What's being done to prepare Singaporeans for jobs of the future

This is the first of 12 primers on different current affairs issues, published as part of the outreach programme for The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz.

Have you ever imagined yourself creating a complex machine part or even a human windpipe on a screen, then seeing it take on physical form right before your eyes?

Or leading a team of tireless workers who need to be reprogrammed once in a while?

These are jobs already being done by 3D designers and robot coordinators. Not many people have the skills to do these jobs yet, because they have not been around for long.

At least not in a big way.

But in the economy of the future, you can expect more jobs like these to be created.

Jobs will change too.

While it is hard to identify the specific skills students and workers need to acquire to keep up with these changes, one skill that will come in handy is the ability to continually learn new things.

As Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said earlier this month, as businesses transform, more old jobs will be destroyed. But new jobs will be created and existing jobs will be transformed too.

What this means for workers is that instead of staying with a single employer for life, it will be common to move through multiple employers - and take on multiple careers - throughout one's working life.

"Each time we move from one career to another career, we will have to learn new skills and adapt to a new environment to regain our employability, time and time again," Mr Lim said.

Understandably, many workers are worried about adapting to these changes, and concerned about how their livelihoods will be affected.

With robots and advanced computer programs helping do jobs ranging from delivering room service to providing financial advice, workers in some industries are already feeling the heat.

But technology also creates new products, such as 3D printing for companies to make prototypes quickly rather than outsourcing this process, and jobs, such as for rapid prototyping technicians.

Jobs will disappear. But better- quality ones will be created.

For example, in advanced manufacturing, some 23,000 jobs are forecast to be displaced over the next seven years, but more than 22,000 new jobs are expected to be created.

These new jobs will pay on average 50 per cent more than those lost, a recent study by Boston Consulting Group found.


However, these changes wrought by technology and other forces also mean the job market will go through some labour pains.

Layoffs last year rose to the highest level since the global financial crisis in 2009. Unemploy- ment involving Singapore residents also crept up slightly.

Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are hit harder by the churn as it takes longer to train for a different job at these levels.

People who took a break from work, or who struggled to find a new job after being laid off, often have a hard time proving that they have the relevant knowledge and skills for a job.

This is why the Government is putting more resources into helping this group find new jobs, such as by subsidising their wages via the Career Support Programme.

PMETs can also work and get training at the same time through over 50 Professional Conversion Programmes in sectors that are expected to grow in the near future.

Unlike in the past, a degree is no longer a guarantee of lifelong employment in a well-paying job.

But opportunities are there for those who excel in technical skills to do well, even if they may not have academic qualifications.

Being quick to pick up new skills will help students and workers adapt to changing opportunities. This entails going deeper to master a chosen field and excel in it.

One tip experts have for workers is to keep abreast of the latest trends and technology, which can help bring in new ideas for employers to try out and add value.

At the same time, they recommend picking up transferrable skills that can be applied in other jobs or industries, such as being able to understand and use data, or to market an idea.

The Committee on the Future Economy has called for more opportunities for workers to acquire deep skills and use them on the job.

A medley of initatives is available to help students and workers upgrade their skills and knowledge, including study awards, work-study programmes, internships and career guidance from as early as primary school.

The $500 SkillsFuture Credit given to all Singaporeans aged 25 and above can be used to defray the cost of over 18,000 training courses.

Other measures have been put in place to help those who have years of work experience, but may not have the skills needed in sunrise industries, find new jobs.

One is the new Attach And Train programme announced in this year's Budget for up-and-coming industries like logistics. Workers can be trained while on attachments at companies that are not ready to hire staff yet.

As more focus is placed on pushing Singapore companies to break out of the local market and start creating products and services for the region and beyond, students and workers will also be encouraged to innovate and learn to work with overseas partners.


Policymakers, too, are constantly trying to learn more about what the future holds for Singapore's workforce.

Data is one aid they hope to use to help answer questions like these: How much investment is Singapore getting? How many jobs will these create? Which industries and companies will grow? What skills will workers need for these jobs?

Answers to these questions will help better prepare workers for jobs and later match them to jobs.

The National Trades Union Congress started a Future Jobs, Skills and Training unit this year to gather data on specific companies and industries where new investments and jobs will be over a three-year time frame.

The research will be shared with training providers and institutes of higher learning that can use the information to develop more relevant skills and training courses.

There have also been calls to use the data from the job posts on the national Jobs Bank more fully. For example, if a vacancy for a particular type of job is hard to fill and keeps getting re-posted, that could mean more Singaporeans need more skills in that area.

The Manpower Ministry has also made it compulsory, since Jan 1, for companies to report retrenchments within five working days, if five or more staff are retrenched within six months. This is so that the Government and unions can act on the data and offer the affected workers help more quickly.

If we wait for skills gaps to appear before workers start training for them, there will always be a lag time and the risk of structural unemployment - where the available skills of workers and the skills needed to fill jobs do not match.

That is why Singapore is trying to stay ahead of the curve.

It has rolled out Industry Transformation Maps to chart strategies for 23 industries, covering over four-fifths of the nation's gross domestic product.

Six have been launched, for the logistics, hotels, precision engineering, food manufacturing, food services and retail industries.

These should provide some guidance for companies.

The education system also needs to be tightly integrated with industry needs, all the way from schools to adult education and training centres, to provide guidance for students and workers.

For all the efforts by the Government, individuals, too, must take responsibility for their careers, and not have a sense of entitlement.

When changes come, those who can pick up new skills quickly will fare better.

So if there is any skill to get better at, it is the ability to keep learning.

About The Big Quiz

Each Monday, the paper's journalists will address burning questions in the Opinion section, offering unique Singaporean perspectives on complex issues.

These primers form part of the outreach of The Straits Times- Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz, nicknamed The Big Quiz, which aims to promote an understanding of local and global issues among pre-university students.

Underpinning this year's Big Quiz is a focus on disruption, a timely issue as various sectors and industries adapt to this global change. The theme will come through in six campus talks helmed by editors and correspondents.

Six quiz rounds will also be held for students to demonstrate their current affairs knowledge.

The nationwide event is jointly organised by The Straits Times and the Ministry of Education, with the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation as its presenting sponsor.

Pre-university schools and institutions can note these dates for participation in this year's quiz rounds and talks:

March 29 at Jurong Junior College

April 3 at National Junior College

April 12 at Dunman High School

April 19 at Nanyang Junior College

April 26 at Temasek Junior College

May 12 at Eunoia Junior College


This article was first published on Mar 27, 2017.
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