finance tech

Rethinking Our Digital Skills Pipeline for a Digital Economy

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Malaysia’s Prime Minister launched the Malaysia Digital Economy blueprint in February this year, with the view to transform Malaysia into a digitally-driven, high income nation, as well as a regional leader in digital economy.

With MyDigital now, many are reminded of the multimedia super corridor or MSC, the previous national blueprint which wanted to transform Malaysia into a knowledge-based economy modelled after the Silicon Valley.

Similar or not, the MyDigital blueprint is no slouch in terms of what it wants to achieve: a digital economy by 2025 that contributes 22.6% to the country’s GDP, as well as additional 500,000 job opportunities.

SERI or the Social & Economic Research Initiative, convened the first multi-stakeholder meeting called the MyDigital Alliance chaired by Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

Enterprise IT News speaks to SERI CEO, Dr.Helmy Haja Mydin about what transpired and what the next steps are.

EITN: What is the relationship between MyDigital Alliance and the MyDigital entity which is set up to execute and deliver the national digital economy blueprint?

Dr. Helmy: The MyDigital Alliance is a public-private partnership initiated by the Social & Economic Research Initiative (SERI) and Microsoft in conjunction with the latter’s Bersama Malaysia commitment. It was established to serve as a collaborative platform for senior officials and leaders from the public and private sectors as well as civil society organisations and academia to actively exchange ideas and share resources on a range of policy issues. This is in support of the Government’s MyDigital aspiration to transform Malaysia into a regional leader in the digital economy and fuel the nation’s competitiveness through broad adoption of digital-native and cloud-first policies.

EITN: Please share the members of the MyDigital Alliance Leadership Council, and the role that the council plays.

Dr. Helmy: The MyDigital Alliance Leadership Council is chaired by Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. In addition to Dato’ Sri Mustapa, the Council consists of rotating representatives from public sector, private sector, civil society, and academia, depending on the issues and theme of the policy dialogue.

The inaugural convening of the MyDigital Alliance included representatives from government agencies, industry leaders, think-tanks, NGOs, and academia. These included the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Human Resources, PETRONAS, Human Resource Development Corporation (HRD Corp), TalentCorp, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Yayasan Hasanah, Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS, and the National Blind Football Team.

SERI will be presenting findings and policy recommendations to the Government, in an effort to enable meaningful implementation of the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint.

EITN: What were the main takeaways from the first multi-stakeholder meeting?

Dr. Helmy: The lockdowns and multiple movement control orders have exposed the degree of the digital divide that will have an impact on our nation’s ability to pivot appropriately in this digital age. Although there is a lot of debate regarding technology that is changing humanity’s socio-economic landscape – blockchain, NFTs, AI, cloud computing, to name a few – we must be cognisant of those who will slip away as a consequence of poor digital access.

How can we produce sufficiently skilled talent to meet the needs of future employers, and to become future employers? We must also not lose focus on those already in the workforce who may be facing obsolescence. They will need to upskill, re-skill, or cross-skill, and may not have the means or access to do so.

The pandemic compels us to review our approach to education and shows us how important digitalisation of learning is, now and even more so in the future. This does not only involve the operational digitalising of education, but also educating on digitalisation, i.e., ensuring parents, teachers, and students, have access to skills development and information on digitalisation. This is where multi-stakeholder partnerships play a role in defining the digital transformation of education, alongside forming the future workforce, and shaping our collective future.

A global digital workforce, gig workers included, will need to meet the rigorous demands of future jobs, including jobs that may not even exist yet. It is vital that we come together with clarity and commitment to strengthen and further existing initiatives to ensure everyone, wherever they are in Malaysia are able to grow up or grow further with skills and opportunities.

EITN: When will the policy paper for the Malaysian government be ready, and can you share previews of the recommendations that the paper will put forward.

Dr. Helmy: We are aiming for the draft to be ready for public consultation by the end of June 2021. Here are five policy recommendations which were jointly developed during the policy dialogue:

  • Digital skills as a basic right of every Malaysian – We are moving towards digital skills being a basic human right – this has to be reflected in how we train pre-service and in-service educators, how we allocate funds and resources at federal and state levels, and how we develop the curricula of schools and universities.
  • Empowering people with individual skills development opportunities, cultivating a culture of lifelong learning and increased levels of skills and certification in the country. One example is to put aside a fixed amount of money for every Malaysian that they can then withdraw after a certain age to fund training or skilling that they require.

