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Everyone must change their mindsets to win the never-ending digital skills game across Asia Pacific

The march of Digital Transformation is changing our world. Many existing jobs are evolving. And while some are disappearing, just as many new ones are being created as new technologies take hold.

It is true to say in our time that the only constant will be change itself. So, how can we ensure that this overwhelming transition succeeds economically and socially? The answer is even more change – a change of mindset for everybody: from policymakers to educators, and from companies to workers and more. It must be all about upskilling, re-skilling and continuous learning. In the future all of us will need to prepare for and embrace never-ending changes.

Recently, Microsoft commissioned IDC to survey 1,560 business leaders across 15 countries in Asia Pacific. In a key finding, they expect 85% of jobs in our region to be transformed within the next three years. And it will be a process of transformation, not displacement. There will be disruption, certainly, but it won’t be all doom and gloom. The respondents expect 27% of current jobs to be replaced through automation. They also foresee digital transformation creating a range of new jobs in the same number— in other words the effect on the labor market will be neutral. Such is the open-ended nature of digital transformation, we don’t know right now what many of those future jobs will be.

On this point Microsoft Asia President, Ralph Haupter, looks back at history.

“Let’s put things in perspective: Large-scale job disruption is a challenge with every industrial revolution. What 250 years of technological changes have taught us is that technology will have profound implications on the creation, elimination or evolution of jobs. For example, when I first entered the workforce, it was common to have a pool of typists in the office. Clearly, this role is no longer relevant in today’s modern office, thanks to the proliferation of personal computing. The advent of Digital Transformation and Artificial Intelligence will reshape jobs in a similar way”.

But how can we ease the flow of so much fundamental change?

Let’s go back even further in time. About 2,000 years ago the Roman philosopher Seneca said: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” It was true then, and it is true now as we move into the fourth industrial revolution.

For Haupter, preparation means organizations must partner with governments and education institutions to provide feedback, training and reskilling programs so that the workforce is equipped with future-ready skill sets.

“Our guiding principle is to partner with governments, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and businesses to initiate pilots where we can amplify and accelerate workforce’s development of new skills for the digital economy,” Haupter said.

 READ: How Asia Pacific is transforming digitally

In Taiwan, for example, the Government is investing US$540 million over the next five years in AI research to help its industries be more competitive as its highly skilled workforce ages. Its heavy manufacturing sector, in particular, is facing this challenge. As older workers retire, their valuable collective knowledge could be transferred to AI systems and not lost.

Microsoft launches artificial intelligence research hub in Taiwan

This is one of the main reasons why Microsoft is investing about US$33 million to create an AI R&D Center in Taiwan. Microsoft has already started working with traditional manufacturing firms that are adapting to new customer demands and this is where AI can come in.

What should organizations do to accelerate workforce development in the digital economy?

Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, Research Director for Digital Transformation at IDC Asia/Pacific says: “Organizations must look into the future and define themselves as digital businesses, operating in an ever-increasing competitive environment. They must identify their strategies and come up with a structured plan for the skills needed in the years ahead.  Then they can compare those future needs with their present workforce skills. From there they can fill in the gaps with reskilling, upskilling, recruiting and retaining key talent. Every organization has to go through this rebalance of understanding what is critical in its current workforce and what will be needed long-term”

The Study has some mixed news on this front. Of the business leaders surveyed, two thirds are confident that their young and up-and-coming employees already possess future-ready skills. But at the same time, they identified a lack of skills and resources as the number one challenge in their Digital Transformation journeys.

For Jimenez, this contradiction reinforces not only the need for organizations to invest in and nurture talent, but also to rethink the structure of the workforce. “They could try new work models, change the workplace culture and for everyone to actively look for training opportunities to be able to work differently. For organizations, finding and keeping talent may mean more flexible schedules, or taking some calculated risks on new ideas with failure being just a part of the learning process.”

The IDC study notes trial and error is part of the Digital Transformation process too. “The big challenge is to create a risk-taking culture where failure at times is just a temporary setback and part of the learning curve,” Jimenez said.

Workers have to do their part as well

Employees must embrace the practice of continuous learning to guarantee their job skills are up-to-date and in demand. They need to be adept in things like complex problem-solving and critical thinking. Many new skills will be rooted in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. But there will also be premium placed on creativity and cultural agility. The ability to collaborate and communicate effectively will be key.

*Source: LinkedIn, The Digital Workforce of the Future Data as of August 2017.