How to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution, now

To prepare for Industry 4.0, Datuk CM Vignaesvaran Jeyandran said employers should not hold back on investing in their staff. ― Picture courtesy of HRDF
To prepare for Industry 4.0, Datuk CM Vignaesvaran Jeyandran said employers should not hold back on investing in their staff. ― Picture courtesy of HRDF

KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 — By 2050, virtually all industries from banking to manufacturing will be integrating digitised automation and robotics, economists predict.

Malaysian businesses that want to survive, let alone thrive in this new industrial revolution age, also known as IR4 or “Industry 4.0”, would do well to invest in training to improve their workers’ skills, the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) said.

“Employers who are hesitant to train their staff for fear of losing them to their competitors or of losing out financially have to approach training their workforce as a form of investment rather than expense,” its chief executive officer Datuk CM Vignaesvaran Jeyandran told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

“For Malaysia to remain relevant and competitive, we each have a duty to step up and take the necessary measures to ensure we are ready for the changes that the new industrial age brings,” added the head of the agency under the Ministry of Human Resources.

Coined in 2012 by the German government, Industry 4.0 covers the integration of robotics and computers in manufacturing, to take advantage of technological and communications advances.

The shift promises pure transparency in daily operations, but with a reduction in human dependency.

Vignaesvaran said many local employers have held back on paying to train up their workers, for fear they would leave the company for better offers after acquiring new knowledge or skills.

But he asserted that upskilling is an essential step to ensure that companies remain significant in the IR4 era.

“For those in manufacturing, a lot of work that would otherwise be undertaken by factory workers would be automated by machines in the future, so these workers have to be trained to handle these machines, and work alongside these machines,” he said.

Training programmes for IR4

Vignaesvaran said there were several training courses available to prepare the Malaysian workforce, especially to deal with the creation of “smart factories”.

“I believe the government is in the midst of preparing for this change, Also, I know for a fact that there are initiatives being undertaken to face this change head on.

“Just that, perhaps, some of these initiatives are not being highlighted in the public space enough so not everyone knows about them,” he said.

Viganaesvaran pointed out that there were 21 Sectorial Training Committees under HRDF that were tasked to identify relevant programmes needed by industries that are rarely offered by institutions.

To develop local digital talent for the IR4, he said, HRDF was currently enabling funds for training programmes in ICT Adoption and Big Data for employees and prospective employees, over a period of four years from this year up to 2020.

“A total of RM203 million will be used to cover three broad programmes which are: Data and Data Professional Training; Empowering Women through ICT & Leadership Data Science; and MDEC’s Development Programme on Critical ICT Skills,” he said.

He said the HRDF is also collaborating with the National Big Data Association to promote its initiative in the Development of Digital Talent for Industry.

To date, he said 28 courses have been approved following this collaboration.

Separately, he said HRDF was teaming up with nine Centres of Excellence in Technology by Knowledge.com in drafting high-end technology certification programmes to meet the standards of the upcoming industry.

These centres are Johor Skill Development Centre, Negri Sembilan Skills Development Centre, Perak Human Capital Development Centre, Sabah Skills and Technology Centre, Pusat Pembangunan Kemahiran Sarawak, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Vignaesvaran said HRDF is also working with the Penang Skills Development Centre (PSDC) to promote its initiative under the National Empowerment in Certification and Training for Next Generation Workers (NECT-Gen— Industry 4.0), with five IR4 pillars having been approved.

“An example of the type of training to be given would be how PSDC will facilitate its initiative in NECT-Gen Industry 4.0 through five IR4 pillars: namely Big Data, Cloud Computing, Internet of Things (IoT), Cyber Security and Vertical Integration,” he said.

Apart from drafting programmes with institutions, Vignaesvaran added that HRDF was working with industry players like Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers Malaysia to implement trainings for the development of IR4 among plastic companies.

The plastic industry, he said, operated in a demanding environment in terms of production, equipment reliability and energy efficiency.

“For plastics manufacturers, IR4 is a challenge and hence adopting IR4 would allow every processing detail to be attached to a component; allowing manufacturers to have full traceability in the entire supply chain,” he said.

IR4 impact on Malaysia’s economy

According to Vignaesvaran and the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), the effects of IR4 can already be seen in local industries to a certain extent.

MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan noted the implementation of technologies in banking that has cut dependency on human operators as a sign that IR4 has dawn on Malaysia.

What would be the full impact on Malaysian business operations when IR4 is fully integrated, estimated to happen within the next 10 years?

Vignaesvaran said it would depend on how companies prepare themselves and their workforce to embrace this shift.

“I cannot say for certain when Malaysian companies will fully embrace IR4, but I can tell you that the Industry 4.0 has already started coming into the Malaysian workplace.

“Unlike the previous industrial revolutions, where people had time to adapt and adopt these changes into the workplace, the fourth industrial revolution is coming about at a much faster pace because of technology and the connectivity available today,” he said.