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Workplace Readiness: Importance of Applied Education

The employability of fresh graduates, or lack of, is a pertinent issue that many employers grapple with. To answer their needs, they turn to Lithan, a higher learning and adult education provider that delivers Tech and Entrepreneurship skills for the new economy. Lithan's CEO Leslie Loh enlightens us on why applied education is the way to go.

Alor Setar-born Leslie Loh's illustrious journey as a technopreneur began when, at 23, he founded a banking software company that grew into a global corporation of about 500 staff. He sold it in 2006, then turned his sights onto a new challenge when he realised that universities were not delivering the ‘pluck and pay' graduates that employers want. He established Lithan in Singapore, offering competency-based programmes that are defined by employers' needs while advocating applied education. The latter integrates real-life work experiences and mentoring with regular education.

"Traditionally, our education system is a front-loading model. After graduation, you go out into the workforce and it's more or less one career throughout a lifetime," Leslie explains. "Now, the career market changes every three to five years... you need to continuously pick up new skills."

Lithan enrols over 2,000 students a year and practises an open classroom concept whereby lectures can be streamed online, which provides flexibility all around. Promoting collaborative learning, the academy ropes in industry stakeholders to shape and deliver their education objectives. For example, they run a programme that places trainees with potential employers and then train them to meet the criteria as specified by those future jobs. This pragmatic approach to workforce readiness has already been put in practice in Singapore, and Leslie hopes to bring it to Malaysia this year. He tells us more about this as well as the need for applied education in today's economy.

What are the challenges the Malaysian education system faces in delivering highly skilled professionals?
Like many Asian countries, Malaysia focuses more on academic excellence with little priority placed on vocational training as it's not seen as the way to a good job. But the world is changing; it's not enough to just have knowledge, you need skills as well. Applied education combines both.

Currently, only 28 per cent of the Malaysian workforce comprises highly skilled professionals while about 20 per cent do not hold post-secondary qualifications. PIKOM's ICT job market outlook for 2014 noted that only 10 per cent of new entrants to the workforce are directly employable while the remaining applicants require further training.

What are the benefits of adopting an applied education system?
Academic training delivers long-term knowledge whereas vocational training is about equipping you with specific skills to meet an immediate need. By combining both, you gain the skills needed for your next job and also the academic support necessary to sustain you in the long run.

Define workforce readiness within the context of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
The skill gap problem is not confined to this region but is a global issue. Education systems are lagging behind industry needs and technological advances. If ASEAN is a single country, it would be the world's seventh largest economy with a combined GDP of USD2.4 trillion. AEC has a vision of transforming this 10-nation association into a single market and single production base. To achieve that, we first need to overcome the sizeable manpower and skills gap as that divide could potentially impact the region's future growth and development.

How do you think the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) 2015-2025 will transform our education system?
MEB plugs many holes; it introduces ten Shifts (Lonjakan) that will produce balanced and holistic graduates with entrepreneurial mindsets, nurture ‘job creators' over ‘job seekers', and places Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) on par with academic training. Not only will MEB enable greater dynamism in and personalisation of the learning experience, it will also encourage and harmonise industry participation.

How does Lithan plan to work with Malaysia's education stakeholders to deliver technology and entrepreneurship programmes?
We want to work closely with institutes of higher learning and TVET providers to create a dual-track education pathway for vocational and university students. We offer a competency-based curriculum, work-integrated learning, and in-time delivery of relevant, flexible and affordable programmes. For new graduates, we provide job-induction training while working professionals gain know-how in emerging technologies such as ERP, Data Science, Cyber Security and Software Programming.

We also aim to be a training and talent partner for enterprises; our qualification programmes and modular courses will equip their staff with skills that will enable them to perform better at their jobs. Concepts are acquired via e-learning while higher order skills are taught through work-based learning. Actual workplace projects ensure that those skills can be applied. We also help companies uncover their talent requirements and conduct training needs analyses.


[This article features an interview with Leslie Loh, CEO of Lithan Academy. The article was written by Graduan and first appeared at http://www.graduan.com/article/314/workplace-readiness-the-importance-of-applied-education]

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