Evolution in Skills Upgrading for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Muhamed Ali Hajah Mydin.

Parking attendants are being replaced with autopay systems. Similarly, supermarkets are increasingly introducing self-checkout machines. All these bring to question: Are machines going to replace humans?

“Some jobs may have already been replaced by machine automation, but we are still a long way off from being replaced by machines,” says Muhamed Ali Hajah Mydin, CEO of the Penang Skills Development Centre (PSDC).

“It does not mean you cannot be made obsolete. Industry 4.0 affects everyone – from the fishball seller in the wet market to the engineer in a multinational company. If it has not affected you by now, it may, five years into the future,” he says.

The question that we should be asking is how we can best prepare for it so that machines will aid us – and not replace us.

But first, what is Industry 4.0? According to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Industry 4.0 is the digital transformation of production or manufacturing-based industries. It introduces “smart factories”, where cyber-physical systems monitor the real-time physical progress of a factory and make decentralised decisions.

All over the world, navigational apps such as Waze and Google Maps have transformed the way we drive by providing turn-by-turn navigational information and user-submitted travel times and route details.

Singapore, for example, is already globally renowned for its cutting-edge technologies across the board – from smart urban planning to desalination and high-end engineering practices. Malaysia, in turn, is taking over the shared economy in the transportation scene in South-east Asia with its rapidly growing Grab platform.1

Pioneering Industry 4.0

While technological advancements have made life easier for end users, it may be quite difficult for MNCs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to equip their employees with the relevant skills.

Industry 4.0 Federated Lab at PSDC aims to train local manufacturing companies to use newer technologies.

PSDC, together with other founding members of Penang STEM such as Penang Digital Library, @CAT, TechDome, Penang Math Platform and Penang Science Cluster, aims to create human talent to drive and support the digital economy and the Fourth Industrial revolution.2

“PSDC launched the Industry 4.0 initiative to address the manufacturing and technological needs of MNCs and SMEs by equipping and upgrading the skills of the current and future workforce.

“We help the government bridge any foreseeable gaps when it comes to Industry 4.0. Some of the main concerns include talent development and creating awareness. PSDC is working closely with different companies to transform their factories and businesses to be Industry 4.0-ready.

“PSDC is also working with the industries to develop the future workforce by collaborating with universities and polytechnics to train and equip students so that they are ready for Industry 4.0. We have increased our efforts and initiatives in creating awareness among SMEs and exposing them to Industry 4.0 to ensure that they are not left behind,” says Muhamed.

To date, PSDC has pioneered and spearheaded many Industry 4.0 initiatives. The centre was the first to develop a structured method of working, the first to be awarded the Centre of Excellence, and the first to have an established programme for SMEs to migrate to Industry 4.0.

Muhamed giving Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow a quick tour around PSDC's Applied Engineering Lab and Federated Lab.

For Muhamed, making the appropriate investments to optimize the potential of the current and future workforce is equally crucial in preparing for Industry 4.0. “We are encouraging companies and organisations to invest in their employees by reskilling and upskilling their workforce. Reskilling involves retraining and teaching new skills to the workforce and in this context, skills that are specifically relevant to Industry 4.0.

“For instance, someone who is experienced in the area of Quality Assurance can be retrained to perform purchasing duties. Similarly, a fresh graduate in mathematics and statistics can be reskilled in data analytics,” says Muhamed.

“Upskilling involves enhancing the current skills of individuals by adding more depth. This can be in the form of new technologies that a person can learn to keep themselves updated and relevant in their industries. This is applicable to both experienced workers and fresh graduates,” Muhamed further explains.

The German Dual Vocational Training (GDVT) Programme is one of PSDC’s upskilling initiatives. Through a two-pronged approach, training is conducted at the workplace and training institutions in real work conditions and under the supervised guidance of competent coaches and classroom trainers; this plays a key role in work-based training. The GDVT programme is accredited by both the Malaysian and German education systems.

Matching Talent with Role

The change will affect existing jobs: general workers and operators, mainly consisting of foreign workers, will eventually be phased out, making way for skilled workers who can command higher salaries. Jobs will evolve to require more specialised knowledge and expertise. New job positions will open up for higher qualified local workers in these areas of work.

“When one position is obsoleted, 10 others will be created. People are jobless not because there are no jobs available, but because they do not have the skills required to fill the vacancies. There is a mismatch between the talents and the jobs available. Employers complain there are not enough talents to fill their job positions. Job seekers complain there are no jobs available for them.

When one position is obsoleted, 10 others will be created. People are jobless not because there are no jobs available, but because they do not have the skills required to fill the vacancies.

“PSDC’s objective is to address this mismatch through proper training. In the past two years, PSDC has trained 801 undergraduates from seven universities and 10 polytechnics. These students are equipped with skill sets that prepare them for Industry 4.0, and they can then command higher salaries,” says Muhamed.

Graduates will be subjected to a skill-matching process to place them in suitable roles. This step helps companies acquire the right people to do the right job. Job seekers who lack the necessary skills have options to upgrade themselves through the reskill and upskill programmes to regain employability.

Emilia Ismail is a freelance writer who has a love-hate relationship with the weighing scale.

2Penang STEM is a common platform that brings together independent STEM learning organisations in a coordinated way to create a synergistic ecosystem in Penang. For more information about Penang STEM, visit www.penangstem.com.

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