TL;DR

Why: Companies and employees need to keep up with innovation to stay ahead of competition.

The Future of Jobs in Singapore: Not the Government’s Headache Alone

Companies need to embrace technology and upskill workers to further propel growth.

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Editor’s note: this commentary was submitted after the Budget announcement, but the points mentioned remain relevant.

… Minister Heng wants to pay attention to help companies boost their capabilities in order to maintain their competitive edge.

As Singapore looks forward expectantly to the 2019 budget to be presented on 18th February, there is one worry that is resonating in everyone’s minds – the future of jobs and work.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has repeatedly stressed that Singapore’s budget will focus on creating good jobs for the workers. In particular, Minister Heng wants to pay attention to help companies boost their capabilities in order to maintain their competitive edge. As the key to remaining competitive in an ever-changing environment is to help employees learn new skills and upgrade themselves, the budget is expected to support worker re-training and re-skilling, especially for groups that are vulnerable to economic restructuring.

Minister Heng believes that continuous transformation and innovative industrial practices will be crucial for Singapore to stay on the path of growth. Hence there is expectation that the budget will unleash more initiatives to help SMEs tap new technologies to enhance the way they operate.

Moreover, there is also talk of extensions of salary support schemes, enhancements to existing initiatives such as the Adapt and Grow initiative, a top-up of SkillsFuture credits to ready the workforce for the digital future, and maybe a possible revision of foreign worker quotas, especially in sectors that are currently lacking in Singapore.

But even though the government may announce a plethora of schemes, the real questions to be answered are – have Singaporean organisations developed the requisite capabilities to upskill their workforce for the changing future of jobs? What do they need to learn and unlearn in order to make sure a majority of the Singaporean workforce is not excluded from the future the government is designing for them? This will be one of the key themes to be deliberated at the People Matters TechHR Conference to be held on 28 Feb at Marina Bay Sands.

Future of work is about humanising digital and workforce inclusion

Carolyn Chin-Parry, Chief Digital Officer, Prism, who will be speaking at TechHR Singapore believes the future of work is about humanising digital and workforce inclusion, something which is strongly the government’s focus as well.

Moreover, the government’s focus on upskilling the digital skills of the Singaporean workforce is rightly timed given that digitisation and AI driven smart services will change when we work where we work, how we work, and why we work.

“It would be worthwhile to consider how work can be shaped to include those commonly turned away from the workforce, such as people with special needs. With the advancement of technology, there should be more avenues to be creative in how work can be crafted and how we use technology to cater to the wider workforce needs. Creating meaningful work at all levels and further embedment of diversity and inclusion are key elements,” avers Carolyn.

Moreover, the government’s focus on upskilling the digital skills of the Singaporean workforce is rightly timed given that digitisation and AI driven smart services will change when we work where we work, how we work, and why we work.

Global tech influencer Ray Wang, who will be speaking at TechHR Singapore, affirms, “The investment in pilots for AI’s subsets of machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and cognitive computing has moved from science projects to new digital business models powered by smart services.”

No wonder, the emergence of these new digital models requires a major rethink of the work environment, the human-centric design aspects, and the incentive systems to support the recruitment, training, and development of new talent.

Amidst this change, while the government’s policy will aim to develop a safety net for the workforce with special packages for the vulnerable groups, what is it the organisations can do to help talent to be future ready?

War for talent can’t be won if you don’t develop future talent yourself

Serene Sia, MD, Oracle Singapore believes that the one thing that organisations should focus on is helping their employees cope with change.

… organisations should focus on is helping their employees cope with change.

“Many businesses are transforming themselves – these changes while adequately communicated to employees, may not take into account how to enable employees across the organisation to feel comfortable with change. While making training available is par for course, organisations need to do more with regards to helping team leaders and managers have conversations with their employees,” says Serena.

Organisations cannot simply rely on the government’s push and initiatives alone in order to future-proof their talent. Brian Sommer, Founder TechVentive & Technology, another distinguished speaker at TechHR Singapore commented that “the war for talent can’t be won if you don’t develop a lot of your future talent yourself. Businesses that think that some other company will train and develop their talent for them are living a fool’s life.” He further adds that HR will need to operate at the speed of innovation, something which Singaporean organisations have still yet to catch up to.

Instead of trying to predict the future, create it one step at a time

There is no denying the fact that government initiatives such as the Smart Nation Initiative to drive technology adoption across sectors are helping the overall innovation quotient of the country. The Asian Digital Transformation Index 2018 ranked Singapore the leader in digital infrastructure among Asian nations. But the same report also noted that “of the 10 cities facing the most acute talent shortages relevant to digitisation seven were in Asia, including cities in Japan, India, mainland China and Thailand, as well as Singapore.”

The Asian Digital Transformation Index 2018 ranked Singapore the leader in digital infrastructure among Asian nations.

Though Singapore is in the strongest position to address these challenges, it is projected to be in need of more foreign workers to maintain its economic rise. While the 2019 budget may try to address this challenge by raising the quota for foreign workers [Editor’s note: this quota has been revised downwards], the role of organisations in taking the onus upon themselves to develop a future-ready workforce cannot be stressed enough.

Dr. Rick Smith, Professor of Strategic Management (Practice), SMU aptly sums this thought when he says, “It seems like we have been talking about the future of work for as long as there has been work. While computer automation has certainly changed the nature of work, most forecasts about the future of work are limited as we can only project the future based on our knowledge of the present. Instead of trying to predict the future of work, I suggest we just get on with creating the future one step at a time.” What is that baby step going to be is something that organisations in Singapore need to deliberate upon right now and not in the future.

Future of jobs is one of the key themes of the TechHR Singapore Conference to be held on 28th February 2019 at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Register now.

Featured image by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels


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I am a features writer, a published author, and a startup enthusiast with People Matters Media, chasing cutting edge stories at the intersection of work, technology, and people. If I am not chasing a startup story, you will find me with my head buried in books or traveling to some corner of the world, gathering ideas for my next book.
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