Level up and upgrade skills to avoid digital divide: DPM Heng Swee Keat

A digital clinic at the Smart Nation & U event where seniors could learn how to make their smartphones work better for them.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

More efforts are being made to get Singaporeans on board the Smart Nation journey, and this includes a tie-up between the Government and the National Trades Union Congress to equip workers with the skills and knowledge for the digital economy.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat said the tie-up would help Singaporeans upgrade and "level up".

"This is a journey that involves all of us. Whether you are young or old, technology is reshaping the way we live, work and play," he said when he announced the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the NTUC and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO).

He was speaking at the inaugural Smart Nation & U event at Downtown East on Saturday (Nov 30).

The need for Singapore to progress together is important, said Mr Heng, as this will help mitigate against the possibility of a new "digital divide" between those who do and do not know how to use technology.

But there are also risks to be managed even as technology opens up many exciting possibilities, like the use of autonomous vehicles and robots to help perform routine tasks like cleaning and serving food, said Mr Heng.

Such risks include the need to improve data security.

Mr Heng said the Government is working to improve its processes in this area and also educate companies and organisations on how to better protect their data.

He added: "But the threats will keep evolving, so we all need to keep learning."

There is also the possibility that new technologies will render many jobs and skills redundant and if Singaporeans do not keep up with the changes they might find it difficult to adapt or even lose their jobs, said Mr Heng.

He said: "These are risks that we have to manage. But our response cannot be to shut ourselves off from technology.

"If we do so, we will become irrelevant as the rest of the world advances. Instead, we must do everything within our power to progress together."

The collaboration between SNDGO and NTUC will see the organisations hold joint outreach events and activities to engage workers and their families on the benefits of digital technology, as well as develop programmes to equip them with digital skills and know-how in emerging areas like artificial intelligence and data science.

It will also lay the ground for new Smart Nation initiatives and digital government services to be piloted in a real-life environment at "technology test villages" where visitors can see how technology is conceived and tested.

In his speech, Mr Heng also encouraged those in the audience to take the next step in their "tech journey", whether it meant learning to use a smartphone or computer or teaching others to do so.

"By working together, we can equip ourselves for the future, nurture a culture of innovation and transformation through technology and build a Smart Nation," he said.

Some 30,000 people turned up for the event on Saturday, taking part in various activities which included talks on how to utilise online banking and payment apps.

Part-time production operator Tan Poh Kuan, 52, who was on her way to attend one of the talks, said: "This gives me a chance to learn how to use technology. I've been wanting to learn for some time, but I also need someone to teach me."

Smart Nation & U will run until Sunday and includes over 70 interactive and experiential booths, as well as more than 60 partners from government agencies, technology companies, community groups and education institutes.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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