SINGAPORE: Several MPs from Singapore’s labour movement spoke on Tuesday (May 15) on the issue of jobs being potentially lost to digitisation, as they debated the President’s Address in Parliament.
President Halimah Yacob had touched on the need to change the way Singaporeans are educated to allow them to stay employable as industries and jobs change.
Several ideas were mooted by the MPs on Tuesday to boost workers' employability in the face of technological advancements.
Assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Melvin Yong said that workers, companies and the government must reimagine the future of work, especially since automation, artificial intelligence and robotics become more mainstream and threaten to displace the jobs of today.
Globally, up to 800 million workers are at risk of losing their jobs and be replaced by automation by 2030, according to a study from McKinsey Global Institute cited by Mr Yong, who is also MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.
“How would jobs look like in the next 10 to 20 years, with AI (artificial intelligence) possibly at the centre of most industries? We will have to reimagine the future in order to disrupt ourselves before we get disrupted,” Mr Yong said.
Additionally, he stressed the need to re-design jobs, work processes and business models to be future ready, and emphasised on the need to reskill and upskill the existing workforce.
One way for workers to upgrade their skills on the go is through NTUC’s new mobile learning platform called U-Leap, Mr Yong said, explaining that the app gives users access to useful training contents on their mobile phone.
“Spend 30 minutes a day, five days a week in the bus, on the train or during the lunch break – that would work out to a substantial 130 training hours a year, all done on the palm of your hand,” Mr Yong said.
He suggested that the Government optimize current infrastructure to make learning convenient, for instance, by opening neighbourhood schools for night classes on digital skills.
Fellow NTUC assistant secretary-general and MP for West Coast GRC Patrick Tay also spoke about the need to future-proof Singapore businesses and workforce.
“As stakeholders, we need to use this time, while our workers are still employed, to upskill and prepare our workforce for the higher value jobs of the future so that when their current jobs are eliminated, they can still remain employed and employable,” he said.
Mr Tay noted that while employers and employees may often feel inertia in preparing for change, there have been efforts by NTUC's Future Jobs, Skills and Training capability in developing a framework for collaborative action to change mindsets towards "future-skilling".
“Stakeholders can work together at each stage of the framework to leverage on respective strengths for greater reach and effectiveness. These include efforts to address information asymmetry, raise awareness, inspire action, provide holistic support, create positive feedback loops and encourage the flourishing of change-agent mentality,” he said.
PRIORITISE OLDER WORKERS IN CONVERTING SKILLS: HENG CHEE HOW
Against the backdrop of Singapore's ageing workforce, NTUC's deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How spoke about how the Government can help older workers cope with changing technology and business models.
He urged authorties to intiate action to give older workers at least equal opportunity with younger workers to be trained, updated and upgraded.
Additionally, older workers who face displacement or who see better longer-term prospects in other occupations and industries should be given priority in helping them convert their skills.
"Otherwise, the risk to both older workers and the system will snowball. And when the current technology or the business model is discontinued, entire occupations or industries will disgorge their irrelevantly-skilled older workers, and the help system may be overwhelmed by the volume," he said.
"NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM"
Mr Desmond Choo, who is NTUC assistant secretary-general, acknowledged that some jobs are at risk of being made redundant. These include administration, executive, finance assistants, as well as traditional manufacturing operators.
Mr Choo cited telemarketing and call center jobs as examples of work that are already replaced or complemented by AI.
While technology has triggered “speculation” that many jobs could be lost, Mr Choo maintained that technology creates more jobs than it destroys.
“It is not all doom and gloom. The demise of human jobs has to date been largely over-exaggerated,” he said.
Mr Choo highlighted that automation has taken away jobs such as the bus conductor, but it has created a generation of route-masters and technicians – roles he described as “higher value jobs”.