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Web Desk
August 12, 2017

Future of Work - II

In the previous article in this series, Future of Work - I, we discussed global trends embodied in 4th industrial wave tech like AI, Robotics, 3D-4D printing, and AR/VR, that threaten disruption and mass unemployment, and identified the need for a Government intervention to land on the right side of a new, emerging and potentially-catastrophic digital divide. This article provides the contours of such an intervention.

Moving Goal Post of Right Digital Skills not just any Digital Skills

OwaisAnjum, CEO of eMumba, an Islamabad Startup, asks: “Software houses think that 80% of graduates are not up to the mark, what interventions can reduce that to, say, 60%?” When even coding is becoming automated, and on the telecom side, network optimization, digital skills must, at the high end at least, relate to ideation, system architecture and theoretical understanding.

Given the exponential rise in data and particularly big data, some skills will clearly be in demand e.g. Data sciences, cyber security, cloud virtualization, and cross disciplinary ones like bio-informatics. Retraining mathematicians and statisticians is clearly a low hanging fruit. AI based Digital marketing and solution selling will be at a premium given increasing connected customers with optionswhile suffering an information overload. Courses, provided in conjunction with universities,that providein-demand tech, hands-on pedagogy, and regular updating, to keep pace with change, are the need.

Innovation and Self-learning Attributes of the Future Worker

Tony Murphy, a former VP at Gartner Group, who did an extensive study on the Pakistan IT industry wrote: “Students can no longer just learn, they must learn to learn.” What this means is that when change crosses a certain threshold or tipping point, as it has, the worker must be able to apply basic principles and attitudes to new and different situations to deliver results. Innovation and creativity, the ability to discern patterns in apparently disjointed phenomena, and to come up with new algorithms, with critical and independent thinking become key. This is why Art was added to STEM to come up with STEAM.

With the increasing atomization of the work force into freelancers, individuals must themselves take ownership of the task of continual, lifelong learning. Like the ancient Chinese adage suggests, interventions can no longer “give trainees a fish, they should teach trainees to fish.” Such an approach, to whatever extent it can be implemented, would commensurately reduce the sustainability challenge. 

Soft Skills will always be in vogue

In a 2016 survey by Career Advisory & Assessment Services,three out of four corporates reported that Pakistan college graduates were seriously lacking in the following skills and attributes:

  •         Verbal and written communication
  •          Positive, self-confident attitude, and integrity
  •          Team working
  •          Critical thinking
  •          Drive and resilience
  •          Adaptability
  •          Time management and planning

These are the same skills required for freelancing for international and domestic customers, running your own business, or launching a Startup. A digital skills training program would need to cater to soft skills as well to attain its outcomes of greater employability, earnings and success.

Architected to Change and Scale

A moving goal post of skills demand vectors means that to a certain extent DigiSkills needs to be inductive and iterative, meaning that a broad array of courses, formats, instructors, and target segments has to be offered, response and success tabulated, and the offering regularly revised and evolved. Change and learning must be architected into the program.

Such a shotgun approach would be balanced with a more targeted rifle-like approach where one is able identify demand-supply mappings, which are in vogue, such as data sciences for math and statistics majors, Oracle training as Pakistan has been designated as one of three countries, which will provide Oracle development skills to the OIC, and Micro-work, which has assured customers for certain functions.

To scale, training cannot be limited to the classroom, yet pure online courses have very low completion levels. Therefore, a mixture of the following channels has to be targeted to different segments based on demographics:

a.       Online: Internet based instruction with packaged, pre-recorded content, which can be accessed by an extremely high number of people

b.      Classroom: Traditional classroom instruction, which is limited to the capacity of the classroom and by recommended instructor-trainee ratio

c.       Blended: Online content provided in a classroom setting

d.      Synchronized: Live online instruction provided to a relatively large and dispersed audience.

e.       Virtual Reality based training in the future.

The idea is to create a “Government as a Service” model, as conceptualized by Tim O’Reilly and others, or a Platform As A Service (PAAS), where new training modules and programs would be added or removed over time as lessons are learnt, needs change and available supply of training content and delivery changes.

Partner Network

A program of the scale and complexity of DigiSkills cannot be delivered without partners like: HEC and universities, TEVTA, Provincial Education Departments, delivery and content partners, and training facility providers.

Portal to the future

The portal would integrate all the components of the program and be potentially a life-long engagement vehicle for trainees because in the current knowledge economy, life long learning is a key tenant. The portal could contain the following functionality: Profiles of trainees, Training Content, AI based opportunity mapping, AI based career advice, Monitoring and Evaluation, Logistics info on training providers and facilities, funding and scholarship providers, tools and tech, and blogs and discussion forums.

Thor has the Bifrostbridge, Harry Porter has a Portkey. What Pakistan requires is a digital skills training initiative and a training portal promoting excellence in technology, innovation and work ethic, building a workforce for the future.


By Yusuf Hussain, entrepreneur, angel investor and technology enthusiast, currently serving as CEO, Ignite (formerly National ICT R&D Fund Company)