Toby Fowlston is the Managing Director of Robert Walters' offices in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines. He has over 17 years of recruitment experience, and is responsible for leading and growing the Southeast Asia recruitment business.
Here are the excerpts of the interview with Toby.
Given this Fourth Industrial Revolution, how do you envision the future of work?
The future of work is as much about changing mindsets, as it is about reinventing jobs. As AI systems, robotics, and cognitive tools grow in sophistication, the people aspect of work is becoming more important. Organizations need to reconsider how they design jobs, organize work, and plan for future growth. Those seeking niche or digital skill sets may consider a flexible and diversified workforce that breaks the typical framework of going into office at fixed hours, and encourage an environment of learning. Professionals need to think about how they can continually add value, be ready to embrace change, and adapt to future challenges by seeking opportunities to upskill.
Professionals need to think about how they can continually add value, be ready to embrace change, and adapt to future challenges by seeking opportunities to upskill
One of the messages from Davos this year is that people around the world will need to upskill and re-skill? And there is wide agreement that we need a massive push to prepare people for new jobs and skills. How do you view the current skilling scenario at a broader level? Are we doing enough to prepare people for those future skills?
There’s no shortage of warnings of what the future has in store for today’s workforce. However, although jobs will be lost, there will plenty more that will be created. Work will still be there but jobs will change. Who does what and how, could change significantly. Those displaced will need to re-skill and shift to the new jobs, and wages may temporarily stagnate, go backwards and increase (i.e. where technology demands increased skill sets from people). But this is how it’s always been, and we are currently just undergoing another period of rapid change.
The key for economies and societies will be to keep learning, investing in future skills and innovating, and embracing change. The rise of technology has been at an unprecedented rate, and the traditional route of education through schools is no longer fast enough to catch up with the demand. Looking at innovative ways of recruitment and retention, such as cultivating a culture of learning and sharing, as well as seeking untapped talent pools or talent from other industries to fill the demand will be the way forward to ensure that people and companies are equipped with the necessary skills to move forward.
As experts predict the skills shortage will only get more acute as technology evolves and the war for talent intensifies, what's the need of the hour?
As organizations accelerate their digital efforts, the impact of the tech talent shortage is causing increasing strain on resources as well as productivity. Our survey conducted in April 2019 by Robert Walters with nearly 400 technology professionals and hiring managers across South East Asia revealed that hiring tech talent is difficult, time consuming, but critical to business success. 68% of respondents who were hiring managers took 3 months or more to fill an open tech position in their team. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest, tech hiring managers rated the difficulty level of hiring talent on an average score of 7. Business productivity and innovation took a hit as 7 in 10 hiring managers interviewed shared that the shortage of tech talent negatively affected their speed of product development.
Organizations have to figure out how to attract and retain tech talent. Possible solutions include creating innovative recruitment and retention strategies, providing learning and growth opportunities within the organisation, investing more on “potential” than “actual” ability and zooming in on the instrumental role of tech leaders.
With 82% of the ASEAN CEOs concerned about the availability of key skills, according to PwC, how are SEA countries gearing up to bridge the skills gaps?
Ongoing digitalization that propels business transformation will continue to pervade and generate demand for professionals with the necessary digital skillsets. It will take time to acquire this knowledge purely through schools. Professionals who wish to acquire these skillsets will need to combine upgrading opportunities with on-the-job training as a more balanced approach.
The countries are aware of the urgency and are reviewing and improving their education systems respectively. For example, Singapore has the Masterplan 4 to prepare local candidates for the current and future job markets. The plan targets the development of 21st century competencies. Malaysia is also undertaking a wide-ranging review of the entire educational system. This review includes the creation of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) task force to review how Malaysia trains its youngsters to participate in and capitalize on the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
With millennials set to comprise a significant proportion of the global workforce by 2020, how can organizations chart out a strategy to facilitate skilling and re-skilling for them?
Understanding what motivates Millennials, as well as how they perceive their employers and their colleagues, is essential to ensuring that organizations can maximize their effectiveness as employees and potential leaders. Millennials have grown up being told they are capable of achieving anything and this confidence means that they crave responsibility early in their careers. They do not shy away from responsibility, and they want to know what needs to be done to earn it. They are also more open to international transfers as part of their career development than any generation that has come before them. They are proficient at using technology and enthusiastic about making it a growing part of their professional lives.
Ongoing digitalization that propels business transformation will continue to pervade and generate demand for professionals with the necessary digital skillsets
This gives employers an unprecedented opportunity to consider setting clear goals and targets in equipping them with the skillsets they lack. Where appropriate consider progressing people on potential and not always a formulaic set of boxes they have to tick to show they can do the role. If someone is 70% ready to do the job, then that 30% is their personal learning and a big reason for being motivated and wanting to do the job. Clearly this risk needs to be assessed carefully for certain types of roles (i.e. a surgeon!). Employers have traditionally thought “what do we need” and are advised to place as much emphasis and if not more on “what does the employee need”.
With the world becoming more connected and more diverse, do you think businesses will need different types of leadership skills?
With our society becoming more diversified as a result of globalization and technology, businesses will need to find leaders who can keep up with fast-changing competitive demands. They will also need to exercise empathy and humility to deftly maneuver different social settings, bearing in mind that our society is now made of different cultures and races from all over the world.
Given how technology has become highly entrenched in our businesses, one of the recommendations made in our technology guidebook, “5 Lessons in Tackling the Tech Talent Shortage” advised businesses to find leaders who understand technology trends to attract and motivate tech talents. Business leaders who believe in the value of technology and understand the current technology landscape with strong stakeholder management skills can set the tone and direction of the company.
What are your top pieces of advice for CEOs and CHROs to align its workers in line with changing work dynamics?
#CEOs and CHROs need to ensure their organizations are investing more in training and upskilling employees and also in allowing for career mobility across the organizations so as to attract and retain talent. Managing the organization’s sense of purpose and to engage the workforce in alignment with business needs is another key area that CHROs will need to prioritize when working with the CEOs. Jobs are rapidly changing and there will be skill gaps, which will require innovative ways to seek untapped talent pools. For example, do companies have relationships with recruiters with overseas networks of overseas nationals, that can return home with some of these much-needed skills? At Robert Walters, we have programs to help overseas talent return home in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore (Balik Kampung), Indonesia (Pulang Kampung), Vietnam (Come Home Pho Good) and Philippines (Balik Bayan), while in Australia and New Zealand, we try to attract returning antipodeans based in the UK. These have proven to be effective in bridging the skill gap.
Hiring and retaining good people remains key. Companies need to consider what the modern workforce wants, and the areas in which companies can support the growth of their key staff by providing additional learning and training opportunities. Overseas opportunities will remain key for many people so working in a multinational company will be more sought after, and companies should pro-actively raise awareness of these opportunities to employees and potential talent.
Lastly, whilst technology can enable and improve lives, relying too much on it can result in the loss of interpersonal interaction, as people spend more time “tapping” on their devices. Finding that balance to build meaningful and real human relationships among the employees is a key part of ensuring growth, development, success and just as importantly, fun and laughter, in many companies across industries.