Preparing job-ready and future-proof graduates

A roundtable discussion in progress on the Future of Work at Bett Asia 2019.NSTP/SALHANI IBRAHIM

THE impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) on the future workforce has been the subject of many discussions.

The concern expressed by many is that jobs that exist today will disappear with the onslaught of technologies like automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Research from global professional network LinkedIn stated that by 2020, 50 million jobs would be displaced due to automation and AI.

Head of LinkedIn Learning business in Asia Georgina O’Brien said this information should not be perceived negatively, but rather should be met with enthusiasm because of the prospects of new opportunities and the skillsets needed going forward.

“In the 1900s, people had one job for life, but now we are looking at 15 careers in a lifetime for millenials and those belonging to the Generation Z group. Sixty-five per cent of jobs hired in the next generation do not exist today. Some of the areas where jobs will emerge are predicted to be in the commercial drone industry, 3D printing, crypto currencies and future agriculture,” she said.

In such an environment, O’Brien said the shelf-life for skills is five years, while technology-based skills would be valid for only three years.

“For students who graduate from university, many of what they learned in their first year is redundant when they get to the job market. Studies show 87 per cent of students feel they are well prepared for jobs and yet, only 50 per cent of managers feel the same way.

“The question is, how are we going to help set university graduates for success? How can we create agility in their education system so they can be job-ready and future-proof?” she asked.

O’Brien said more than ever, we now have to focus on soft skills, as well as hybrid skills like data analytics and collaborative skills, for example.

She said universities should pay attention to the complex characteristics of the modern learner.

“They (students) live in the Netflix era with an on-demand mindset. They know exactly what they are getting. They are associated with just-in-time learning, and things like mobile access (learning on-the-go),” she said.

Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Mohammad Shatar Sabran said with the emergence of technologies and the impact of IR4.0 on universities, talents as well as society, it was critical for the higher education sector to envision the universities of tomorrow.

“The future generations are technology-savvy. We must ensure our courses, teaching methods and future graduates are equipped with more than just an academic qualification,” he said.

But whatever the technology, Shatar said, nothing could replace the human touch.

“As time passes by, the competition to secure a job becomes stiffer and people are getting worried whether there are any jobs left for the younger generations? Will technology replace human intelligence? The differentiator in those who succeed will be soft skills,” he said.

For example, if a job candidate has the ability to speak more than two languages, is able to work in teams and can think critically compared to his competitors with the same Cumulative Grade point average (CGPA) from university, this would make him the more attractive candidate.

“So, universities and lecturers need to look into building this aspect in students. Having academic qualifications is important, but so is having soft skills that would make students more marketable and able to perform in any job or industry,” he said.

Heriot-Watt University Malaysia chief executive officer and provost Professor Mushtak Al-Atabi believed that developing positive personal qualities such as resilience, happiness, self-awareness and self-motivation, could help students unleash their full potential and prepare them to stand out and create an impact in a highly-uncertain world.

“In the 1800s, during the First Industrial Revolution, technology replaced physical labour undertaken by humans. Now, with IR4.0, humans seem to be losing their superiority to machines in terms of cognitive skills.

“What we have left is precision working; ie. skills that football players and piano tuners have, as well as creativity and critical thinking. In the human domain, we have ethics, purpose, empathy and awareness. These are what machines cannot do,” he said, adding that employers needed the above skills in their workforce.

“What universities should do is to instill a sense of purpose in students for a lifelong journey and have them make academic choices that are challenge-focused, with a target to create impact and provide solutions to problems.

Mushtak said universities could form programmes to help structure students’ goals and define the steps toward it. “Emotional intelligence, mental resilience and a sense of purpose are important to have in the IR4.0 era,” he said.

By Rozana Sani.

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