HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2020: Agility and skills key to ASEAN recovery

On Day 3 of the ASEAN Future of Work Track, government and industry leaders shared why agility and skills will be key for the region in its recovery.
By: | October 2, 2020

Southeast Asia has been one of the worst-hit regions by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the economic impact is on par with the fallout of the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis, or perhaps much greater, with millions of jobs affected.

Malaysia, like all countries in the region, has been hit hard. In fact, the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research has indicated that the real GDP growth will drop from 4% to minus 2.9% for the year with up to 2.4 million job losses.

At the ASEAN Future of Work track on Day 3 of the HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2020, YB Datuk Seri M Saravanan, Minister of Human Resources of Malaysia, Chair of ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Meeting, shared the measures that the Malaysian government has put in place which has seen Malaysia’s labour market showing signs of gradual recovery, with its unemployment rate in July falling to 4.7% compared to 4.9% in June and 5.3% in May.

“To manage these challenging times, the Malaysian Government is, amongst others, adopting a proactive approach consisting of six key stages, the 6 R’s, namely Resolve, Resilience, Restart, Recovery, Revitalize and Reform,” he said.

“The first stage of Resolve entailed addressing and containing COVID-19 by implementing the Movement Control Order (MCO). Whereas, the second stage of Resilience focused on protecting lives and particularly livelihoods through the PRIHATIN Economic Stimulus packages.

“The third stage, the Restart phase, witnessed the reopening of economic sectors in an orderly and controlled manner. Currently, Malaysia is embarking on the 4th stage, which is the Recovery phase. During this phase, the government will be focused on rolling out additional strategic initiatives to further propel the nation’s economic growth.

“Further, the gradual restart of the economy from 4th of May, has enabled 12.7 million people to return to work. We are continuing to facilitate the reopening of more economic sectors but without compromising the safety and health of our workers,” he added.

Facing similar challenges in its economic recovery from the COVID-19 is Southeast Asia’s largest economy, Indonesia. According to the Ministry of Manpower of Indonesia, over 1.4 million workers have temporarily or permanently lost their jobs. More than 600,000 informal workers have also been affected.

“The government has taken steps to handle the impact of COVID-19 by allocating 695.3 trillion Ruppiah (US$48.4 billion) of the national budget to support businesses and the workforce,” said Anwar Sanusi, PhD, Secretary General of the Ministry of Manpower, Indonesia

“Indonesia hopes together with ASEAN member states, our region will be able to develop ASEAN human resources into skilled and professional workers who can adapt to the challenges of the future of work. Countries’ competitiveness need to be supported by a workforce that is productive, skillful and adaptive to technology. ASEAN must take strategic measures to improve the workforce capacity based on competency and professionalism, and to encourage efforts to accelerate mutual recognition of skills.

“The workforce’s ability to be resilient, productive and self improvement from the crisis is needed. Workforce resilience needs to be supported by government innovation in responsive policies and programmes as well as the support of innovation in the business sector to ensure decent work and social cohesion. Workers also need to be prepared in embracing the transition and dynamic challenges. The agile workforce will be able to quickly adapt to the technology revolution and disruption in the future of work,” he added

While ASEAN countries continue to navigate from the COVID-19 crisis, one of the key areas in its push towards economic and labour market recovery is through the reskilling of its workforce.

During the engaging panel discussion session “Developing Skills For A Resilient And Digitally Enabled Workforce For The Region”, government and industry leaders came together to discuss what skill sets are needed for workers in this region to adapt to the new normal.

“Underpinning all the hard skills needed, the critical core skills of the workforce are equally if not more important. And there are three critical core skills. Firstly it’s staying relevant and having self efficacy on how the industry has changed and how to be adaptive and digitally savvy,” said Dr Gog Soon Joo, Chief Futurist & Chief Skills Officer, SkillsFuture Singapore.

“The other aspect is thinking skills. Cognitive ability has become more important as we work with machines. This is where humans make a difference in our decision making. The last aspect is how we work with others. The human context is even more important as we work remotely and globally. Developing people has become everyone’s job as it’s not just the HR and L&D’s job. Everyone must help each other learn and grow,” she added.

Patrick Tay Teck Guan, Assistant Secretary General, Singapore National Trades Union Congress, added, “While there is a lot of anxiety and fear out there in the labour market, it’s important for workers to keep an open mind to pick up new skills for new opportunities or even redeployment.

“Employers need to redesign their jobs and tap on the national schemes and funding that the government has provided. Soft skills, or should I say critical skills, are difficult to navigate. For example communication is one big gap particularly for Asian countries – to be able to communicate in a simple and succinct manner to the message across to workers, management and customers. And in terms of being agile and adaptable, while there are many change management courses out there, it’s about an individual’s attitude and mindset in embracing the changes,” he added.

From an employer’s perspective, it has also been a learning journey for organisations in the region, not just in equipping employees with digital skills, but also ensuring that their welfare and mental health is taken care of as they work from home.

Susan Cheong, Group Head of Talent Acquisition, Group Human Resources, DBS Bank, shared, “For DBS, the ability to respond very nimbly to the whole COVID situation was very important. More than 90% of our staff are already quite used to using laptops, but to actually switch from working in the office to working from home calls for a lot of harnessing or digital technology.

“And particularly in the banking industry, we need to be able to do that without compromising on security. At the business manager level, the challenge was to bring the entire workforce together to steer people ahead in our response.

“But one thing we learnt is that you can have all the technology infrastructure in place, one thing we shouldn’t forget is to ensure that people are comfortable working from home and their mental wellness. We need to find out if they are able to cope with all the expectations and if we are exercising understanding and patience as the context of where people are working is different. In fact, the work intensity is higher than when people are working in the office,” she added.

Ronald Tay, Executive Director, APAC Head of Learning & Development, Asset & Wealth Management, JPMorgan Chase, added, “At some point we had about 180,000 people working from home. And integrating work and home is very different for everyone.

“Our managers really had to ensure that not only work is the business as usual basis, but they had to adapt to managing and motivating remote teams through coffee chats and cocktail hours. The main challenge for us is to grapple with the transition from classroom training to virtual training and to make it adaptive and applicative,” he added.