WEF Digital Asean initiative – Push for digital skills among Asean workforce

A COALITION of major tech companies have pledged to develop digital skills for the Asean workforce. The pledge, part of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Digital Asean initiative, aims to train 20 million people in South-East Asia by 2020, especially those working in small- and medium-size enterprises.

Other goals include raising US$2mil in contributions to provide scholarships for Asean technology students, ensuring an additional 200,000 digital workers are hired across the region, and engaging at least 20,000 citizens through “Digital Inspiration Days”, whereby companies invite students and the public to visit their offices and learn more about the character of the jobs of the future.

There will also be internship opportunities for Asean university students, as well as initiatives to train digital regulators and shape the curricula of technology and computing courses at 20 Asean universities.

The aim of the pledge is to establish a regional movement among businesses committed to empowering individuals through skilling, reskilling and upskilling. It will not only increase the number of workers hired for digital jobs and trained in digital skills, but also help support business leaders with insight and analysis of what other companies in the region are doing to build a future-focused workforce.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is unfolding at accelerating speed and changing the skills that workers will need for the jobs of the future,” said Justin Wood, head of Asia Pacific and member of the executive committee at the WEF.

“These changes are happening just as the working-age population in Asean is expanding by 11,000 people every day – a rate that will continue for the next 15 years. Given these trends, it’s critical that businesses help to build digital skills in Asean.”

Called Asean Digital Skills Vision 2020, the public pledge is open for all companies to join, but a number of early champions have already made strong commitments.

Google has pledged to train 3 million SME employees throughout the Asean region by the end of 2020, while Cisco, Lazada, Microsoft, and the Sea Group have pledged to train a further 5,634,000 SME workers.

The pledge also calls for companies to offer Asean citizens the opportunity to participate in Digital Inspiration Days, and Cisco, Microsoft, Grab and Sea Group have collectively committed to offer the opportunity to about one million Asean citizens by 2020.

Similarly, the pledge calls for internships for Asean university students, and Microsoft, Sea Group and Tokopedia together have committed to hire 18,000 interns. Microsoft has also pledged to hire an additional 8,500 Asean digital workers by 2020.

Supported by the Forum’s Digital Asean initiative, success stories and innovative approaches will be shared through an online platform to magnify their impact, and a series of workshops involving the private sector and government will be staged over the next two years to ensure the efforts of businesses both align with, and help to shape, public policy on training and education.

Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society Pichet Durongkaveroj and one of the advisers of the Digital Asean initiative, said: “The rise of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics is creating concern about the future of work. But I am more optimistic.

“I believe that if workers have the right skills, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be highly empowering and will lift wages and living standards in Thailand and across the region. But we need to make sure that workers receive the right training and education today.”

“Asean could see an uplift of US$1 trillion in GDP by 2025 by using its digital economy to accelerate intra-regional trade and growth. SMEs will be the key to this growth and their digital workforce will be the change agents in their communities. We’re committed to supporting South-East Asia’s promising digital economy,” said Rajan Anandan, vice-president for India and South-East Asia at Google.

Meanwhile, SEA Group chairman and chief executive officer Forrest Li noted that the region is brimming with entrepreneurial potential.

“But for SMEs to start businesses and grow them successfully, they’ll need to learn the right skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Building on our existing efforts to enable SMEs around the region to benefit from the opportunity of e-commerce, we are committed to making a major contribution to providing these skills,” Li said.

Naveen Menon, president of Cisco Systems in Asean, added that Asean’s economy is poised to grow further as digital innovation and adoption gather pace. This makes rapid reskilling of the workforce necessary to build a sustainable pool of homegrown talent in Asean.

Lucy Peng, chairman and chief executive officer of the Lazada Group, said taking part in the WEF pledge is one of the key levers to create an inclusive and sustainable e-commerce ecosystem to support South-East Asia’s economic growth.

“Sellers want to go beyond trading on a platform. They want to create their own universe in the digital world to reach out and connect with Internet-savvy and increasingly mobile consumers.

“We are championing our seller communities by using our technology and logistics infrastructure to help them ride the e-commerce boom and flourish into sustainable businesses,” she said.

The Digital Asean initiative was launched by the World Economic Forum in Singapore in April 2018 in response to demand from the Forum’s regional partners in Asean, both public and private.

The aim is to work on the issues that will underpin a regional digital economy in Asean so that the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be fully unlocked and become a force for regional economic inclusion.

Vatsun Thirapatarapong, managing director of Cisco System (Thailand) said the firm will support digital training of the workforce in the areas of networking, cyber security, IoT, and IT essential. The collaboration will help reduce duplicated training.

It will also provide the training to vocational students. — The Nation/ANN

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