Malaysian students unsure of what IR 4.0 is, finds INTI study

More than half of students and graduates in Malaysia (63%) are unable to articulate what Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0) entails. According to a study by INTI International University & Colleges (INTI) and International Data Corporation (IDC), which surveyed more than 560 students, graduates and parents, 54% of parents surveyed also lacked a clear definition and ability to discuss IR 4.0 and why it was relevnat to organisational transformation.

INTI said that the results suggest that existing and future talent are unable to appreciate the significance of digital transformation and how this will impact future jobs and competencies in a digitally enabled workforce.

“It also suggests that while emphasis on STEM education is on the rise, students are unable to envision how their choice of education and careers today may be impacted by digital change,” INTI said.

Meanwhile, 30% of students believe they are “completely unprepared” for an IR 4.0 enabled workplace, and this included the technological skills needed to work alongside the innovative advancements taking place in today’s workplace.

Close to one third (28%) of those surveyed said that their academic experience at university was the only exposure they were receiving about IR 4.0, and that they had not undertaken any other training or work experiences to enhance their understanding. INTI noted that this reinforces concerns that most students have not gained exposure to IR 4.0 and may be too reliant on only their academic programmes to make them job-ready.

It also prompts universities to evaluate and assess how well their current programmes provide the training and real-world insights needed for graduates entering the future workplace, and what they need to do to scale up beyond theoretical and academic teaching, INTI said.

Not leveraging available resources

The top three technologies students have already gained some experience in included Internet of Things (47%), cloud computing (38%) and artificial intelligence (34%). Despite their access to technological resources, only 11.6% of students had leveraged additional courses on top of their existing academic programmes to develop their long term competitiveness. For the majority, time constraints and a lack of value were the reasons they had opted against pursuing additional certifications.

“This perception appears as a mismatch to the expectations of industry which emphasises the development of added skills and training as part of consistent talent development. With new technologies on the rise and being introduced intro organisations, certifications lend to the growing skillsets needed to work alongside digital change,” INTI explained.

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Skillsets of the future

Majority of respondents – 67% of students, 71% of graduates and 56% of parents – emphasised critical thinking as the most important skill needed in the workplace. Technological skills also ranked among the top three skills needed by students (41%) and graduates (42%), suggesting that younger generations recognise the need to operate new technologies in the workplace, if not necessarily trained or skilled to do so.

According to INTI, while younger generations may recognise the importance of technological skills, without a clear understanding of what IR 4.0 means, students and graduates will still need to broaden their present technological capabilities from personal use to workplace skills. This includes the ability to work with big data, machine to machine communication and the impact of technology across interdisciplinary functions within an organisation.

On the other hand, parents ranked decision making among their top three skills (47%), which may be reflective of their longer working experiences and the value they place in making the right decisions with minimal negative consequences both professionally and personally.

INTI’s acting CEO Tan Lin Nah said the study is unique in that it speaks about talents’ perceptions of IR 4.0 rather than government and industry experts. She added that the findings are “a wakeup call” that while technological change is taking shape in the country, young people are yet to keep up with its impact to their futures.

“As partners of industry, academia must accept that beyond academic excellence, we are also responsible in building future talent and ensuring positive employability outcomes. The findings lend a significant weight to the fact that both education and industry still have much to do in building our talent pipelines to be globally competitive in an IR 4.0 world,” she said.

Jensen Ooi, research manager for IDC Asia Pacific said the lack of skilled resources has been listed as one the key challenges faced by Malaysian organisations in their workspace modernization efforts. As such, academic institutions play a key role in developing graduates who will be part of the workforce that will address this challenge. Ooi said there needs to be more communication on what is IR 4.0 and its application in the near future beyond just the business leaders making the transformation decisions.

“To help students bridge the gap with industry needs, more needs to be done to encourage and prep them to pursue in-demand certifications while completing their studies. Tertiary institutions also need to expand their industry collaboration ecosystem to keep the curricula relevant, enabling industry to co-curate programmes that include hybrid competencies with technological and professional skills,” he added.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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