Skills for the future workplace

By Ahmed Wafi

Our panel of experts discuss what they think will be the most valuable skills in the post-pandemic workplace

As more people start to get the COVID-19 vaccine, we can finally see the end of ‘The New Normal’ that has since governed the way we live and work for the better part of two years. Despite many parts of the country seeing a third MCO with a total lockdown in discussion, the general outlook on the pandemic seems to be quite positive as the end of COVID-19 looks to be nearing. By early 2022, we hopefully can return to how things were.

But one thing has definitely changed though: The workplace. In particular skills that were in demand then may no longer be in demand now.

So what skills should talent equip themselves with for the years to come? To give you an idea, we spoke to some HR icons and industry experts to get their take.

Chen Fong Tuan, HR and General Affairs Director, Samsung Malaysia Electronics
Fong Tuan is a qualified professional engineer with an MBA in Organizational Behaviour and a CFA. He previously led HR at Mah Sing Group, B. Braun Asia Pacific, and held HR leadership roles with Maybank Group, BAT, OCBC and Coca-Cola.

Synthesis With increasing amount of data from a multitude of sources, the ability to sift, prioritise, and curate these data into meaningful information facilitates better and more timely decision making.

Sense making The operating environment in the future will not be linear; decisions are not simply right or wrong. The ability to find purpose, make decisions that are value-driven, anchored by common sense and fundamentals will be critical.

Social connectivity The pandemic has accelerated a trend that we have already seen previously: Talent lacking in organic interaction capability, as everything is done virtually. Humans are social beings and the ability to engage, communicate and connect is vital in forging trust. This will become the differentiating factor between the real talent versus the mediocre ones.

Be inquisitive, curious, and ask questions about the content you consume. Don’t just take any data or information fed to you and assume they are the only perspective. Challenge them and make a balanced conclusion. Also, be sure about your own principles, purposes, values and ethics. Make decisions based on them.

Be authentic and don’t hide behind virtual backgrounds or make-up features on Zoom. Build lasting relationships through meaningful conversations.

Sabrina Zuraimi, Data Scientist, Yahoo! Japan
Sabrina is a data scientist working on machine learning models for ad optimisation at Yahoo! Japan. She graduated with a Masters in Computer Science from Kyoto University with research specialising in Computer Vision, the science of teaching computers how to see and process visual information. Her Masters thesis extended to a paper that was accepted as an oral presentation in the British Machine Vision Conference 2020 that went on to win the Best Student Paper Award.

The ability to learn and re-learn The past few years have seen unprecedented speed in the development of new technology, especially in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation. These new developments have the potential to disrupt and reshape the workplace, creating new jobs and opportunities that were previously not available. With all the disruption happening in many industries, the only certainty is change. To keep up, one must be able to adapt and learn new skills quickly.

Critical thinking Critical thinking is usually defined as the ability to conceptualise, apply and analyse information to reach a judgement or answer. The current state-of-the-art AI can do simple and repetitive jobs even better than a human being but is still not capable of critical thinking. A simple example would be a machine learning model giving predictions on climate change. Whilst it can take in data and recognise patterns to predict how climate change would play out, it is still up to us to devise and enact policies to stem it.

Emotional intelligence Even before the current ongoing rise of Industrial Revolution (IR) 4.0, emotional intelligence was a much-needed skill. To navigate an increasingly complex workplace, one must be able to communicate effectively in a professional setting. Conflict resolution, leadership and interpersonal communication will continue to be a skill high in demand.

Keep up with the new trends by actively listening in or participating in technological conferences such as the Google I/O conference that is going on as I write this. Even though I’m no longer in school, I also take time every day to study. I make study goals every six months and work towards it every day. Seemingly small efforts go a long way in the long run, and you will eventually get into a habit of learning constantly.

Whilst it is hard to teach someone emotional intelligence, one step towards it is to be self-aware. You must always seek to understand others first over the need to be understood.

Dr. Shameem Farouk, Head of Digital Skills Development, Group PCEO Maybank
Dr. Shameem is responsible for Maybank Group’s Digital Skills Development initiative, the FutureReady Programme – the first digital mass up-skilling programme launched among financial institutions in Malaysia. She also introduced numerous innovations in the talent development area such as the Maybank Excel Artificial Intelligence Tool (MEAT), the Artificial Intelligence Learning Hub, Fintech & Startup Immersion Programme, the Go Disrupt challenge and many more.

Digital competencies This relates to the various technical skills that are needed to fuel IR 4.0 where various industries are facing technological disruptions to both their business and operating models. For example, skills that relate to the application of various AI technologies, Machine Learning, Data Analytics, Design Thinking, and development of User Interfaces and User Experiences (UI/UX), etc. These skills can supplement many existing professional disciplines e.g., in business, law, medicine, psychology etc., and graduates who possess both digital and professional skills can differentiate themselves.

While digital and technical skills are critical to various organisations and institutions, it is the “unique human skills that will be immune from machine replacement for the longest and will ensure individuals can thrive in the new economy,” as quoted by MIT’s World Education Lab.

