Commentary: What a tech education today for a digital workforce tomorrow looks like

Commentary: What a tech education today for a digital workforce tomorrow looks like

We need to drastically multiply our digital education efforts to ensure Singapore's workforce has the relevant skills to fulfill its Digital Economy ambitions, says one observer from Amazon Web Services.

Students use tablet computers
File photo: Students using tablet computers. (Photo: AFP/Damien Meyer)

SINGAPORE: Technology is revolutionising the economy so rapidly that we can no longer predict what the jobs of the future will look like. 

In its 2016 study, The Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum warned that, by 2020, over one-third of desired core skillsets for most occupations will include skills that are not considered crucial today. 

At the recent Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) 2018 Conference, Singapore Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), Mr Ong Ye Kung, stressed the importance of ensuring that our students are proficient in the latest lingua franca of international commerce – digital literacy. 

This involves having both technical skills such as coding or data analytics, and soft skills like human ingenuity and resilience.

Knowing these demands and expectations, are we doing enough to equip our future workforce with the skills they need to thrive in the Digital Economy?

GETTING THE BALL ROLLING

Educational institutions here have made strides in incorporating technology-centric programmes into the formal curriculum. 

Under the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) Digital Maker Programme, primary and secondary school students are given pocket-sized codable computers for them to create problem-solving inventions. By meshing digital skills with the spirit of innovation, collaboration, and resilience, students learn to seamlessly use technology to solve everyday problems. 

These programmes are complemented by ad-hoc initiatives such as hackathons like the Government Technology Agency’s (GovTech) National Data Viz Video Challenge, which focuses on data analysis and visualisation rather than technology development. 

With the lower barriers to entry, students from non-STEM backgrounds were able to participate and flex their creative problem-solving skills. 

STEM Engineering Lab
An artist's impression of an Engineering Laboratory at PSB Academy's new campus for its science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. (Photo: PSB Academy)

Similarly, future hackathons should look towards expanding the reach of tech-based challenges to attract participants from a more diverse set of backgrounds with different areas of specialties and skills.

While these programmes align with our nation’s push to foster digital literacy in our schools, they will not supply the talent we need to address our current or future tech talent shortage. 

A 2016 survey by the IMDA revealed that we will need a whopping 42,000 infocomm professionals between 2017 to 2019, while the upcoming Punggol Digital District alone will look to generate up to 28,000 digital economy jobs. 

Bearing in mind that our strict foreign manpower rules were not eased at Budget 2018, we will need to drastically multiply our digital education efforts to ensure our workforce has the relevant skills to fulfill our Digital Economy ambitions. 

Punggol Digital District Campus
Having a university and business park so close together will allow greater opportunities for collaboration, said planners. (Photo: JTC)

BIGGER STRIDES NEEDED

We need to face the reality that the future will revolve around technology. Almost every industry will need to incorporate digital technologies to remain relevant.  

Traditional institutions like banks are expanding their FinTech capabilities and calling themselves tech companies. People sectors like Human Resources are relying increasingly on data analytics software to measure organisational productivity. 

To prepare students and our current workforce to meet future requirements, we need to help them acquire skills that are future-proof. 

Cloud has become the new normal, and with the rapid adoption of cloud technologies by almost all types of organizations – be it enterprises, small medium businesses, government agencies, startups, or education institutions – both students and working adults need to go beyond the three basic life skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.  

It is time to add on cloud computing knowledge as the fourth life skill.

Why not take a leaf out of Finland’s book, which takes a phenomenon-based learning approach to education by placing skills before subjects? 

Students are exposed to actual real-world and interdisciplinary topics, such as in application creation, rather than single subjects. By naturally crossing the boundaries between subjects and merging different subjects and themes, Finland has one of the world’s most forward-looking education systems. 

To do our bit, we created the Amazon Web Services Educate programme, which all of Singapore’s public tertiary institutions are part of. Whether it is to get a taste of cloud technology or to take a step towards becoming a full-fledged cloud professional, the programme caters to students from all backgrounds. 

Besides offering a comprehensive suite of online courses, open to anyone including students across all backgrounds, it has a Career Job Board to provide those on the programme with cloud-related job opportunities. 

The term 'cloud computing' uses remote servers connected by the Internet to store
The term cloud computing uses remote servers connected by the Internet to store information, rather than a local server. Photo: AFP/Martin Bureau.
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Launched last year, the programme is already seeing promising results. Third-year Electronics and Electrical Engineering student from Singapore Polytechnic, Melvin Ryan, wanted to help his diabetic and non-English-speaking grandmother take her medication on time and avoid consuming the incorrect dosage. 

Using the AWS Educate programme, Melvin created a device that translates and reads aloud medical instructions from English to local dialects by scanning a code on the label. It also notifies caretakers via SMS in the event of an emergency. 

Melvin has transited from a cloud consumer to a builder of cloud applications that will impact the lives of people.

Solutions like these are what we want to see from our youth, as do they. The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 showed that millennials want to make an impact on issues they feel strongly for. 

Schools, governments and industry leaders need to collaborate closely to ensure that great ideas from young people like Melvin do not get lost or remain undiscovered. 

These digital natives need an environment that encourages the development of innovations – solutions that could potentially make a positive impact on organisations or communities globally. 

If we do not step up our efforts to nurture the students coming through our schools now, how can we become or even sustain our vision of being a Smart Nation?

Vincent Quah is, APAC business lead for Education, Research & Not-For-Profit, Worldwide Public Sector at Amazon Web Services.

Source: CNA/sl

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