This will: (1) enable ownership of one’s learning at the individual level, irrespective of employment status, and (2) ensure access to skills development for all, across business owners, entrepreneurs, gig workers, independent contractors, dependent contractors, and employees.

  • Digital skills passport. Work-based learning and skills-based hiring are gaining popularity. This requires partnerships with MQA as well as with universities in Malaysia to encourage the recognition of work-based learning and skills-based hiring for the future of the nation. Skills will be the passport for jobs in the future, and no one should be left behind.
  • Social protection for gig economy workers – Acknowledging that the nature of work and nature of employment are evolving, we need to rethink social protection to provide adequate socioeconomic safety nets for new and emerging types of work.
  • Skilling as national service – Reskilling is key, especially in the new normal as some jobs may cease to exist, and new roles emerge. For example, with the airline industry requiring a recovery period, we have seen airline attendants playing a critical role in assisting with the rollout of vaccines. We should reskill our human capital and determine transferable skill sets suitable for work in other sectors. As certain countries have mandated skilling, a new form of national service could be skills development.

We are aiming for the draft to be ready for public consultation by the end of June 2021.

EITN: From the website (, I see SERI wishes to tackle the digital talent issue. Will your policy recommendations address only this aspect?

Dr. Helmy: Our first set of MyDigital policy recommendations is aligned to the theme of the first session, i.e., ‘Global Digital Workforce as a National Agenda’. We recognise that talent development does not exist in isolation however, and where relevant, recommendations will include digital, societal, and physical infrastructure, investment, resources, and social protection.

The subsequent sets of policy recommendations will depend on the theme of upcoming MyDigital Alliance Leadership Council meetings.

EITN: How can Malaysia reduce inequality at the intersection of technology and society?

Dr. Helmy: SERI believes in an evidence-based and needs-based approach to reducing inequality.

Although we are increasingly acknowledging the importance of digital skills, we must recognise that we each have different starting points. Many of us still feel very disconnected. We feel that perhaps this is something that doesn’t really revolve around our day-to-day lives. Some of us feel disconnected because the language is different, or unfamiliar, perhaps because the bulk of what we see online is in English. Of course, there are those of us who have poor or sometimes even no connectivity at all. And finally, we have individuals in society who require assistive technology in order to embrace the full range of opportunities in our increasingly digital society.

We need to ensure that developments cater to our diverse needs, and that inclusion is not an afterthought. We need to be aware of the opportunities and the threats, demonstrating compassion towards those who may be left behind.

EITN: In your opinion, should policy recommendations by SERI be technology vendor-neutral, or include as many technology vendors as possible in the spirit of being inclusive?

Dr. Helmy: There’s a plethora of data out there about what’s changing, what’s coming. We have humans, machines, and algorithms. These are elements that are going to change the very nature of work. These are the things that require us to make the right decisions today. It is the policy changes and investments that we make today that will determine whether our graduates of tomorrow are not only fit for purpose but able to participate, strive and thrive in a very global market and economy.

For this very reason, we believe in taking a multi-stakeholder view, in bringing together as many perspectives as possible. This includes public sector and private sector representatives across different industries including technology, civil society, and academia. No entity can do this alone, and we are working to ensure as many voices as possible are heard and included in this process. This is why we have included a public consultation process and look forward to incorporating feedback from as many perspectives as possible.

EITN: Will SERI’s recommendations also address the various perceived shortcomings by the public/industry regarding 5G’s SPV, for example among other things?

Dr. Helmy: Policy recommendations for the first iteration of the MyDigital Alliance Leadership Council will focus on transforming Malaysia’s education and employability towards the development of a global digital workforce.

Having said that, SERI has produced recommendations and policy briefs on:

  • COVID-19 response and governance,
  • poverty, skills development,
  • blockchain, digital infrastructure, and
  • the necessity of reinstating the cabotage exemption,

We welcome opportunities to discuss these further.

Following public consultation, policy recommendations will be presented directly to EPU and MyDigital SCMO.

EITN: Will there be direct communication between SERI and MyDigital, the agency?

Dr. Helmy: Our work is intended to support the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and MyDigital, particularly the Strategic Change Management Office (SCMO). Following public consultation, policy recommendations will be presented directly to EPU and MyDigital SCMO.