Asian Gen Z male presenting findings with two female colleagues clapping

It’s no secret that digital economy transformation has become a key priority for Indonesia. It is, after all, one of the priorities Indonesia's G20 Presidency will explore at the G20 Summit led by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in Bali this November. 

According to Airlangga Hartarto, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs of Indonesia, at a PT GoTo Gojek Tokopedia event this year, Indonesia's economic value for its digital economy in 2021 was recorded at around USD 70 billion and is estimated to reach USD 146 billion in 2025. 

President Jokowi also once said that the digital transformation momentum in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic should not be overlooked but capitalised on. And capitalised, it has been. 

The Indonesian government has been developing its network efficiency and 5G technology, building National Data Centers, forming strategic partnerships and accelerating MSMEs digitalisation programmes.

Related: A great opportunity in Indonesia

Human capital needed to support digitalisation 

Besides setting up the scene for digitalisation to thrive, it is equally crucial to develop the workforce needed to support this development. 

The largest and newest generation of the Indonesian workforce that will support the growth of digitalisation lies in Generation Z. They make up 27.94% of the total population, which comes up to about 74.93 million people, according to the Census Population 2020. 

The government has created programmes to get Gen Z up to speed. For instance, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology is collaborating with Huawei, the Chinese technology firm, to offer a Certified Independent Study Internship (MSIB) programme for students across the country. 

So, what skills does the Gen Z workforce need to stay agile in the digital economy? Here's a clue: Not digital skills. Not even tech ones.

Related: How to manage millennial burnout in Indonesia

Soft skills: Unexpected skills gaps in the Gen Z workforce 

Anyone can scour the Internet for technical and digital skills they need for roles they want. What Gen Z lacks is soft skills. 

The pandemic affected Gen Z in a way that is different from older generations. The Gen Z candidates were deprived of on-ground, in-office work experience. Many would have only started work during the pandemic and only know remote or hybrid work as their norm for the last two years. 

The outcome of this impact is a lack of critical soft skills. Think interpersonal communication, face-to-face relations, collaboration, relationship building, empathy and teamwork. These are essential for anyone to stay agile and succeed in any industry. 

Our Talent Trends 2022 report found that 52% of Gen Z respondents surveyed prefer a hybrid arrangement of working from home and in the office, while 39% love working from home. 

As employees return to offices with new workplace guidelines, the Gen Z workforce that is accustomed to working without seeing people in person finds office life challenging to adjust to. Some would rather have an online meeting even when they are physically in the office. 

Employers can help Gen Z improve their soft skills 

The digital economy is not just made up of remote tech roles. In Indonesia, building relationships is everything in business, and this could be a potential issue for Gen Z employees working in teams or for those looking to move into managerial roles. 

Gen Z employees need to see coming into the office and interacting with colleagues as a benefit to their career development, and the only way to develop these soft skills is to take this as a learning opportunity. 

Employers can help ease them in with one-on-one catchups. These are helpful with checking in on workload, stress levels and well-being, and are an opportunity for managers to show empathy. That way, leaders would be seen as approachable and less intimidating to the Gen Z crowd, and they would be more willing to adapt. This creates an engaging workplace to retain the Gen Z workforce. 

Teamwork can also be an issue for Gen Z employees who sometimes tend to be more focused on their own individual results. Employers must demonstrate the importance of a team coming together and working towards a common goal. Another way to help develop soft skills in Gen Z is to get them involved in CSR activities. These make meaningful opportunities for internal networking and often make great team-building exercises. 

Encourage Gen Z employees to share ideas at group meetings, and when they do, be supportive. This would contribute to developing a growth mindset for Gen Z to view successes and failures as learning opportunities and tie performance to learning, not outputs. 

All is not lost: Educators stepping in 

With that said, Gen Z employees are interested in career growth. They have no qualms about receiving training in person, making it a fitting opportunity for employers to develop their soft skills further. 

Indonesia's education system is also looking to evaluate its curriculum to prepare Gen Z for work life. University programme directors have contacted us to learn more about the skills Gen Z needs to develop for the post-pandemic economy. Some schools like Sekolah Pelita Harapan have also worked with us to provide a workshop for high school students on soft skills they need to thrive in university and work life. 

Developing an ESG mindset is crucial for future leaders 

Besides growing critical soft skills, Gen Z candidates entering the digital economy should also cultivate an ESG mindset.  

As part of the agenda for B20-G20 Indonesia, organisations in Indonesia that aim to future-proof themselves need to incorporate environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) principles into their business goals. The Gen Z workforce may not be decision-makers, but they would have opportunities to have a voice in ESG. The big opportunity lies in traditional businesses in sectors like mining, where they have started redefining their processes around ESG agendas. 

There are also start-ups sprouting in the ESG space, and Indonesia's digital economy will help to drive its ESG goals in the coming years as processes become digitised. 

As the forerunner in ESG matters in Asia, Indonesia will require the human capital needed to enable this development to address ESG-related opportunities as the country advances.

This article was first published in the October 2022 issue of Forbes Indonesia.

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