Published on 25 Apr 2022

Work/Life: Boss …. You never trained me.

If data analytics platform Tableau gave out awards for the most copped-out bosses, we could nominate our managers.

Singapore ranks second only to Australia in a survey of 10 countries on managers who demand the highest performance from employees while investing the least in their training.

In a Tableau report released last week, 91 per cent of managers in Singapore expect data literacy from employees in every department, but only 28 per cent train every worker in their company.

When asked why, they said there was a lack of skilled trainers in-house, they received no support from higher-ups, they had no budget, there weren't enough materials, employees were resistant... blah and blah. The reason brought up by most was - they did not know where to start.

They were the biggest clueless group, but not the only one.

In a 2017 report by global consulting firm McKinsey, 58 per cent of 197 companies that it surveyed globally said corporations should lead the charge in getting workers ready for digitalisation and automation, not governments, schools or individuals.

Great bravado, except that only 16 per cent of its respondents felt "very prepared", while about twice as many felt either "somewhat unprepared" or "very unprepared".

In Britain, tech talent recruiter CWJobs released a report in 2021 showing that in 2020, 73 per cent of local businesses increased investment in digital tools, training and talent. Yet only 9 per cent said they had trained all necessary staff in the tech tools they invested in.

I hope our bosses feel better now, but here is a postscript: Singapore workers also topped the rankings in the Tableau report when it comes to complaining to their managers about weak data culture in their company.

So, don't forget that we have high expectations too. Local workers want to do their jobs well. More than eight in 10 say they make better and faster decisions with data, and are more likely to stay in a company that trains them or helps them improve their data skills.

But who is responsible to get us competent in using data at work?

Nanyang Business School's associate dean of undergraduate academics, Associate Professor Damien Joseph, said: "It is unwise for workers to abdicate training decisions to managers or to the organisation.

"Every worker must be personally responsible for developing his or her training goals and for participating in training that is aligned to a broader career goal. That is the essence of lifelong learning - the worker is responsible and directs personal and occupational development. It cannot be otherwise," he said.

Digital marketing executive Keith Saw, 28, took courses offered by his university and the Infocomm Media Development Agency, and drew on his SkillsFuture credits to study online marketing before landing his current job at an automotive technology start-up.

He also tapped free online resources and YouTube tutorials, and paid his own way for more training. Though his current manager supports training, he said: "Digital literacy should be the responsibility of an individual."

He added: "I am not entirely satisfied with my knowledge. There are programming languages that I wish to learn to help me improve in my work, such as learning how to navigate databases."

Mr Saw's passion may not be replicated by every worker. Digital courses are cut and dried, and unlike courses that stick easily, such as "Present like a star", three minutes after a class, just-acquired mastery on "Extract the highest-referral site on a dashboard" flies out of the brain.

Social service healthcare administrator Foo Li Boey, 50, said companies face a "daunting undertaking" in meeting training needs.

Some companies have older managers who "grew up with analogue", she said. "They may think digital skills are just 'click, click a few buttons and everything falls into place, like Tom Cruise in Minority Report."

She added: "With ever-evolving business and technologies out there, not all know what the required job skills are, or where to find the right training among so many courses and providers."

She said: "At school, we have clear paths, a curriculum and outcomes. But workplace education is a jungle. If you go to the SkillsFuture site, you are overwhelmed by the amount of content."

She is not very worried about being able to keep pace with technological changes in her job. "I am keen to know and learn what is happening around us. It is just that the old brain may not keep up," she said.

There is an underlying fear of being phased out of a job, being out-dated, and finding herself "needing to report to a young newbie", she added.

Budget 2022 has $100 million set aside to subsidise the cost of training workers, including absentee payroll costs, said Prof Joseph.

"The overall general training participation rate has been stagnant since 2017. I am hopeful that government funding and various associated initiatives will push the training participation rate, currently at 49 per cent overall, to over 50 per cent," he said.

My solution to the problem is simple. 

First, bosses should stop pretending that they know all that is going on in the digital world and ask to be trained. Then, company resources will magically appear and workers will clamour to attend the same lessons as the bosses.

Following that, bosses should apply what they have learnt in real life - like how they use data to find the perfect Tinder date - and boast about it.

That will set their workers off to use data in every conceivable way so that they can out-do, out-brag, and out-shine one another. Finally, human resources should provide doughnuts whenever there is a tech class.

Source: The Straits Times