Reskilling workers for the digital age

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It is important for workers to learn new skills so that they can adapt to market situations and remain employable, says Ronald Benjamin.

As a human resources practitioner, I found it meaningful to be part of a job fair co-organised by the Ungku Omar Polytechnic and Socso in Ipoh on 18 March.

The applicants included fresh graduates, those retrenched from the manufacturing sector, housewives searching for fresh careers and civil servants.

Looking through resumes and after brief interviews with applicants, I realised the rigid employment market in Perak.

People who have been in the industry for years with specific knowledge and skills are at a loss when they are retrenched since their knowledge and skills are not suitable for other industries. If later employed, they have to take a pay cut since they need to relearn the nature of their new jobs.

As for graduates who have a degree in a particular field of study, they have no market value if they do not go through practical experience for at least two years to complement their degree. Unless a certain duration of practical experience is there, salaries will not rise.

I met a senior person, a mechanical engineering degree-holder, who had worked as a regulator of vehicles in a government agency. He lost his job recently and could not fit into the jobs that were vacant. He has never practised his engineering skills and even if companies were to employ him, his market value in terms of salary and position would be low since he has to start from the bottom.

There were also clerical job seekers who had worked for big companies but were retrenched due to the automation of administrative functions.

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Based on current technological developments, analysts have suggested that workers have to reskill to survive in the job market. Learning new skills alone will not be adequate.

It requires direction and purpose among job applicants where the contents of their resume would show a clear chain of career progress with an acceptable duration of years and knowledge of the given industry.

There are three areas of consideration to resolve issues of retrenchment and skills mismatch:

Increase the duration of internship

For undergraduates, extend the internship duration to six months or a year depending on the type of industry to ensure knowledge and skills are developed in this period.

If there is a vacancy, the student should be incorporated by the particular organisation if he or she performs to expected standards.

Cross-industrial training

It is vital for education institutions to expose students to cross-industrial training to make them employable. For example, engineering students who are qualified for manufacturing should also learn about the services industry.

For mechanical engineering students trained in servicing and repairing machines in manufacturing — they should also learn the specific skills of hotel technicians, such as plumbing, carpentry and wiring.

Career evolution through technological training

In this technological age, it is vital that senior workers and housewives who want to work are trained in digital and green technology.

Entrepreneur skills could also be honed. There should be a nationwide programme to encourage all workers to enrol in such courses which should be made available, nearest to their homes. The government should help build learning institutions that are people-friendly and create a budget for such a programme.

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