NTUC LearningHub survey: adaptive skills highly valued in COVID-19 era

Photo by Mimi Thian

Amid the COVID-19 downturn, employees’ adaptive skills top the list of workforce competencies that employers in Singapore consider critical to surviving the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. This is one of the key findings in the recent NTUC LearningHub‘s Employer Skills Survey report.

The survey, which was conducted during the ‘circuit breaker’ in April 2020 with business leaders across Singapore, aimed to uncover the most in-demand skillsets in the COVID-19 era. The findings include the top skills by industry: Built Environment, Essential Domestic Services, Lifestyle, Manufacturing and Professional Services, and Trade and Connectivity.

Transformation essential for business survival

- Advertisement -

The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted economies in an unprecedented manner. In Singapore, many have seen their business fall by over 50%, and the road ahead is deeply uncertain.

To keep their businesses viable during this period, companies are forced to accelerate their transformation. By equal measure, business leaders are spurred to rethink the competencies needed to navigate the new economy.

Amongst other measures in responding to the effects of the outbreak, employers have been strategically restructuring their workforce through upskilling or redeploying their workers across departments.

Reflecting this, 84% of leaders strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ that sending their workers for training during this period will help their businesses to develop stronger resilience during this downturn, with 60% currently using, or intending to use the period to train their workforce.

Top training priorities include improving soft/adaptive skills (65%), improving relevant technical skills in their roles (64%) or beyond their roles (53%), equipping employees with more general technology-related skills (58%), and leveraging government support schemes (48%).

Digital skills for the new normal

As stated in the Fortitude Budget, by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat, “Digital solutions will become more deeply embedded in our lives”, a development accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

44% of business leaders consider digital marketing the most coveted digital skill in employees. This reflects the ability of an organisation’s digital marketing capabilities to make or break a business.

A close second is project management skills (43%), which will allow businesses to effectively implement the next course of action in the new COVID-19 environment, the right Project Management skills for responding to the unforeseen workflow changes would be vital to help project plans come to fruition.

Next, Data Analysis skills (40%) in different contexts such as decision-making and digitalisation would help organisations make better decisions in a world where change is accelerating.

Other key digital skills include basic IT support (33%), web/ app design and development (31%), cybersecurity (25%) and governance, risk management and personal data protection (22%).

Adaptive skills still considered more attractive

While digital skills are important, the findings revealed that adaptive skills such as ‘Adaptability and Resilience’ (voted by 56%), ‘Teamwork and Collaboration’ (voted by 52%) and ‘Innovation’ (voted by 49%) were still considered more attractive to business leaders.

Adaptability and Resilience are especially pertinent in the COVID-19 era as employees need to adjust to new work environments, with remote working being a key aspect. They will also need to be equipped with the skills that enable them to quickly recover from challenges arising from the downturn while keeping up the morale of their teams.

In addition, Teamwork and Collaboration skills would help workers cope with the evolving world of work in that they increase productivity and spur innovation. This in turn will help accelerate business transformation.

Recommendations for businesses

Based on the findings, NTUC LearningHub made three main recommendations to employers.

Firstly, they should build on people-first strategies, structuring their business in a way that puts people in the heart of it. This will result in better engagement and increased loyalty.

Secondly, they should redeploy or upskill workers, enabling their workforce to emerge stronger and ultimately lead to greater efficiencies and accelerated business transformation.

Lastly, they should leverage the available training support and schemes available from the various institutions to upskill workers. Doing so ensures that during the upturn, employees would possess enhanced skills that could increase productivity of the business. 

Commenting on the findings, NTUC LearningHub’s CEO Kwek Kok Kwong said, “As we enter phase one of re-opening the economy, we face a new normal. And as the changes persist, so will the enduring importance of adaptive skills in helping workers and companies remain resilient. Workers must actively identify gaps in their current skillsets to determine the areas in which they need to upskill to keep pace with evolving labour market demands.”

“Adaptability and Resilience are especially pertinent during these uncertain times as workers would need to adjust to new work environments, with remote working being a key aspect. They will also need to be equipped with the skills that enable them to quickly recover from challenges arising from the downturn, while keeping up the morale of their teams,” he continued.

“In addition, Teamwork and Collaboration skills would help workers cope with the evolving world of work as they help increase productivity and spur innovation. This in turn will help accelerate business transformation,” he concluded.