The Changing Economy and its Effect on Jobs
Singapore’s economy and its structure are changing and this is having a major effect on the labour market. Already we see banks and other financial institutions moving jobs to cheaper labour markets such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and China, while other jobs in the financial industry are being replaced by technology. Similar movements are taking place in other historically core industries such as shipping, oil, energy and engineering. So called “traditional” jobs are being lost and mid-career and above PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians) are the majority losers – an estimated 60% to 70% of retrenchments are mid-career and above professionals.
Fortunately the government has taken strong measures to protect and support mid-career PMETs, and there are many initiatives in place to facilitate the retraining and upskilling of such workers. But what skills will be in demand in Singapore the future?
A New Industrial Revolution
There is much talk about the world having entered the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – but this is perhaps misnamed as it is a technological revolution rather than an industrial one – and researchers and other analysts are looking at the impact this transformation is having and will continue to have on the world of work.
The changing face of industry in Singapore is seeing advances and expansion in research and development, e-commerce, and other digital businesses. This is evidenced by the number of companies that have their R&D centres here and the growing number of e-marketplaces such as Lazada and Amazon building their regional hubs in Singapore. Another strong focus now is to take advantage of new technologies such as IoT (the Internet of Things), AI (artificial intelligence), quantum computing, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, and renewable energy.
Examples of these developments that we already see in use are the advances in medicine and medical technologies such as ‘nanocarriers’ of chemotherapy drugs that affect only the targeted cells; absorbable heart stents; ‘nanoagriculture’ increasing the production of crops and livestock; self-driving cars; and the growth of data analytics.
Skills for the Future
So with all these changes in technology and the world of work, what skills are not in danger of being replaced by robots or other technologies? What skills are needed in Singapore for 2020 and beyond?
The skills needed for the future can be categorised as creativity related skills and people related skills.
Creativity related skills include creative problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity and innovative thinking. Creative problem-solving seeks to look at situations from different perspectives to build a fuller understanding of it before looking for novel solutions. Only humans can create ideas out of nothing – technology cannot. Creativity skills are and will always be needed and in demand. Education systems globally result in people using only logical analysis in the search for solutions to complex problems and most people therefore have underutilised intuitive and creative potential – training can help remedy this.
Technology / robots will increasingly be able to analyse complex data but still only from a logical perspective – there is no indication that technology will replace intuition which is a purely human function. Similarly, technology and robots will increasingly develop even more complex mathematical skills but will not be able to master the human intuitive side of making connections and seeing relationships between seemingly random events, nor will they make insightful interpretations of them.
People related skills include the ability to manage people, empathise with them, lead them, build teams, communicate across teams and the ability to coordinate and collaborate with people. Technology and robots cannot do these. Neither can technology provide a customer service orientation to business. These human, people focused skills will always be in demand.
To safeguard your future in work, make sure that you develop creativity and people related skills.