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How SAP is supporting ASEAN’s digital economy

A regional SAP executive outlines what it takes for Southeast Asia’s workforce to tap the opportunities offered by the region’s booming digital economy

Training the workforce of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be future-ready requires governments, businesses and educators to co-invest in education and skills. However, individuals must also want to embrace the digital revolution and be ready to capitalise on it, according to SAP Southeast Asia’s head of corporate affairs, Eugene Ho.

Citing a Deloitte survey which found that only 20% of youths felt this was their responsibility, Ho said that was wrong thinking, noting that “one can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”.

Ho was sharing his views during a session on the skills needed to support ASEAN’s digital economy at an event held in conjunction with the 35th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Thailand. He also offered his perspective on the relevance of data intelligence, as well as how and what SAP has done to upskill the region’s workforce.

Growing need for data skills

Noting that the fourth industrial revolution (IR4.0) will create “massive data and opportunities”, Ho said the individuals and companies that will succeed are those with robust and evolving data skills.

“By 2030, McKinsey estimates that as many as 375 million workers may need to change their occupational categories and learn new skills to adapt to automation and digital transformation,” he said.

Ho pointed out that ASEAN is getting digitally connected, with around 400 million internet users and $100bn in online sales annually, with $1tn added to the region’s GDP by 2025. And with 60% of ASEAN’s population under 35 years old, the region is only behind China and India for having the most millennials.

“By 2030, McKinsey estimates that as many as 375 million workers may need to change their occupational categories and learn new skills to adapt to automation and digital transformation”
Eugene Ho, SAP Southeast Asia

“Youths in this band can be characterised as digital natives. As the saying goes in Myanmar, a kid may not have a shirt on his back, but he has a smartphone in his hands. It is, however, a fallacy to think that a digital native will have the actual skills to thrive in the workplace,” Ho stressed.

As a result, ASEAN countries cannot expect to realise their economic potential and development without effective development and deployment of skills in the workforce, he said.

“In the private sector, we want a productive and talented workforce that stays with us, especially after we have trained them,” said Ho. “We need to continually train our talent because it is among the top three reasons why employees leave. Up to 27% of millennials and Gen Z workers will leave their jobs due to insufficient learning and development opportunities.”

In particular, Ho noted, companies with higher corporate data literacy are associated with an increase in enterprise value of 3-5%. “Data analytics is among the top five skills for IR4.0, with 85% of companies to adopt data analytics by 2022. Yet only 28% of CEOs are preparing their workforce with data skills.”

Learning and development

SAP’s focus on learning and development made it one of the most innovative companies globally as well as regionally, Ho pointed out.

“Our focus on learning and development has made us an employer of choice in many of the countries that we operate in and enabled us to have a thriving ecosystem of customers and partners in ASEAN,” he said.

Of the top 100 ASEAN companies, 91 of them are SAP customers, as are 88% of ASEAN companies in the Forbes Global 2000 list.

“Our focus on learning and development has made SAP an employer of choice in many of the countries that we operate in and enabled us to have a thriving ecosystem of customers and partners in ASEAN”
Eugene Ho, SAP Southeast Asia

One of SAP’s digital learning and development initiatives is the championing of massive online open courses (MOOCs), which offer the opportunity to bring automated, standardised teaching and assessment to remote areas with internet access.

“The MOOC concept is a very effective and inclusive way to bring knowledge to the masses at any time, anywhere, and in most cases, using any device. SAP’s own MOOC platform, openSAP, was established in 2013 and has more than 28,000 learners from the 10 ASEAN member states. The platform is open to anybody, with an unlimited number of participants, and is free of charge.”

As Ho highlighted, openSAP helps to build skills for the community and ecosystem, providing courses for a variety of disciplines, including machine learning, robotic process automation and data science.

Another SAP initiative was its collaboration with the ASEAN Foundation, with its flagship programme being the ASEAN Data Science Explorers (ASEAN DSE) analytics training programme, which aims to build ICT capacity for youths in the region.

“By using the SAP Analytics Cloud, ASEAN DSE encourages participants to deliver data-driven insights that highlight pressing social and economic issues in ASEAN,” said Ho.

SAP was also involved in setting up SAP Skills University Singapore, a joint initiative by SkillsFuture Singapore, SAP Skills University and participating polytechnics.

“Individuals can acquire relevant skills for technical roles which are in demand and attain industry-recognised qualifications,” said Ho. “We aim to facilitate education in the fields of advanced technology and complement the foundation that is being taught in academic institutions through a hands-on learning approach with SAP products.”

In Ho’s view, there are two things that need to be worked on. Firstly, an individual culture of lifelong learning, and secondly, a collective culture of enabling the ecosystem for learning and development of the digital workforce. “By doing so, we will be skilling a digital ASEAN to unlock growth,” he said.

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