SINGAPORE: Many new jobs are available in industries that have been disrupted by technology, and the challenge is training workers so they can transit from their current jobs into these new jobs, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said on Tuesday (Jul 9).
In an interview with Arnold Gay and Yasmin Jonkers on CNA938's Asia First, Mr Chan said that the way to get these workers ready is to “retrain them as fast as possible”.
He gave the example of how staff who previously worked as bank tellers have now been retrained to be customer relations officers, involved in selling insurance and wealth management products.
“Their previous jobs have been displaced by technology, but they have been retrained by the banks, together with the Government, to take on new jobs, and it is very exciting to hear how people in their 40s, 50s are able to take on new roles,” he said.
The minister's comments come amid an increase in retrenchments and a drop in job vacancies in the first quarter of 2019, owing mainly to restructuring and reorganisation.
Mr Chan said that Singapore must be confident that “for every job displaced by technology, there will be one, if not more jobs created by the same technology”.
He pointed to the retail sector, which has been hit by the growth of online shopping.
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“What goes down in the brick and mortar stores in sales, goes up on the Internet in sales. And when the Internet sales go up, we need new people to run the logistics, the accounting behind the scenes, the computer software,” he said.
PROTECTING WORKERS, NOT JOBS
The jobs will change and Singapore must keep training and retraining workers so they have the best opportunities in the new economy, Mr Chan assured.
He was responding to a question from a CNA938 listener on what leaders are doing to protect jobs here without going down the protectionism route favoured by other countries.
While politicians in other countries say that they will protect jobs, Singapore’s mantra is “quite different”, he said.
“We are not here to protect jobs, we are here to protect the workers,” he said adding that this will make sure that they do not try to stay in their old jobs in industries that are not thriving.
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However, he cautioned that the landscape will be "uneven", that as people are displaced and need to be retrained, there will be many sectors like Information Technology and Artificial Intelligence that will be short of experienced people. This is a "worldwide issue," the minister said.
Despite the red dots in the first quarter labour statistics, employment increased, and unemployment remained low. When asked if he was confident that these would stay the same despite the economic headwinds, Mr Chan said numbers have so far “held steady”, and that he is more concerned about the quality of jobs Singaporeans have in the short to medium term.
There are always more jobs than the number of working adult Singaporeans - more than 3.5 million jobs for about 2.3 million people - but it is not just about the number of jobs, Mr Chan said.
“It is about whether the Singaporeans can get the jobs they desire,” he added.
MAKING SURE SINGAPORE IS ATTRACTIVE FOR INVESTMENT
Singapore will have to make sure that rules are progressive, that there is political stability and that there is a rule of law, in order to attract investments here for the long haul, Mr Chan told CNA938.
Alongside the Government, businesses have to constantly explore new products and markets, while workers have to keep working with their companies on how they can upgrade their skills, the minister said.
He pointed to pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline as an example of a company which has brought these three aspects together in Singapore.
The multinational company recently invested more than S$100 million in Singapore and brought its efforts to develop a new cancer treatment drug here because it needed a place it could trust to put its Intellectual Property, Mr Chan said.
He added that the machines behind the new drug were designed by a local team.
ASEAN countries have to work together to bring down tariff and non-tariff barriers to make the regional bloc more attractive to investors.
He was responding to another question from a CNA938 listener, on whether there will be more collaborative economic activities to safeguard Singapore’s position within ASEAN. Mr Chan replied "definitely", and that ASEAN economic ministers are working hard together.
“We all understand one simple fact. Each ASEAN country on its own is a very small market. But if all the 10 ASEAN countries come together, we are a 600 million-people market, and it becomes an attractive proposition for people to want put their money here to create jobs for people in ASEAN,” he said.
Watch the full interview: