days Patsy Kam also blogs at www.kameatwithme.com and is learning to take life’s curveballs in her stride with a shot of whisky in hand.