The Future of Talent Will Not be Graded
In a fast-changing, tech-centric future, straight As will only get you so far. Much more valuable is the agility to pick up new skills and learn on the job, said SGInnovate’s ‘Future of Talent’ panel.
In the midst of the constant race towards ever more advanced artificial intelligence (AI), faster computers and more dexterous robots, tech companies looking for some perspective might do well to remember a simple fact: at its most basic level, digital technology runs on silicon, which is derived from one of the most rudimentary of materials—sand.
"Think about something as simple and elemental as sand, and look at what we’ve done with it over the last 50 years as an industry—all the crazy things that technology enables come from sand. But it’s the innovation that people have come up with over the years that really made that possible,” said Mr Sumner Lemon, director of digital transformation and enterprise sales, APJ territory at Intel Corporation, speaking on 16 May 2018 at SGInnovate’s panel discussion on the ‘Future of Talent’. “Talent is extremely critical to the future of companies like Intel, and to startups in countries like Singapore and others.”
Mr Lemon shared his thoughts on the importance of talent in future workplaces
Joining Mr Lemon on the panel—moderated by Ms Juliana Lim, head of talent networking at SGInnovate—were Mr Joseph Gan, co-founder and president of Singapore-headquartered mobile cybersecurity company V-Key; Dr Gog Soon Joo, chief futurist and chief research officer at SkillsFuture SG; and Professor Ben Leong, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing and director of the Ministry of Education’s Experimental Systems and Technology Lab.
The future of talent is a topic that is very important to us. At SGInnovate, we think that your investment capital can only go so far; ultimately, underpinning every good company, startup, or organisation are people.
Talent for the future: agile and diverse
How should future employees—today’s students, perhaps—prepare themselves for an uncertain future? Because of the phenomenal rate of change in the technological world, students should not be going to school simply to learn a particular programming language or concept, said Professor Leong. Just as Java—widely used just ten years ago—is today “passé”, currently popular programming languages will likely fall out of favour over the next decade.
The key is not teaching students one particular technology or language. It’s the process of teaching them how to learn that I think is really important, rather than teaching them something specific.
Professor Leong shared his thoughts on how students should prepare themselves for their future
Agreeing, Mr Gan said that while V-Key counts mobile security and cryptography experts among its staff, the company values strong core fundamentals over specialised skills alone.
“Most people don't have a background in mobile security or cryptography keys, but if they have a strong computer science or mobile background and a good attitude to learning, then they’ll be very well placed to pick up not only the immediate skills [they need] in the company, but also to be resilient and to transform as the company moves forward,” he said.
Mr Gan counted good attitude towards learning as one of the key attributes for work agility
In addition to agility, diversity—of backgrounds, knowledge, experiences, skillsets and ways of thinking, for example—is another important aspect of talent, agreed the panel. Emphasising that companies should hire the best person for the job “no matter what”, Mr Lemon said that they could also work towards more plural workplaces by committing to assembling a diverse pool of candidates, as well as diverse panels of interviewers.
“[Diversifying talent] doesn’t happen overnight; I think it’s a multi-year journey,” said Mr Lemon. “It’s something I get benchmarked on, my boss gets benchmarked on and his boss gets benchmarked on. You need to put that level of attention on it until you get through this transition, and it becomes second nature.”
Skills, not grades
Employees and employers alike should let go of the mindset that good grades are the key to success. In Singapore, SkillsFuture SG was formed to help effect this “societal change”, said Dr Gog. “We want to move away from grades and qualifications to skillsets, because that’s the only guarantee in the future. That societal change is not easy, but we think it’s necessary,” she explained.
Continuous skills upgrading, retraining and even pre-skilling are important in this transition, she added. Through credits issued to all Singaporeans aged 25 and over, SkillsFuture wants to make it possible for workers to acquire skills through short, “bite-sized” courses without having to enroll in multi-year degree programmes; the local presence of institutions such as coding school General Assembly also offers alternatives to traditional degrees, said Dr Gog.
Dr Gog broke into a laughter during the Q&A time
While shorter courses do not offer the technical depth of a college degree, graduates of such courses will still be able to make valuable contributions to tech companies that hire them, said the panel. For example, mid-career workers making the switch to tech can learn enough to manage a project, while at the same time bringing useful experience and domain knowledge to the table, said Mr Lemon.
For its part, SGInnovate in 2017 launched its Summation Programme to equip tertiary students with deep tech skills and on-the-job experience, said Ms Lim as she wrapped up the discussion. The apprenticeship programme places talented students with companies in Singapore to work on carefully selected projects, in areas such as AI, deep learning and blockchain. Now into its second iteration, the programme is currently accepting project proposals from companies, and will open up applications for students in July 2018, she added.
“What we learned [from the first batch] was that the participants are really interested in deep tech, cutting-edge projects. So if you want to hire great talent, then give them the chance to try out interesting, difficult and challenging projects,” Ms Lim urged the audience.
The summation programme is a three to six months apprenticeship that will enable students to work alongside with software and engineering professionals on deep tech projects. Applications for organisations to submit their project proposals is opened till 22 June 2018. For more information, click here.
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