Billions of people and countless machines are connected to each other. Through groundbreaking technology, unprecedented processing power and speed, and massive storage capacity, data is being collected and harnessed like never before.
The change brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is inevitable, not optional as automation, machine learning, mobile computing and artificial intelligence are no longer futuristic concepts, but a reality.
An article published in the Forbes magazine says that this shift will enable workers on the front line, on the road (such as sales representatives) and in the field to make smarter decisions, solve tougher problems and do their jobs better.
For example, when railroad locomotive is brought in for repairs, technicians usually start by running diagnostic tests. These tests can take hours, and often require technicians to stand next to roaring engines jotting down numbers based on the diagnostic readings.
However, in the era of digitalisation or more precisely, the 4IR, all diagnostics are run by softwares using predictive analytics.
A mechanic can then pick up an iPad and learn more on the problem or the machine’s history in a few minutes.
That leaves the mechanics to do what they do best — fix it using their experience, judgment and skill.
The mechanic’s decisions and actions will then become data that is sent back into the software which will improve the analytics and predictions for the next problem.
So, technology does not replace mechanics; it empowers them do their job. In short, when the mechanic and the technology work together, the work gets done faster, with fewer errors and better results.
However, this raises the question as to whether Malaysia, in general, and the higher education institutions, in particular, are ready for the 4IR?
Empowering the quality of skilled workers in the 21st century particularly in the brink of the 4IR is challenging in view of the dynamic and complex changes of technology.
In an attempt to address these challenges Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Faculty of Education and Human Resources Ministry’s Department of Skills Development, had recently brought experts from the industries and academician in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to pave the path toward future endeavours in developing skill standards and curriculum.
The input gained from the one day National Conference on the 4th Industrial Revolution Skill Development: Road Map to the Future (NC4IR - TVET) hoped to lead to the development of the curriculum which was gathered from academicians, industry experts, government agencies and participants with knowledge in round-table discussion on eight interrelated themes.
These were Leaning Innovations; Humanising Potential; Standard & Curriculum; Policies and Governance; Lifelong Learning; Economics, Research on Investment, and Entrepreneurship; Industrial Collaborations; and Sustainability and Green.
At the launch, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Richard Riot Anak Jaem said in his speech read by the ministry’s secretary-general Datuk Dr Mohd Gazali Abas, the government is pushing for the adoption of smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 in the country.
Therefore to stay competitive, he said the industries have no choice but to embrace intelligent production and include more Industry 4.0 elements in their operations.
“To succeed in this revolution, we believe that highly skilled and innovative workforce is a necessity as it leads to efficient and effective labour market to support industry needs.
“In the long run, we need skilled innovators to lead change and drive economic growth that would essentially improve the quality of life of people within the country.
“The transformation to Industry 4.0 will bring new challenges for employees as they are required to be retrained in operating these new applications if they are to make full use of them,” he said.
Riot, said RM50 million have been allocated from the 30 per cent of the Human Resource Development Fund for the purpose of TVET to increase competitiveness as well as improve the calibre of the workforce and the nation’s economic development.
He added that TVET is expected to address the multiple demands of the economy, social and environment by helping youths and adults develop the skills they need for employment; providing decent work and encouraging entrepreneurship; promoting equitable, inclusive and sustainable economic growth while supporting transitions to green economies and environmental sustainability.
“By providing Industry 4.0 relevant skills through TVET programmes, we are not only preparing the youth for the future labour market but we are also preparing the human capital for nation building.
“Thus, we encourage TVET providers to align themselves to the latest skills standard and curriculum to ensure the 4IR is well understood and learned.
“For example, Germany has 81 per cent skilled workforce of which 63 per cent are skilled craftsmen who graduated from dual training system and vocational colleges, while only 18 per cent graduated from universities.
“Malaysia also is embarking on this trend and targets to increase such collaborations with the industry and hopes to meet its target of 35 per cent highly-skilled workforce by 2020,” he added.
The NC4IR-TVET organising chairman Associate Professor Dr Mohamad Sattar Rasul said the collaborative effort is important to fulfil one of the aspirations in the National Transformation 2050 (TN50) that is to increase the percentage of skilled workers in Malaysia.
He added that TVET transformation is crucial to enhance calibre of the nation’s workforce and strengthen the economic development.
He said understanding the current trends in the industry and the demands of the 4IR will integrate them into the workforce while making them more competent and competitive globally.
“What is often less appreciated, however, is the role education will play in this 4IR. The world of work for preparing students is changing quickly. Automation will make many jobs obsolete before long as many of the pathways through working life are changing dramatically.
“It already involves the 21st century curriculum, new academia learning innovation, gamification, industrial lot lab, learning analytics and cyber-physical systems.
“From this, how education institutions would be affected by the revolution and how the delivery of education will be transformed?” he said.
Mohamad Sattar said based on the findings from the round-table discussions during the conference, the thinktank has identified three skills that are relevant in 4IR.
They are learning skills (self directed learning, cross discipline, digital skills); thinking skills (creative, resilience, inquisitive, problem solving); and soft skills (ethics, communication).
“What can we do with the skills and how can we provide them the skills?,” he asked.
The findings also stated there are three key interconnected features that affect how talent is developed and deployed in the world today and in the future, across the life cycle of an individual and in the aggregate, the entire population.
Firstly, he said technology and globalisation are significantly shifting business models in all sectors, increasing the pace of change in job destruction and job creation.
“Secondly, education and training systems, having remained largely static and under-invested in for decades, are largely inadequate for these new needs.
“And, thirdly, outdated but prevailing cultural norms and institutional inertia create roadblocks particularly when it comes to gender,” he said.
Mohamad Sattar said some industries are not ready yet to face 4IR because they are still in Industry 2.0.
However, some industries are ready in terms of technology advantages or ICT implementation but the employees or graduates
are unable to operate these advanced technologies.
“It is due to unskilled workers produced by our higher learning institutions, although the industry claims that skilled graduates produced by TVET institutions are more skilled compared to university students.
“Therefore, learning providers need to develop a clear path for each programme to ensure the students are clear about their career pathway. There are some barriers to Malaysian Education System to face in the 4IR.
“For example, TVET education and higher education system have an unbalanced infrastructure and lacks the readiness to grab the knowledge from the industry. It is also because the top management is not ready to invest in 4IR,” he said.
In the future, he added that the workforce landscape is dynamic and full of uncertainty.
“We need to build the TVET system including standards and curriculum to become more dynamic, organic and be relevant in riding the waves of the revolution such as standards in cyber security, communication, digital competency, programming, entrepreneurship and marketing.
“The experts believe that the TVET system needs to be upgraded to produce skill innovators or specialists who possess high learning skills which include creativity, emotional intelligence and people management.
“We should refer to Australian and Canadian TVET systems for reference,” he said.
Their systems provide students with skills that employers have identified as important in the workplace. They are also generally considered to provide more practical, work-orientated skills than the university system.
From discussions, the experts believe that National Occupational Skills Standard (NOSS) needs improvement and buy-in from the industry such as improving the governing industry and TVET institution structure to lead bodies and reform legistation. One way to improvise is by integrating new aspects of Internet of Things in each field so that students won’t be left out.
He said the government should develop policies on education and training to suit 4IR demand.
“Our education curriculum should emphasise on personal development from early childhood, instill emotional intelligence, commitment, culture, and mindset change to meet the challenges.
“Besides, the ecosystem should also be provided by the government and industries to cater to the interconnectedness of 4IR requirements,” he said, adding that majority of industries are not ready to employ changes in 4IR development.