BETT ASIA 2017 | Digital transformation: Future-proofing the workforce

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KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — At the recently concluded BETT Asia, an annual trade show that markets information technology in education, there were concerns if we are investing enough in tomorrow’s workers – the students of today.

The basic question is: are we training students in digital literacy to provide them the skills they need for a digital tomorrow?

In a statement, software giant Microsoft indicated that the current 4th Industrial Revolution has brought about digital disruptions to both economies and communities, resulting in a shift in how we work today. The tech company even stated that their research points to the fact that 65% of children starting their education today will end up working in job types that do not currently exist.

“The students that are starting school now… by the time they graduate, 65% of the jobs won’t even exist, they don’t exist right now. So, what are we preparing them for?” said Don Carlson, director for education, Microsoft Asia Pacific. “Are we educating our children now to make sure they have a mindset that can can be adoptive; they can understand and reflect on, maybe… what’s needed in the future and not training them for a specific job. I think those areas become more important as we go towards educational transformation.”

Microsoft executives: Don Carlson (right), director for education, Microsoft Asia Pacific and Anthony Salcito, vice president for Worldwide Education, Microsoft in a media briefing at BETT Asia in Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur on November 15, 2017.

According to Carlson, “The Future of Jobs Report” released by the World Economic Forum discussed the implications of the disruption facing employment, skills and recruitment. It reported that 34% polled saw mobile internet and cloud technologies being key technological drivers of change, which enable more efficient delivery of services and opportunities to increase workforce productivity.

While another 26% saw that advances in computing power and big data will be forces driving change in the employment market as organizations — and by extension, economies — seek to realize the full potential of technology to help make sense of this unprecedented flood of data.

Carlson indicated that “this clearly points to a need for educational institutions to equip students with the right skill sets to meet future demands”.

Digital transformation has relevant impact on Higher Education as well. In another report, this time from McKinsey, Carlson noted that “degrees were ‘markers’ for hiring, even in the digital age; however, there seemed to be no direct correlation between a college degree and professional success”.

Talent shortage

There may be no shortage of manpower but certainly there is a shortage in skills.

In a 2016 study conducted by ManpowerGroup, the inability to find the right people for the job is a serious issue in six of the nine largest global economies today, thus creating a skills gap. In the same study, 40% of global employers reported talent shortages, citing the lack of available applicants, technical skills, and experience, as the top three reasons as to why positions aren’t filled.

“This is a clear affirmation that the most valuable resource in this digital age is data,” said Carlson. “With the rise of data comes the demand for new competencies – analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and more. The spotlight then falls on whether educational institutions today are equipped to address the needs of tomorrow?”

The (Digital) Winds of Change

In late 2016, Microsoft commissioned a study across 13 markets with close to 1,500 business leaders to better understand the impact of digital transformation on their organizations. This included 265 leaders from the education sector.

The Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study found that 87% of leaders in the education industry agreed that their organization needed to transform into a digital business to enable future growth, yet only 23% has a full strategy in place.

“The number one priority in their digital transformation journey today is to empower faculty and non-teaching employees and to give them the best tools to engage students in and out of classrooms,” said Carlson. “Yet only 39% of respondents polled feel that their institutions have in place connected technology to allow faculty and non-teaching employees to work outside of campuses.”

“This is followed by engaging students as part of their transformation journeys, where schools adopt digital, interactive and personalized content, and prepare students with skills to succeed in today’s fast-changing workplace,” said Carlson. “However, only four in 10 polled perceived they had in place the analytics capabilities for both teaching and non-teaching staff to better understand students.”

When the same Microsoft study asked about the factors hindering their digital transformation journey, respondents highlighted “cyberthreats and security concerns, the lack of organizational leadership skills, and a lack of digitally skilled workforce, as key barriers”.

In another survey by The Microsoft Asia EduTech conducted in 2016, the study found that 95% polled agreed on the importance of technology in today’s education systems. Slightly more than half of the educators polled however, identified the lack of training as a key challenge for them to optimize technology in classrooms.

“These point towards a gap between acknowledging the need to transform, and the availability of a clear strategy to move forward,” said Carlson. “However, the time is now for educational institutions to digitize their organizations in order to remain relevant and ensure that their students are ready for the shifting workforce.”

“Digital Transformation for the Education Industry When we think about digital transformation for the education sector, we should start with the way people learn, Carlson said. “This goes beyond implementing technology but addressing the shifting paradigms brought about by the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

The Microsoft executive stressed that, “Digital transformation needs to start by enabling educators to create a new learning environment – one that allows for failure as part of the learning process. Essentially, the new classroom mantra should be ‘fail early, fail fast, and fail often’.”

Watch: Anthony Salcito, vice president for Worldwide Education at Microsoft, on The Role of Technology in Education