Preparing Malaysians for the work of the future
“WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?” This is one question we have all been asked at one point in our lives, whether the answer requires a 350-word essay or just one-word, usually referring to a job.
How does one answer this same question today with automation taking place and the fact that many jobs of the future do not exist yet?
A good example is social media jobs. It is hard to imagine a high-paying social media job a decade ago and this same job may be completely transformed in the near future, if it still exists at all.
Over one-third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will probably have changed five years from now based on research by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The young people today will need a portfolio of skills and capabilities to navigate the complex world of work in the future.
In fact, a report by Deloitte University Press on “Re-imagining Higher Education” predicts that 50 per cent of the content in an undergraduate degree will be obsolete within five years due to the impact of digital transformation.
While we talk about the future of work — which jobs will disappear and which will remain — we also need to shift the focus to understand the skills and capabilities in demand.
Another WEF report, The Future of Jobs, identified complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity as the top three skills out of 10 that workers will need in 2020.
Although active listening is considered a core skill today, the report said that it will completely disappear from being an important skill at the workplace. Instead, emotional intelligence is said to become one of the top skills needed by all in the future.
Linear careers, where the path begins with the choices you made in the subjects you studied at university before entering the world of work, will be far less common. There is a strong need to constructively engage employers in changing the education system in the years to come.
The allocation of RM4.9 billion for TVET (technical and vocational education training) institutions in the 2018 Budget is definitely more necessary now than ever before to prepare for the work of the future.
Malaysia plans to have 35 per cent of skilled workforce by 2020 to achieve a high-income nation status. The government has also set a goal to increase the country’s percentage of skilled workers to 45 per cent by 2030. It is about time the country upgrades its TVET system.
If there is one thing that TVET can do is that it could provide a means of tackling unemployment. Vocational education tends to result in a faster transition into the workplace and countries that place greater emphasis on TVET have been successful in maintaining low youth unemployment rates.
However, a negative social bias has often prevented young people from enrolling in TVET. Although vocational subjects are more varied, they are often poorly understood.
Many people associate vocational track programmes with low academic performance, poor quality provision and blocked future pathways that do not lead to higher education. Young people and parents shun vocational education, which they regard as a “second-choice” education option.
Academic subjects are valued more highly than vocational ones. Medicine, law and engineering are seen as career options with huge earnings potential. Several academic studies also caution against specialising vocational subjects at a young age because they are more specific and directly related to particular occupations.
For TVET to be valued as the equal of academic education, further education providers should not be overlooked.
The integration of on-the-job training and lifelong learning into TVET curriculum can ensure that graduates are job-ready yet adaptable to changing skills requirements. The funding is necessary so that TVET institutions can upgrade learning environments and invest in professional development. In return, it can raise teaching quality by increasing the qualification levels of the instructors and making pedagogical training obligatory.
Finland is one example of TVET success — a result of external and internal policy shifts — that we can learn from. The country’s systematic efforts since 2000 to upgrade the quality and status of TVET has lead to an increased percentage of application for the programmes from the Finnish youth.
TVET institutions in this country received the same basic and development funding as general education institutions. The curriculum has been restructured to include the national core curriculum required for access to university, as well as strong on-the-job training and lifelong learning components. TVET students are allowed to progress to further studies at university or applied sciences level.
Many parents’ worst nightmare is seeing their child aimlessly chasing dream without achieving anything. It is time that we should retire asking the young ones on what they want to be when they grow up.
Instead, we should provide accurate information and exposure to where future jobs will exist, including the skills to craft and navigate their careers.
It looks like learning and adapting will become more apparent in the future of workforce. As more students will find themselves doing work that does not exist, we should prepare them intellectually, socially and emotionally to continuously adapt to changes.
The writer left her teaching career more than 20 years ago to take on different challenges beyond the conventional classroom. As NST’s education editor, the world is now her classroom.