Lean into Learning: Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand

February 18, 2021 | Activate Learning, New Workplace Leadership | 5 min read

In Skillsoft's 2020 annual learning report, Lean Into Learning, we discovered that learning played a central role as people reacted to the pandemic, an uncertain economy, and worldwide social reform in real-time. Consumption of learning increased exponentially, and new topics emerged as not just popular, but mission-critical. We saw surges in course accesses of power skills, like communications, collaboration, and emotional intelligence.

We also heard that the “new normal” is here to stay. As we look to the future of learning, we can expect a continued acceleration of digital transformation and a renewed focus on equity and inclusivity. Agile will be on the rise, and not just for software development. And, data analytics, data visualization, and accountability will matter more than ever.

Globally speaking, employees share common needs and desires. We discovered that 80% of U.S.A. workers and 84.25% of workers worldwide want at least one “new normal” practice/policy to continue. But, corporate cultures and values differ around the world, and each market approaches learning and talent development uniquely. Through my work with Skillsoft customers as Director of Global Solution Practice, I'd like to share my observations on how some countries in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region are leaning into learning in their own unique way.

The APAC learning picture: an overview

Before 2020, a learning disruption was already occurring in the APAC region, based on digital transformation and evolving customer expectations. Asia has been a hub for partnerships and investment in outsourcing, co-sourcing, and virtual production. As we met 2020 head-on, digital transformation accelerated by as much as five years. That meant requests for learning tools and training in distance communication and virtual leadership across the region grew from moderate interest to huge demand.

Of all of the similarities APAC shares with North America, one thing speaks most strongly to the true democratization of learning: the evolving journey of leadership training. Historically in Asia, there’s been a preference for offsite learning opportunities for high potentials and high performers — offering rewards to go to university programs or attend leadership development programs in person. But, with the advent of COVID-19, that was turned on its head. Programs needed to be scalable and flexible, and the realization globally was that investing in leadership development was investing in business continuity! We know, of course, that leaders leave and move through an organization as they mature. Mature leaders are also more susceptible to serious consequences of COVID-19 illness. So, there has been more of an emphasis on developing a leadership pipeline over the last year to cover those possible risks.

Of course, as 2020 unfolded, I noticed distinct differences in virtual learning trends across APAC. I also noticed where these trends were shifting. For instance, while many North American businesses were already focused on upskilling and future roles for the underemployed, the emphasis had always been on education for current roles in Asia and how training impacts immediate productivity. In North America, access to whole libraries was possible so people could aspire to advancing their careers. The type of library an employee might see in Asia was very specific: What does an employee have to do now? What is their role today? But, as COVID-19 increasingly shut down global travel, leadership opportunities were opening up as businesses hired from within.

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Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore and Malaysia are very rich in financial services and much more mature regionally from a digital transformation standpoint, if you look at implementations from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to blockchain. They also have robust government funding for skills investment. In North America, we want "business skills" or we want "leadership skills.” When Skillsoft helps design their learning libraries, businesses in Singapore and Malaysia look for specific skills: big data, data visualization, and storytelling. But they still had a very high emphasis on productivity and collaboration. For example, they wanted their employees to be experts in Excel, and in all of the Microsoft products that streamline workflows.

Interestingly, a large focus of the Asian government is on the digital transformation of business to leverage its human resources due to the lack of other natural resources and agriculture that can be monetized. And investment in people is always a good thing.

Australia and New Zealand

In my work with customers in Australia and New Zealand, I discovered that structure, consistency, frameworks, and assessment are key. They see high value in certifications and understanding skills as currency. Organizations want to have as many certified people within their ranks as possible to stay marketable, to say “We’re ISO certified,” or “We have so many PM certified folks.” All of our libraries had to align to a standard skills framework of like SFIA or Korn Ferry. That was unique. There was also a keen interest in reskilling and upskilling employees, as their “water locked” regions magnified the current lack of mobility.

And yet, as we responded to the global pandemic, there was also a considerable emphasis on morale and engagement. I went to the ADAPT digital executive workshop in Australia last year, which focused on different technologies and how many jobs would be open for CISSP and security. A very technical subject, to be sure, but the number one thing that came up when we had fifteen CIOs and CTOs there? How to respond to lagging morale and engaging widely distributed populations. IT organizations were now working remotely around 95% of the time, which was a huge change — and employee engagement was an important issue.

They asked this question in common: How do we focus on frameworks and certifications while nurturing company culture and allowing people better movement within our organization? In light of their need to balance process versus people, we worked with our customers there more holistically - with learning content on creativity and innovation, ways to boost engagement remotely, and an emphasis on simplifying organizational complexities.

The future will look more alike than different

Although remote work had its challenges for us all, employees everywhere appreciated greater flexibility. We discovered that just 11% of workers want to return to pre-pandemic office norms. There is more than just a digital transformation occurring. There appears to be a new social contract between organizations and individuals all over the world. In North America, Asia, and beyond, expectations are that employers will afford the workforce greater flexibility and autonomy, while investing in holistic employee experiences with opportunities for learning and growth at the center.

Next up: Stay tuned for How APAC Leans into Learning: Section II

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