Reflections From the WEF: the Digitally Skilled Will Shape Our Digital Future

Today, we stand on the cusp of the 4th Industrial Revolution, where unprecedented socioeconomic changes to our economy, jobs and personal lives will be the hallmarks of this era. In fact, we are already seeing upheavals in the business landscape.(Reuters Photo/Ruben Sprich)

By : Martin Mackay | on 7:05 PM February 08, 2018
Category : Opinion, Commentary

The theme for this year’s World Economic Forum, or WEF, meeting was "Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World." During the four intensive days in Davos, Switzerland, I had the privilege to meet with many government and business leaders from across the globe to discuss what a shared future means for everyone and engage in debate as to how we can achieve it.

And, amongst all the topics discussed, reskilling the workforce and preparing the next generation for the technology-shaped future were recurring themes across many conversations. It is evident that the consensus among Asia Pacific government and business leaders is this: having talents with the right digital skillsets will be the cornerstone to success in the technology-shaped future.

The World Is Changing – Thanks to Technology

Today, we stand on the cusp of the 4th Industrial Revolution, where unprecedented socioeconomic changes to our economy, jobs and personal lives will be the hallmarks of this era. In fact, we are already seeing upheavals in the business landscape.

Across all industries, there are large numbers of jobs that are likely to change radically or disappear in the future due to the disruption driven by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation. It is predicted that there will be a net loss of five million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies globally due to the 4th Industrial Revolution. It is no exaggeration to say that the job landscape of tomorrow will be almost non-recognizable, and many of the skills and knowledge that our workforce value today will be rendered obsolete.

However, despite the possible consequences of technological advancements, it is undeniable that technology can be a potent force for good – bringing about higher quality of life and access to better economic opportunities. In short, there is no reason why the benefits of the 4th Industrial Revolution should not dramatically outweigh the downsides, exactly as was the case for its three predecessors.

The potential of technology is boundless: driving efficiency; creating value; reinventing medicine and mapping climate change. The boon it can bring will be far-reaching, profound and, quite possibly, unimaginable today.

Unlocking the Future by Reskilling the Current Workforce

However, to bring out the best of what technology has to offer, both governments and businesses need to work together to ensure that they have a diverse and digitally skilled workforce that is capable of taking on the new jobs of the future.

In Asia, 48 percent of employers are already having difficulty filling vacancies in 2015, compared to 28 percent in 2006. And across many industries, the most in-demand occupations today, such as data scientist, did not exist 10 or even five years ago. This situation is expected to exacerbate as technology developments continue to accelerate.

To address this situation, enterprises need to first recognize that there is an economic win-win situation to be realized if they invest adequately to reskill today’s workforce for jobs in technology.

Firstly, reskilling strategies will be critical for organizations if they are to find the talent they need to fill critical, technology-related positions such as developers, network engineers and cybersecurity experts. This will ensure that they will continue to have the capabilities to effectively and securely leverage technologies and software to raise productivity, innovate and create new revenue streams.

Secondly, reskilling opens up more career pathways and clears a way to a better life for a large number of workers that are at risk of being marginalized by technological advancements. Without reskilling, only 2 percent of workers will have an optimal opportunity to make a transition to new jobs in today’s increasing digitalized world.

Getting the Next Generation to be Future-Ready

Although the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution on the current workforce is already tremendous, its effects on future generations will be even far more resounding. It is estimated that 65 percent of children who enter primary school today will work in completely new jobs that do not currently exist.

To be able to anticipate future skills requirements and ensure there is a long-term, sustainable pipeline of talent that is able to fully seize the opportunities presented by the digital economy, the private sector must take the lead in enabling the workforce of the future to be prepared for new jobs and new models of economic production.

One of the most effective approaches is for companies to invest in every stage of the education pipeline, from early childhood to young adult. After all, learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and digital skills, such as computer science and coding, is the most important step that students - our future workforce - can take to prepare themselves to fully participate in, and benefit from, the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The lessons that an individual can learn through these subjects are much more than technical knowledge and skills. What is also valuable is that these subjects teach creativity, computational thinking, teamwork and complex problem solving – fundamental skills that will be needed in the digital era, whether it is for an existing, evolving position or a new-fangled role created by technology.

Shaping the Digital Future

So, as we stand at the crossroad of the future and stare at the possibilities, the questions that enterprises need to ask ourselves are these –  What role can we play in shaping the future? And, how can we bring out technology’s best potential while mitigating its gravest risks?

At the WEF this week, it was announced that one of the ways the WEF IT Steering Committee intends to address these issues is through the launch of its IT Industry Skills Initiative, a new effort to help prepare workers for the digital jobs of the future and foster a culture of education via access to skill-based training opportunities.

Companies, including CA Technologies, have pledged to open up their respective training catalogs to culminate in a single, centralized portal where users will have free access to training content—including courses on cybersecurity, IoT, machine learning, data analytics, as well as on general business skills and entrepreneurship. Working with the public and other private sector partners, the SkillSET portal is slated to scale to 1 million users by 2021.

As business leaders, it goes without saying that we have a duty to ensure that our organization reskill and nurture a diverse talent set so that the company can continue to leverage technological innovations to fuel its digital ambitions, stay competitive and achieve sustainable, profitable growth Beyond these business objectives, however, I believe that as an industry, we have a collective responsibility to heal the fractures of our world today and create a more inclusive digital future; a future where individuals, whether they are employees or students, have the skillsets to access greater opportunities and participate in the digital economy.

Martin Mackay is president & general manager at CA Technologies for Asia Pacific & Japan

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