In this brand-new section, we bring to you dedicated industry-specific interviews to solve the talent challenges that you're facing in your sector, as well as collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas across sectors. Today's focus is on attracting and developing 'unicorns'.

Industry insiders: Sharala Axryd, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Center of Applied Data Science | Roslinda Abu Bakar, Head of Human Capital and Talent (Principal Lead), The Center of Applied Data Science
Sector spotlight: Information technology and services
Based in: Malaysia

“If we can’t get them, we train them.” With this magic mantra in mind, The CADS overcomes its number one talent challenge, that is, finding and retaining data professionals.

The number one talent challenge this sector is facing.

Sharala: The number one challenge is attaining and retaining talent. Data professionals are unicorns – which begs the question, ‘Where do we find them?’ We build them, and then we keep them excited and relevant in order to retain them. One type of data scientists are very technical and constantly want to learn new things. However, in a business, it’s not possible to provide them these opportunities at a rapid pace. This becomes a reason for data professionals to keep changing jobs every two years, so they can add to their technical expertise.

Then you have the other kind, who want to gain knowledge and use their expertise to do good, since they have an altruistic view of working. They don’t want to make the business better or greater, they just want to give back in a philanthropic sense. The more they know, the more complete they feel they’ve become. This makes them want to pursue jobs that will give them more and more exposure to build skills that are relevant to them. Not only will this be a hindrance to companies like us to keep them, you also won’t feel right holding them back if their passion is elsewhere.

Developments that are intensifying this challenge

Sharala: The organisational hierarchy can hinder open communication between team members. For example, young and eager data scientists who are done with training may not have the maturity to go ahead and expand their role by doing more with the organisation’s product. Consider also that the only role model they have is the in-house expert. They’ll feel they don’t match up and never reach that high-level position because their capabilities aren’t the same.

Bear in mind that data professionals can be experts in several different fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, machine learning, etc. It can sow insecurity among team members who specialise in one field over the other. Confidence levels can be affected, especially among young members who feel they won’t be able to reach the knowledge and expertise of the chief data scientist they admire. The mismatch between expectations and reality of the data professional’s capabilities can be a major disruption.

Roslinda: The challenge intensifies when companies from the rest of the industry are ready to begin their journey of incorporating data science and AI into their business and are on the look out for talent. Since we pioneered this journey in the country, other organisations, rather than aggressively upskilling, are taking a shortcut route of pinching talent from others.

HR professionals are at the core of digital transformation. Yet the mistake is that digital transformation is left to the Chief Strategy Officer or the CEO. The HR department has no role to play, which is so wrong.

Best practices: Strategies that have worked in tackling this challenge

Roslinda: There is one mantra that we hold on to: “If we can’t get them, we train them.” Data Star is a programme that includes in-class intensive data science enablement training and mentorship with our experienced in-house team of data scientists. We reskill fresh university graduates and prime them for placements within various organisations across industries. More and more employers are recognising the quality of the graduates from this programme. This is one way of addressing the unhealthy talent war in this field.

The next big priority for HR professionals in this sector

Sharala: HR professionals are at the core of digital transformation. Yet the mistake is that digital transformation is left to the Chief Strategy Officer or the CEO. The HR department has no role to play, which is so wrong.

HR is the heart of the organisation because the future of work involves skills - upscaling the internal resources and making sure their job is safe. It involves hiring new people with new skills that the business needs, while automating jobs that will make life easier and more productive. So like it or not, HR has to understand Industry 4.0. They have to get technical – as long as it’s not about industry relations law, policy, or soft skills, then it has to change.

Things have to be about what IR 4.0 means, how it affects the business, and how job safety and lifelong learning are implemented in the most effective way. HR has to understand that the future of employees will not be rule-based, it’s going to be skill based, so a lot of unlearning and learning needs to be done, and they should be ahead of the curve more than anybody else.

How CHROs are proactively preparing for the future workplace

Roslinda: If we don’t change the way HR is being practiced – typically seen as transactional executor, policy and governance enforcer and process-centric implementer – HR will become obsolete and irrelevant. Period.

I see myself carrying the responsibility to be at the forefront of the business and not as the backend operation. HR has a unique value proposition – we have a blend of skills that comprises marketing (eg, attracting talent), business development (eg, talent acquisition), branding and internal PR (eg, developing a sense of belonging and pride which translates into the stickiness of being in the organisation), and customer service (eg, whether employees will become your channel of advocator or promoter versus being a detractor. We must bring these elements together and meaningfully contribute to the world of talent.

Photo / Provided


This feature has been published exclusively in the Jan-Mar Q1 issue of Human Resources. Read this edition of Human Resources, Malaysia:

hrmy q120


If you're an HR/L&D leader who'd like to be interviewed for our upcoming L&D series, on the coolest learning campaigns, the biggest changes to your L&D strategy, and more, please write in to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..