InitiativesResearch

Skills for Industry 4.0 and STEM Education – a regional research by UTAR to identify future skill gaps

The World Economic Forum, in its 2016 report, The Future of Jobs, predicted that many skills currently deemed important may no longer be relevant by 2020. Almost half of the knowledge that students obtain from schools now will also be outdated by the same year.  The HEAD Foundation views these statistics as worrying, if not altogether confusing. How should schools and curricula keep up to stay relevant?

Education experts and employers agree that education systems are transforming much more slowly, compared with the drastic changes in skill-set demands. Discussions on youth, technology and economic growth are expected to pervade national and regional discourse and influence government decisions. The World Economic Forum on ASEAN, which took place in Cambodia in May this year, has the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a focus.

The WEF predicted in 2016 that many skills currently deemed important may no longer be relevant by 2020. Almost half of the knowledge that students obtain from schools now will also be outdated by the same year.  

The HEAD Foundation has provided a research grant to Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) in Malaysia to study the skills gap in four Southeast Asia countries, where profound structural changes in education are rarely followed through even though the need for reform is extremely high. The study hopes to instil a sense of urgency for change among various stakeholders, particularly in regards to STEM education.

Datuk Hong Lee Pee (middle), advisor to the research project and Prof Dr Lee Sze Wei (right) who leads the regional research (Photo Source: thestar.com.my)

UTAR’s research project will analyse the changing labour markets of four major economies in Southeast Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, to determine whether there is indeed a potential shortage in the supply of STEM workers in the foreseeable future. The targeted countries were chosen because their workforces are most heavily impacted by the current wave of digital transformation, or what is now dubbed “Industry 4.0.”

The research project hopes to shed light on the following :

  1. demand for STEM skills in the workforce in the next five to ten years;
  2. readiness of the existing workforce and the new graduates to deliver the required STEM skills;
  3. root causes for the reducing interest in STEM subjects among students (in each country and in the region as a whole)

By supporting the research, the Foundation hopes that the UTAR research team will reveal new insights by collecting and analysing a rich set of relevant data, mainly through a series of interviews with a diverse set of stakeholders, including students, teachers, educators, parents, government officials and employers. With a better understanding of the future supply and demand of STEM skills, education policymakers in the region will be able to make informed decisions to cater for the future needs in human capital in their respective countries.

The Foundation is also supporting other projects related to STEM education, including a project by Arus Academy and the Asian Science Camp 2017.