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BRACE for the advent of the driverless car and robots that produce sports shoes and handle housework.

The World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year hailed the start of a new industrial revolution — dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution — which marks the fourth big structural change in the past 250 years.

For the uninitiated, the first industrial revolution was about water and steam. The second was about electricity and mass production. The third harnessed electronics and information technology to automate production.

Now it is the turn of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, 3D printing and quantum computing to transform the global economy.

It will have a profound impact on all economies and all nations — big and small, Malaysia included.

What are the implications for higher education in Malaysia and how should our educators respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The WEF has envisaged that 44 per cent of jobs will be automated in the next 10 years, as the digital disruption takes firmer root.

It said 60 per cent of students are chasing careers that won’t exist and young people will have an average of 17 different jobs in their working life.

One billion people will enter the global labour force by 2030 and it will be tough for the under-25s, who are about four times as likely to be unemployed as their elders.

Job insecurity will be a fact of life for young people, according to Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank chief executive officer.

Artificial intelligence and automation are eliminating a range of blue- and white-collar jobs, from logistics to banking, she said.

This adds to the many challenges facing governments, policymakers, industry leaders and educators in confronting the changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

For sure, there will no longer be the case of universities teaching and training their students for just one job and one career.

Studies showed that wages are higher for young job-seekers with enterprising skills. Demand for job-seekers with skills such as digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity and in presentation is on the rise.

The challenge is for our universities to prepare graduates who are ready for any workplace. Graduates shouldn’t be slotted by their basic degree, but should be able to stroll confidently into a number of varied careers.

There is increasing evidence that employers are hiring graduates for jobs outside their areas of specialisation. We cannot always assume that particular subjects must lead to particular jobs.

Some career paths do insist on certain qualifications. These, of course, include the legal and medical professions.

One key takeaway from a university-industry forum held at UiTM Shah Alam last week was that employers always look for graduates who are better prepared for the workplace. As such, universities need to be thinking about the skills the students will need to do well in a job.

While there are plenty of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates, employers say they do not always have the additional soft and hard skills needed.

This means that undergraduates should be trained to be employable. Student placements, work experience and internships have to be part and parcel of their university life.

Unfortunately, many undergraduates have no or little access to them. Those who have access find they do not learn much from their stint.

The UiTM forum agreed that there should be more effective links between the university and business and industry.

Employers also want educators to pay more attention to research showing which skills are needed by different sectors, and to respond quickly to it.

Datuk Michael Tio, who runs PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd, one of the country’s biggest supply chain companies, told the forum that he was willing to host a UiTM transport student lab onsite at PKT to help provide better hands-on experience.

Business-faculty collaboration is also a norm around the world. In the UK, the University of London has teamed up with the British Medical Association (BMA) to jointly design the curriculum, where BMA careers services were able to identify skills gaps that the university could help to fill.

Moving forward, we need to create graduates who are more agile and understand how the workplace works.

They should also be better prepared for the changing marketplace and if they have to move across jobs and sectors.

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