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‘Think big, start small, scale fast’: 5 tips to upskill your workforce for the future of work



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By referring to people interaction skills as ‘soft skills’, L&D professionals are doing it a disservice. Here’s what we could be using instead, Jerene Ang shares, in this report on Learning & Development Asia 2019, Malaysia

It’s an era where the erstwhile training function has given way to comprehensive learning frameworks that pull data from every aspect of the talent life cycle to create custom learning paths. We have a whole menu of training programmes to choose from.

Notably – T&D is now called L&D, where learning & development represents a more comprehensive approach to all types of learning experiences. Which is why Human Resources Online chose to rebrand it’s annual conference to Learning & Development Asia – bringing a more contemporary and progressive flavour of L&D content forward.

Produced by Yee Ching Low, Learning & Development Asia 2019, Malaysia edition was held on 25–26 September 2019 at Aloft KL Sentral, Malaysia.

The two-day conference saw a host of relevant sessions, including a brand new 90-minute interactive session – called the ‘unconference’ – where delegates had the opportunity to curate their own content.

From the on-site conversations, we gained five tips to upskill your workforce for the future of work.

#1 Think big, start small, scale fast

Before forming a curriculum or coming up with an L&D programme, start with understanding the business – in particular the end customers and business goals.

Then, look at what is needed to help ensure customers are satisfied and the business can achieve its goals. This can loosely be grouped into three categories: 

  • Critical skills and tools
  • Leadership skills and tools
  • Customer skills and tools

Once these are in place, what you need to do to scale quickly is to implement more programmes that meet the needs of different demographics of your workforce.

#2 Stop calling soft skills ‘soft skills’

When talking about skills, there are two very prominent segments – ‘hard skills’ which are very technical in nature, and ‘soft skills’ which are more focused on people interaction.

Despite the rise of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) being used to improve productivity, the bottom line is – everyone wants to be treated as a human being. This is in line with the World Economic Forum’s prediction that the top five skills in 2020 are in fact ‘soft skills’.

However, by referring to such skills as ‘soft skills’, L&D professionals are doing it a disservice. The reason being – when using the word ‘soft’ to refer to such skills, it comes across as something unimportant or good-to-have.

The L&D function should change the way these skills are referred to. Perhaps you can call it ‘critical skills’, ‘dependable skills’, or ‘vital skills’. After all, the next big trend isn’t AI or blockchain, it’s humanity.

#3 Ignore the 20% and focus on the 30%

To survive, become the disruptor instead of the disrupted.

In today’s rapidly changing world, the onus is on L&D professionals to ensure the workforce is ready for the future. However, with the introduction of every new policy or learning programme comes resistance. 

There will always be that 20% who will dislike you for disrupting their lives. But, there will also be the 30% who will give you the buy-in from the start. The remaining 50% – they are indifferent and happy to just ride along. 

If you want to turn things around, ignore the 20% and focus on the 30%. The remaining 50% will be with you soon enough.

#4 Don’t ignore gig workers. Train them for alignment, not skills

Gig workers are with you now, but may be with your competitors next month. So, why should your invest in training them? Here are two reasons why: 

First, half of rewards is not about pay, it is about learning, development, and experience. Given this strong correlation, L&D opportunities should be provided to giggers as a means of attraction and retention.

Second, key challenges in an increasingly gigging workforce include the cultural and value disconnect, and risk management and governance in terms of competition and rival firms. This is why gig workers should be trained on alignment – not for skills, given they were hired for their skills in the first place. 

#5 Technology is the last thing L&D leaders should think about

“Technology is the last thing you should think about.” While it is ironic to say something like this in the era of IR 4.0, it could not be more true, especially when it comes to creating a next generation learning environment (NGLE) or integrated learning platforms (ILP).

While NGLEs and ILPs leverage heavily on technology, the first thing L&D leaders should consider isn’t technology, but the context of their organisation.

First, look at the purpose of implementing the NGLE or ILP. Examine the objective it is supposed to serve, its context to the business and business value, as well as the challenges such a system should address.

Then, look internally at the organisation’s personas (leadership, aspiring talent, functional experts, new hires, etc.) and their needs. At the same time, understand the organisation’s digital maturity and learning perception, as well as the culture and the ways of working. Start identifying an adoption strategy and the type of activities that would support and sustain the momentum of the initiative.

Once the above are accounted for, it’s time to look at technology – whether an LMS or LXP is better, what new content libraries are needed and the legacy content involved. Further, think about if the system should be integrated with other systems.

Five years from now, when more than one-third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce have changed, these tips will help enable L&D professionals to keep up with the pace of change and stay essential to the business. 

[Full set of photos: Learning & Development Asia 2019, Malaysia]


Presenters, panelists, and moderators at  Learning & Development Asia 2019, Malaysia included:

  • Rasidah Kasim, Chief Human Resources Officer, Affin Hwang Investment Bank  
  • Christine Oh, Head of HR, Arcadis Malaysia
  • Lee Dong-Wook (DW), Deputy Director of Action Learning, Asia School of Business in collaboration with MIT Sloan
  • Suhaimi Sulaiman, Former CEO & Editor-in-Chief, Astro AWANI
  • Yasir Abdul Rahman, Chief Human Resources Officer, Bank Pembangunan Malaysia
  • Koljit Singh,  Head of HRM Excellence & Process Optimisation , BASF PETRONAS Chemicals
  • Gideon Tan, Head of Learning & Development, Celcom Axiata
  • Amarjeet Kaur, Head of Consulting, DDI  
  • Anisha Sasheendran, Regional Head of People at Fave
  • Norlida Shariff, General Manager of Human Resource, South East Asia II at  Mercedes-Benz Malaysia
  • Chella Pandian, Human Resources Director at MSD Malaysia
  • Swapna Vadlamani, Head of HR at Novartis Global Service Centre 
  • Daniel Chng, Global Chief Learning Officer, Ogilvy PR & Influence
  • Asrif Yusoff, Head – People Strategy, PETRONAS
  • Emi Hasniza, Key Account Manager, Malaysia, Panopto
  • Nor Fazilah Mohd Yusof, Head of People Operations, Pembangunan Sumber Manusia, Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF)
  • Chen Fong Tuan, Country HR and General Affairs Director, Samsung Malaysia
  • Joseph Koh, Head of Organisational Development and Learning,Upstream, Deepwater and Integrated Gas Malaysia and Philippines, Shell Sarawak
  • Sudesh Nicholas Rama-chandran, Learning Head at Standard Chartered Global Business Services Malaysia
  • Vaclav Koranda, Vice President of Human Resources, T-Systems Malaysia
  • Chan Mei-lynn, General Manager, Group Human Resource, Tan Chong Group
  • Lim Chee Gay, Chief Human Resource Officer, Teledirect Telecommerce

Photo / Daniel Chng, Global Chief Learning Officer, Ogilvy PR & Influence speaking to delegates about surviving Industrial Revolution (IR) 4.0 as an L&D professional.


Human Resources Online would like to thank its sponsors and partners for their support and belief in this event:

  • Gold Sponsors: 
    • DDI
    • Panopto
  • Silver Sponsor: 
    • Asia School of Business
  • Exhibitor:
    • Mind-Trac

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