Growth Mindset & emotional competencies Growth Mindset is based on the research by Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University who found that success can be attained by adopting certain attitudes, thinking, and behaviours that are conducive for continuous learning, growth, and well-being. Specifically, Growth Mindset is about believing that intelligence is never fixed, that we can bounce back from failures, and adopt new strategies to overcome whatever challenges we may have professionally or personally, including in our personal relationships and spiritual well-being.

Growth Mindset is also particularly important to enable adaptability to various changing circumstances e.g., from learning a new skill to be relevant to the job market to adapting to crises such as a sudden pandemic.

Additionally, this process of continuous learning, whatever it may be, develops our authentic selves through the humility and empathy we develop. In Maybank for example, we are currently experimenting with how we can develop the curiosity and growth mindsets in our employees to provide them with the confidence to learn and pick up anything at any time including at any age.

Social & ethical leadership skills At a foundational level this involves listening, communicating, influencing, and teamwork skills. In an increasingly globalised, complex, and ambiguous world though, we will need skills to foster diversity and inclusivity in the workgroup that involves listening to diverse perspectives to solve problems, being able to take criticisms constructively, and then even motivating our loudest critics to join us in a cause we feel strongly about.

At a higher complexity level, social and ethical leadership involves civics and cultural literacy, and the focus on creating a positive impact in the larger community, society, and environment. For example, being involved in issues like sustainability and then aligning action and galvanising others to this greater cause, which is what many corporate leaders are now faced with. Being actively involved in social and ethical issues may also provide the “Moral Compass” and cultivation of the right values for our endeavours, no matter what they may be, and the “North Star” that may help in finding our purpose.

With increased innovation in business models and technology, a key digital competency is Systems Thinking, which is the ability to “connect the dots” on opportunities and to see the inter-relationships and inter-dependencies in things and situations. For example, the identification of potential business opportunities that come with new technologies and business model changes.

Meanwhile, cultivating the Growth Mindset requires our ability to manage our emotions such as disappointments, anger and shame, which sometimes arise from trying to learn or putting ourselves out there to help others but failing in the process.

Lastly, taking ownership, thinking like a CEO, being resourceful, proactive, and solving problems will go a long way in realising the targets that one may have.

Chua Chai Ping, Human Resources Director, Experian
Chai Ping joined Experian as the Human Resources Director in their Global Development Centre in Kuala Lumpur in June 2017. She then assumed the role of Country Site Leader in Experian, providing overall leadership for the centre locally. Over a career that spans more than 20 years, she joined the ‘Big 4’ fraternity in Consulting before her foray into HR, providing strategic direction and driving the people agenda with the business.

A can-do attitude To survive and thrive in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world where change is the only constant and uncertainty the game, it is important to possess these positive attributes as it allows us to be face the challenges ahead and not give up. The old adage, “failure is the mother of success”, says it all. If we dare to try and fail and learn from the mistakes, then failure only provides us with the opportunity to realise our own weaknesses and gaps where we need to self-evaluate to self improve.

Resilience The world is increasingly complex and competitive; hence we need to continuously build our resilience to prepare for the future.

Careful optimism Mental health has become such a huge topic today given the complex yet fragile world we live in; that is why we need to remain hopeful and optimistic while being careful and vigilant. We need to be able to cover all the bases and be willing to take calculated risks to be remain relevant.

In a nutshell, talent need to open to a broad set of ideas and schools of thoughts; be curious, be self-aware, and be willing to listen.

Sharala Axryd, Founder and Group CEO, The Center of Applied Data Science
With a passion for data science and over 15 years of experience in the telecommunications field under her belt, Sharala Axryd is leading the data-driven business transformation and driving the benchmark for data science education in the ASEAN region. A thought leader in the data science space, she is a highly sought after speaker for conferences with topics ranging from analytics to women in STEM. She has previously taken home the EY Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Malaysia, SEBA Woman Technopreneur of The Year and was among the Digerati 50 by Digital News Asia.

Coding In order to practice coding, you need to understand the language. A Data Scientist, Data Analyst and Data Engineer needs to know coding language such as Python or Tableau so that they can design and solve a data- related problems by writing a workable program.

Communication The ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. Communication skills will enhance the way technical skills are carried out, and by developing these everyday life skills, talent can learn how to deal with a variety of different situations, especially in today’s highly competitive world.

Math Mathematics is one of the most important tools for programmers to develop sophisticated applications. It is necessary for programmers to understand algorithms, and of course by having some basic math concepts, like calculus, algebra or logic would help.

The skills above are required to make your data related job more efficient. When people know how to use data, extract data, store data and the ethics revolving around data, you can create insights for a business to operate more efficiently. For example, it will reduce operational costs, create new business opportunities and improve governance.

At CADS, we are constantly working towards making the world more self-sustainable through upskilling, offering various data related upskilling programmes.

I would advise participants to look up grants online. Our courses are available in Program Penjana, the hiring incentive initiated by the government. There are also grants offered by Yayasan Peneraju and the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (Mitra). Students can leverage these grants to join our programs.

Eager to pick the brains of our experts? They’ll be discussing ‘The Innovative World of Data Science and AI’ happening at Aspire+ happening this 25 May! Click here to register!

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