Data science, management upskilling priority for employees

With more than three-quarters of professionals in Southeast Asia planning to upskill in 2023, we look at the trends and demands shaping the landscape

Today, Southeast Asia is at an inflection point.

As the world’s fifth largest economy, its annual growth rate has outpaced global averages. It is also home to a wealth of diversity, and a large share of the world’s workers under the age of 30.

Despite these unique advantages, Southeast Asia has struggled to sustain the development of its workforce participation and productivity, a recent report from PwC finds.

Over the past decade, labour force participation in some Southeast Asian countries has risen incrementally, namely Singapore and Malaysia, while others have seen their rates fall significantly.

The ongoing gender gap — male labour force participation was found to be 9-29% higher than female across the markets — has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the region’s long-held dependence on low-cost, low-skilled labour as a source of competitive advantage has stopped it from building an agile, future-ready workforce capable of responding to global trends.

This must change if Southeast Asia is to successfully transition away from labour-intensive economic activities towards knowledge-based ones and achieve its potential.

“The upskilling agenda to build a future-ready workforce with digital and green skills has never been more urgent,” says Martjin Schouten, Partner, Workforce Transformation leader at PwC Singapore.

While the onus to provide upskilling to workers lies arguably with the public and private sectors, both businesses and institutions – increasingly employees are taking upskilling into their own hands.

This is especially true in Southeast Asia, where the vast majority (84%) of professionals consider upskilling essential to future-proofing their careers – higher than the global average of 75% – according to Great Learning’s Upskilling Trends Report 2023.

It’s a similar picture in India, with 85% professionals considering upskilling important – compared to just 64% in the US.

With the rapidly changing business landscape and unfavourable macro-economic conditions, it has become increasingly key for professionals to acquire new skills and knowledge to remain relevant.

Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines and India are at the forefront of driving the upskilling movement, showing a significant desire among professionals to enhance their skill sets and stay abreast of technological advancements.

While workers in Southeast Asia are primarily upskilling to progress within their current organisations, the majority of employees in India are upgrading their skills in order to secure a new job.

Uniquely, one-quarter of Indians pursue upskilling for personal interest reasons, a trend commonly seen in more mature markets like the US.

Most workers in India are upskilling to secure a new job / Great Learning report

Data science and management most sought-after skills

Data literacy has become the current language of business, so it’s little surprise to find that the most in-demand domain for upskilling in 2022 was Data Science.

Data Science was especially appealing to professionals last year, with the majority of learners having 15+ years of experience and is expected to remain high in 2023 across all experience levels.

While AI is proving a popular upskilling choice among senior professionals with more than 15 years of experience, those with less experience are less interested.

"The job market in Southeast Asia for digital skills such as Data Science, AI, Machine learning is growing significantly," says Arjun Nair, co-founder of Great Learning.

Management was the second most sought-after field for upskilling in Southeast Asia, with 50% of individuals pursuing new management skills had 15+ years of experience. This year as well, Management is the outright choice for professionals choosing to upskill.

"Senior leaders are investing in developing their management skills to lead their organisations through digital disruption," adds Nair. 

"We observe a strong willingness to upskill, with 77% of respondents planning to enhance their skills in 2023. As organisations continue to prioritise digital transformation and data-driven decision making, we anticipate a surge in professionals from Southeast Asia enrolling in programs that offer in-demand skills."

There are challenges, though.

While affordability is the main factor hindering upskilling for employees in Southeast Asia, time if of the essence for Indian employees. Being busy with work, family and social life is the main reason Indians struggle to commit.

Arjun Nair, co-founder of Great Learning says market for data science skills is high

Management was the second most sought-after field for upskilling in Southeast Asia, with 50% of individuals pursuing new management skills had 15+ years of experience. This year as well, Management is the outright choice for professionals choosing to upskill.

"Senior leaders are investing in developing their management skills to lead their organisations through digital disruption," adds Nair. 

"We observe a strong willingness to upskill, with 77% of respondents planning to enhance their skills in 2023. As organisations continue to prioritise digital transformation and data-driven decision making, we anticipate a surge in professionals from Southeast Asia enrolling in programs that offer in-demand skills."

There are challenges, though.

While affordability is the main factor hindering upskilling for employees in Southeast Asia, time if of the essence for Indian employees. Being busy with work, family and social life is the main reason Indians struggle to commit.

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For more business insights check out the latest edition of Business Chief Middle East & Africa and be sure to follow us on LinkedIn & Twitter.

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