PETALING JAYA: To stay relevant, employees now have to enhance their skills or pick up new ones. Similarly, companies that want to remain ahead will need to provide their staff with opportunities for such advancement.

There are five crucial skills that hirers seek when on a recruitment drive, a survey by human resource and recruitment agency Aisling Group has shown.

Most in demand are problem solving skills, with 75.41% of companies categorising it as top priority.

Next comes mental wellness (60.66%), innovation (57.38%), project management (55.74%) and tech-readiness (52.46%).

Aisling founder and managing director Melissa Norman said companies that look to generate higher revenue and reduce costs, raise productivity and enhance efficiency while maintaining the work-from-home practice, also value skills in process improvement and implementation (37.7%), data analysis (49.18%), technological knowledge (42.62%), digital forms of conducting work (44.26%), technical skills related to industry (52.46%) and creativity (44.26%).

“Collectively, these skills are essential to help companies solve their problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

“Some of these skills may have been in demand before the pandemic but circumstances have brought them to the fore.”

Melissa said companies that have managed to beat the odds to come out of the Covid-19 crisis stronger are mostly in information technology, manufacturing and electronics as well as banking and financial services.

She said these are industries that provide essential services and so were allowed to continue operations during the pandemic.

“Therefore, they were not as badly affected as others by the movement control order.”

She added that the ability to quickly adapt to unpredictable and changing situations as the country prepares to enter an endemic phase of Covid-19 has benefitted many companies.

Many of these companies were even hiring while others were reducing their workforce.

Melissa said these companies have also benefited from their strategies to retain talent by offering opportunities to employees to upskill or reskill.

“Companies are now more inclined to seek talent from within rather than look outside for new hires.”

She pointed out that the advantage is that they can leverage on the fact that the employee already knows the company.

“That way, the employee also sees himself making progress and the company wins his loyalty,” she added.

However, there are still companies that hire from outside, especially for specific skills that cannot be found within.

Melissa said many companies now also turn to gig workers to fill roles that would otherwise have been taken by permanent staff.

“This is a growing trend. A 2019 study by the Employees Provident Fund showed that nearly four in 10 people in the Malaysian workforce would be gig workers in the next five years, double the global average,” she said.

Malaysian Employers Federation president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman said digital skills, strong literacy and numeracy skills, critical and innovative thinking, complex problem solving acuteness, an ability to collaborate and socio-emotional skills are talents that remain in greatest demand.

“Digital skills have moved from ‘optional’ to ‘critical’. Employment opportunities for those with such skills will be greatly enhanced.”

Syed Hussain added that to keep themselves relevant in a crisis, employees have to constantly reskill and upskill.

“They need to be agile to adapt to ever-changing conditions brought on by uncertainty and disruptions,” he said, adding that it was fortunate that many skills can now be picked up online.

He said a surge in entrepreneurship during the pandemic also showed that a crisis could open up new opportunities.