Keeping our jobs amid disruptive technologies

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Singapore will stand in good stead if all workers could constantly ask themselves the question – when will I be obsolete?

Jobs, and whether people can hold on to them in a slowing economy, has emerged as a national concern amongst Singaporeans. They gave their feedback to the Government during the pre-Budget feedback exercise.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry has also warned the outlook for 2016 has worsened in the first few months of the year, and growth will come in at the 1 to 2 per cent range.

In response to the gathering economic gloom, the Young PAP and the PAP's Policy Forum organised a dialogue for about 80 of its members on July 23 at the PAP HQ to discuss difficulties workers face, and come up with suggested solutions.

Young PAP Chairman, Chan Chun Sing said that preserving jobs in a slowing economy is the biggest challenge Singaporeans will face this year, as they were facing both cyclical and structural unemployment.

"A cyclical downturn refers to when the markets go up and come down," he said. Structural shifts occur when the nature of the job changes. Some industries, like the physical retail industry, are facing much greater structural challenges as people are shopping online in droves. The difficulty is in shifting a shop assistant who was displaced from his job, to a new job created in e-commerce - which is not easy.

"It's a two-job problem which requires many steps to solve," said Mr Chan.

Splitting up into break-out groups which spent about 40 minutes in discussion before the presentation to the whole floor, the four groups concerned themselves with students who are on the cusp of graduation and about to join the job market, young working adults, the middle-aged group, and mature workers.

Some of the ideas which resonated with the audience included: How student internships should be sufficiently lengthy, and be more engaging so that youths make informed decisions about their career choices, and how middle-aged adults who are displaced from their jobs can be helped to export their services as consultants in other countries.


Fostering self-help mindset

It was also suggested that the Government could start a silver industry liaison agency which would focus specifically on setting up businesses which cater to, or employ, the elderly.

Many of them also drew from their own personal experiences. For instance, a lady in her 60s talked about how, when she moved back to Singapore from the UK where she had been working, she worked hard to build up her connections and re-establish herself in the market.

"I don't expect the Government to help me," she said, on how it is important to foster a self-help culture.

Mr Chan feels that everyone should constantly ask themselves the question - when will I be obsolete?

"The question is not if I will be obsolete, but when," said Mr Chan, who is also the Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress. He has been advising the labour unions to get their workers thinking about this question. "Will my job still be around in five years? Between my colleagues and I, what skill sets will I need to allow me to stand out? If people have this mindset, they will prepare themselves for the future," he pointed out.

This article was first published in the Sept 2016 issue of Petir Magazine

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Published by and at the directions of People's Action Party
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