Look to pioneers to prepare for the future

Look to pioneers to prepare for the future

Over at the Education Ministry, the experts are cracking their heads over how to prepare kids for a VUCA future - that's volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, for those not yet familiar with the term.

And that future is likely to see a great disruption in jobs, with computers and robots set to replace humans in many mid-level, skilled roles that used to provide people with a good living.

However, the disruption, while destroying jobs, will also create new ones. The problem is that the new jobs are difficult to prepare for, since many of them do not yet exist.

In his speech rounding up the Budget debate last month, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said: "No one knows for sure what jobs are going to be around in 20 or 30 years. And that is why we also have to focus on developing obsolescence-proof skills."

Defining such skills as those "that will apply regardless of the job", he said: "We know roughly what they are but we have to keep sensing the skills that are in need in the future economy. Being inquisitive, thinking in original ways, being in the habit of continuous learning. And importantly, the ability to interact with and respect others."

He said those were the skills the Education Ministry would focus on, from the early years and all the way through the school system.

But I wonder if we as a society may also want to distil lessons from the experiences of an earlier generation of Singaporeans who lived through the VUCA years of the Japanese Occupation and the first decades of independence.

They were "Singapore's greatest generation", former Straits Times features editor Sonny Yap wrote, when he dedicated his book on the PAP, Men In White, to them.

In his dedication, he wrote: "To Singapore's greatest generation, who grew up in untold hardship and privation, suffered under British colonialism and Japanese Occupation, experienced social and political upheaval, and yet picked up the pieces to rebuild their lives, get married and raise families while laying the foundation for the peace and prosperity of a new nation."

Many of you will no doubt have your own tales to tell of the pioneers in your lives, and their unique traits.

In this column, though, I would like to focus on two qualities that typify many members of the pioneer generation, and which remain relevant today.

The first is grit, the second is an internal measure of excellence for the work they do.

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