HAMBURG, Germany: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on world leaders at the G20 Summit to play an active role in helping workers and businesses embrace new technology.
There is a "great fear" of digitalisation, he said, noting that workers - both blue-collar and professionals - are anxious about being displaced from their jobs. However, PM Lee added that the fear is perhaps exaggerated as long-term unemployment rates have not gone up very much.
Nonetheless, he said companies need to change the way they do business, workers have to alter their mindsets and learn new skills, and governments have to play an active role.
PM Lee was speaking on Saturday (Jul 8) at a working session during which world leaders discussed the issues of digitalisation, women’s empowerment and employment.
He outlined several ways in which government can make digitalisation work for their people.
First, they should “set the right framework and rules” so that new ideas can germinate and ensure that established ways of doing so do not hold back progress. He cited the sharing economy as an example of finding the right balance between allowing new players to emerge while giving incumbents a fair chance to adapt.
Secondly, PM Lee said that governments should help train and prepare workers for the digital age. This includes teaching digital skills from young or helping people learn new skills even after they enter the workforce.
He told the summit about Singapore’s SkillsFuture programme that aims to help citizens learn new skills. PM Lee also said governments need to help retrain displaced workers, either through schemes or even wage subsides to help them make the transition to the digital economy.
Finally, he said governments must help support industries or firms to change the way they think or do business, something the G20 leadership looks set to do after this gathering.
"When it comes to digitalisation and jobs, we must not yield to our fears and anxieties," said PM Lee. "It is wiser for us to be optimistic and work hard to make our hopes come true."
In their summit declaration on Saturday, G20 leaders committed themselves to promoting digital literacy and digital skills, with the aim of ensuring all citizens of the 20 largest world economies are digitally connected by 2025.
Singapore is not a G20 member but was invited to the summit representing the Global Governance Group, an informal coalition 30 small and medium-sized countries.