Internet leader opens staff academy to the public; warns of challenging times ahead
Thailand’s biggest mobile-phone network provider, AIS, has intensified its campaign to prepare Thai people for life after the Covid-19 crisis, which it warns may be more difficult and challenging than many expect.
Just two months ago, the company issued a rallying call to “all stakeholders and industry leaders in all sectors” to join it in a concerted and coordinated drive to “fight for the recovery of the country and create sustainable growth.” At the same time, it announced investment of between Bt35 and Bt45 billion this year to build a 5G-based telecommunications infrastructure to cover all 77 provinces.
Now, the giant company has thrown open to the public the AIS Academy, a five-year-old learning establishment that has hitherto been accessible only to AIS staff. It has urged all Thais wishing to enhance their chances of future employment to use its online learning services, and has warned that “Life After the Crisis” will not be easy.
AIS’s Chief Human Resources Officer Kantima Lerlertyuttitham said the COVID-19 crisis has drastically changed lifestyles. With social-distancing measures in place, people have gone online to conduct various activities, so it follows that technological development will now move ahead faster, and “with greater ferocity and diversity”. Digital technologies will blend into people’s lives much more, and people should acquire the abilities to not just live with technologies, but also to use them to their advantage.
People have already turned to online banking, online meetings and webinars, But while the online world is full of knowledge, it is also unrestrained; people may post whatever they want, and cyberspace bullying is intensifying. For their part, employers may use the public record of social media to assess the online behavior of job applicants.
Kantima said employment formats look set to change in “Life After the Crisis”. People may no longer want to serve as full-time employees; they will look for jobs that match their expertise and allow them to work from anywhere. But such employment conditions will only be available to applicants with a proven capacity for personal discipline.
In the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have lost their jobs as enterprises turn more to technologies to restrain expenditure on human resources. Within companies, departments that doggedly work in “the same old way,” may find themselves laid off. However, a reassuring aspect of these developments is the undeniable fact that technologies are not really useful without human users.
Grim facts of a crisis yet to begin
Kantima said “Life After the Crisis” has not yet started. The crisis itself, which will see many people become unemployed, will happen first. Technologies will be gradually replacing human staff from now on.
She pointed out that many companies recovered well from the Tom Yum Kung crisis because they were serious about developing their human resources during the critical period. However, in the current crisis, everyone is preoccupied with curbing costs and investing in technologies rather than human resources. This has created widespread anxiety about being replaced by technologies. In fact, she said, the bottom line is that those people who will be replaced will be those who fail to keep improving themselves.
Kantima warned that the number of jobless people in Thailand will keep rising, and the dangerous part of the ongoing crisis is that all those people who are enjoying working from home will fail to recognize the risk of imminent job loss.
“We think the impacts of COVID-19 will last longer than those of any earlier crisis. This is because the pandemic has affected the whole world. People with capital and preparedness will face lesser adverse impacts, though, because they will be ready to deal with changes,” she said.
At present, the COVID-19 crisis as being used by some companies as an opportunity to lay off some of their current employees in order to recruit new people for tasks that seem to have growing importance. For example, employers are now interested in hiring data analysts, or people with digital skills and knowledge of cyber security. Even human-resources staff are required to have data-analytics skills.
“Technologies can definitely handle routines, and if technologies can replace you at work, it means that your contributions will not have sufficient value,” she said.
Adapting to survive
In Kantima’s opinion, COVID-19 has warned human kind of the need to revolutionize. Still, she said, it seems people are paying more attention to the development of vaccines than development of their own skills, and they risk being left behind if they do not improve themselves. Moreover, if their employers do not lend a hand in this development process, there will be bigger gaps between those who keep improving and those who do not.
She said fresh graduates in 2021 will find it harder to get jobs because companies will first try to keep their existing staff. For example, human resources departments are being disrupted by the introduction of many tech solutions for recruitment and document management. This means that staff members who remain unable to analyze data and apply results to business needs or align them with human abilities will no longer be needed. In this environment, fresh graduates who cannot find employment right away may lose the opportunity to develop themselves further in 2021.
“When we buy a phone, we want the best and most expensive model. But do we really use all of its features?”
Today, the answer to this question applies to not just smart phones, but also to any other device driven by the Internet of Things (IoT). Such gadgets will become common household appliances in the future. In Thailand, only the affluent currently use IoT devices, and they are deployed only in their homes. In overseas countries, IoT devices serve many more functions. For example, they can help with food ordering. To put it simply, IoT gadgets can be used to handle tasks of little value and free up human staff for work with higher value. But if human staff do not develop an ability to perform these higher tasks, they will be overtaken by tech solutions.
“We believe technologies will identify the strongest for survival”
Kantima said that AIS would use a new approach to the recruitment of new staff. In the past, people were keen to work full-time. But in the new era, people just want a job that they are capable of doing and get paid based on their performance.
Working at the office will not be mandatory because, with the help of technologies, people can work effectively from anywhere. But she emphasized that only those people with solid discipline will work well in such conditions, so AIS will need to be impressed by applicants’ records of a disciplined approach to performance. When staff have such discipline, working conditions can be very flexible; working hours can be flexible and some staff may be based at home. However, she warned of a threat to health from working at home because such people lack human interaction, and this is an indispensable factor in a happy working life.
“The New Normal” and working from home are not the same thing
Next year, many fresh graduates will leave universities only to become unemployed. Therefore, AIS is looking to its own operations for ways to give these fresh graduates opportunities to accumulate work experience. Such experience should then be valuable when they apply for jobs later on.
Sharing knowledge with the public
In its latest move, AIS has decided to offer knowledge from the AIS Academy to the Thai public. Established five years ago, the academy features a great range of online courses. In the past, these courses were available to AIS staff only, in order for them to access knowledge, develop themselves and become reliable human resources capable of contributing to the company’s future. However, AIS now intends to throw open the AIS Academy so its courses can be shared equally and comprehensively with Thais across the country.
Kantima said the AIS Academy was established because the company wanted an institute that could take care of developing its human resources by using a new tech-enabled learning approach. Not only does the academy integrate technologies into its learning processes, but it also partners with leading overseas higher-education institutes such as the Howard University School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University in the United States and the University of Manchester in the UK. The academy also has partners in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia who have brought tech-enabled deliveries of knowledge to AIS staff. Those staff members who enrolled in online courses were required to make preparations prior to workshops, talks and sessions to create career paths.
“We have now recognized that driving AIS’s growth alone is not enough,” Kantima said. “For AIS to thrive, Thai society must prosper as well. As a result, we would like to reduce any gap in human development in the country. More often than not, human development has been restricted only to affordable organizations, or among people who can afford it.”
In pursuit of its own growth, AIS is therefore aiming to upgrade Thai society by introducing a mission called “Care about You”. Part of this mission is the emergence of ACADEMY for THAIs. Whatever knowledge AIS has created, it is now offered not only to AIS staff, but also to outsiders. Members of the general public are welcome to study with AIS, without any trade strings attached.
The AIS Academy has thus been tasked with upgrading AIS’s human resources, helping Thai society to grow, and giving Thai public access to knowledge. Moreover, AIS has lately launched LearnDi for THAIs – a new learning platform that brings AIS-based knowledge to the public.
“We have found that when it comes to knowledge searches, people are relying quite a lot on the internet. So, we have categorized and verified pieces of so-called knowledge in the online world. This has been quite a challenge. But we are now ready to distribute verified knowledge via two channels: the AIS Academy fanpage (https://www.facebook.com/AISAcademyforThais) and LearnDi for THAIs, so as to bring knowledge to society,” Kantima said.
Content for Thais is based on a Life-Long Learning Journey theme, with the AIS Academy serving as a thinking partner. For example, if people are planning a wedding, AIS Academy can help them by preparing what they need to know. Likewise, many people may be clueless about financial planning. On this topic, AIS Academy can help too. Overall, the AIS Academy can provide knowledge that extends far beyond the scope of technologies, to anything that is useful to life.
AIS has sometimes turned to other organizations for content development. When it does so, it makes sure its partners understand that the content is not designed solely for AIS staff. Therefore, content integrates knowledge from other fields, and the variety on offer is quite impressive.
Another key element is the use of unconventional learning methods, since the “old ways” may no longer fit in a society that is changing in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. In a way, the world is getting narrower: people must communicate even though they do not physically meet, and Thais must be prepared to deal with this so as to remain competitive.
Constant knowledge development
AIS expects that its initiatives will provide Thais with reliable sources of knowledge. Yet the company is still striving to further develop its learning platforms, with an emphasis on quality, rather than quantity. It believes the most important concept is to prepare correct and accurate knowledge for Thais.
“Everyone will be able to access knowledge via mobile applications or the website, just like AIS staff,” Kantima said. Content in LearnDi for THAIs covers a wide range of topics, including leadership, digital knowledge, work skills and knowledge useful to living.
Finally, Kantima pointed out that AIS previously implemented a project called “Aunjai Volunteers for Occupational Development.” Under this initiative, knowledge of AIS staff was shared with interested participants in the hope of helping them to gain vocational skills and livelihoods.
“The current crisis has cost many jobs,” she said. “So, we want to give a means of livelihood to Thais through the distribution of knowledge. In the past, our corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities had our staff building libraries, toilets, and the like. Now, our CSR will focus on occupational development.”