The Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0) implements digital, physical, and biological technologies to meet the demands of climate change, economic globalization, and human welfare. Characterized by the growth of artificial intelligence and smart technologies, IR 4.0 is sweeping Southeast Asia in full force. The Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the fastest growing internet market in the world, with 125,000 new internet users each day. Significant growth in digital participation bodes well for the economic standing of ASEAN countries, with the World Economic Forum estimating a GDP increase of $1 trillion for the region between 2020 and 2030.
ASEAN consists of 10 countries:
- Brunei Darussalam
Despite the geographic proximity of these nations, they’re diverse in size, population, and status in the global economy. Though the average per capita GDP of the ASEAN is about $14,000, the variance in GDP between each country is significant. Singapore, the smallest of these 10 countries, rivals the United States in terms of wealth, with a GDP per capita of $65,230. Yet Cambodia, another member of the ASEAN, has a GDP per capita nearly 40 times less than its Singaporean neighbor.
Key Obstacles to Digital Transformation in the ASEAN
Worth noting is the proximity of both Singapore and Cambodia to countries like China, South Korea, and Japan (with per capita GDPs of $10,260, $31,760, and $40,250, respectively). All three of these East Asian nations possess significant footing in digital economics, skills, and technological accessibility, leaving ASEAN countries in the dust. This could be attributed to how ASEAN countries leverage their locations to produce exports, relying on low-cost labor and light industry rather than digital transformation.
ASEAN governments have already identified inequities within the digital economy which put their countries at a disadvantage. A lack of benefits and skills in the digital sector leave ASEAN countries with few next-generation prospects. The Go Digital ASEAN initiative underscores the challenges marginalized communities face when they can’t access the digital tools they need to succeed.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates these challenges, “as the new technologies disrupt global value chains and undermine the model of labor-intensive, export-led manufacturing that has powered [Southeast Asia]’s growth,” says Tahsin Saadi Sedik, Senior Economist at the International Monetary Fund. “But the new technologies will also open opportunities for small businesses and offer the potential of enhanced productivity—something that Southeast Asia will need to move beyond middle-income status. Technological progress can boost productivity and growth, creating new jobs, transforming jobs and skills, with old jobs and firms disappearing, and new ones emerging.”
Current Strides Toward IR 4.0
The Go Digital ASEAN initiative is one way the ASEAN has addressed digital transformation in IR 4.0. According to their mission statement, the initiative “is designed to: equip micro and small enterprises and underemployed youth, particularly those in rural and isolated areas, with crucial digital skills and tools; expand economic opportunity across ASEAN Member States; and minimize the negative impact from the COVID-19 crisis.”
An estimated 99 percent of vital ASEAN businesses consist of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which employ more than 80 percent of the workforce. Go Digital ASEAN equips 200,000 micro and small enterprises with digital skills amid the COVID-19 crisis by fostering collaboration between ASEAN, The Asia Foundation, and Google.org (Google’s charitable arm).
In 2018, the World Economic Forum launched ASEAN Digital Skills Vision 2020, an initiative aiming to provide 20 million ASEAN workers with digital skills training and opportunities by the end of 2020. Microsoft alone contributed the following:
- 15,000 internships for university students
- Digital skills training for 2.2 million small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) employees
- Jobs for 8,500 digital economy workers to the project
Sunny Park, regional director of corporate, external, and legal affairs at Microsoft Asia Pacific, said, "Right now, over half the people on the planet lack basic access to the knowledge and skills that would enable them to participate in the new digital economy. Together with our partners, we are going to change that. We are going to empower every person and SME in ASEAN to achieve more."
Individual ASEAN countries have also established initiatives to digitally upskill their workforces. Malaysia’s MDEC promotes digital preparedness for IR 4.0; its PENJANA Human Resources Development Fund Training Incentive Programme emphasizes upskilling and reskilling Malaysian citizens to reduce unemployment. Singapore, ASEAN’s most digitally savvy economy, employs programs like the SkillsFuture initiative of the Future Economy Council, the Infocomm Development Authority to promote technology innovation and investment, and GovTech, which applies IR.4.0 transformation to the government itself. Following suit, Indonesia expanded its Digital Academy Scholarship program in 2020 to increase its digital talent, geared specifically toward IR 4.0.
The Importance of Digital Skilling
Go Digital ASEAN and ASEAN Digital Skills Vision 2020 demonstrate a vast mobilization by business leaders and citizens to meet the challenges of 2020. In many ways, 2020 is the ideal time to empower the workforce with digital skills for the digital economy.
Distance learning for digital skilling has evolved to online and applied learning formats, creating a rich opportunity for learners to utilize digital tools. Students have access to live virtual classrooms with expert instructors, self-paced video lesson content, live advisors, online labs and projects, and peer collaboration. These applied learning platforms are highly effective digital skills training tools for corporate employees and individual learners alike.
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Achieve Digital Goals with Corporate Training
Simplilearn is a certification training provider which helps working professionals achieve their career goals, particularly in the digital sector. As a partner of various ASEAN organizations, Simplilearn can play a vital role in assisting Southeast Asian communities achieve equitable participation in the digital economy.
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