Singapore’s Workforce – From Manpower to Machinepower?

You probably had the above thoughts when the title caught your eye. (Well, except that TRS is no more.) The prevalent implementation of automated systems in Singapore got some of us worried despite the cheers for efficiency… Why, just check out the following news:

1. Automated Hub part of SingPost’s plans to rule e-commerce market, 1 Jun 2015

SingPost is anticipating a three-storey fully automated parcel-sorting system in Tampines by the second half of 2016.

100,000 parcels are expected to pass through the new logistics hub daily; but workers have relatively little to do – the automated system will take care of almost the entire process from sorting to transferring.


2. HDB introduces new waste collection system in Yuhua, 1 Jun 2015

As part of HDB’s Greenprint Scheme in Yuhua, a pneumatic waste conveyance system is installed in six blocks of flats as a test-bed. Waste will be transported by air suction through underground pipes to a centralised bin. With this automated system, overall manpower needs are expected to be reduced by 70 per cent.

3. Checkpoint clearance could go high tech, 10 Apr 2015

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is looking to roll out an automated clearance system at Singapore’s land checkpoints in another two to three years. This will save time from having an officer manually check the passports of driver and passengers in a car.

On top of being able to detect the number of people in the vehicle, robotic arms with handheld biometric scanners will be extended to the sides of the car for scanning of fingerprints.

4. Soon: Faster clearance for motorcyclists at checkpoints (More automated counters by next year), 3 Apr 2015

There are 105 manual and 43 automated counters for motorcyclists in total at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints. By end-2016, motorcyclists can expect to see reduced congestion and faster clearance with the installation of biometric systems.
Travellers will be able to scan their thumbprints independently and have their passports verified by a machine.

5. Let the tags do the sorting, 20 Oct 2014

Under a new government initiative, Presto Drycleaners and other SMEs adopted a garment-counting system using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. The system allows for quick and convenient tracking without excessive manpower.
Before this tagging system was implemented, workers had to manually track the clothes through receipts clipped onto them.

6. Tan Tock Seng Hospital officially launches automated outpatient pharmacy, 15 Sep 2014

Machines now pick and pack prescriptions after getting electronic orders from doctors’ clinic upstairs at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The time-saving automated system also reduced rework rate from 30 per cent to around 5 per cent.
Following the implementation of this system, only 13 pharmacy technicians are needed instead of 32. (The extra staff were moved to clinics to advise patients on the prescriptions face-to-face.)
The automated outpatient medication dispensing system is also used at the National University Hospital, National Healthcare Group Pharmacy and Singapore General Hospital.

7. More F&B firms in Singapore automating processes to cope with manpower crunch, 7 Apr 2014

An Artificial Intelligence Cooking Machine (AIC) can fry up to 100 kg of rice in 30 minutes, versus 30 kg if cooked manually. A combi oven that allows for simultaneous baking, steaming, braising, and keeping food warm can reduce manpower needs by about 40 per cent.
The use of these technologies to automate cooking processes has helped companies such as TungLok and Yellow Submarine restaurants to cope with labour shortages in the F&B industry.

Hmm… Is creative destruction necessarily a case for worry to the Singaporean worker? Nope.
For fellow FiveStars writer, Justina Lee, one scene in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind. “The one where Charlie’s father lost his job (screwing caps onto toothpaste tubes) to machines that can do his job better and faster. Replaced by technology, Charlie’s dad then had a new job – that of repairing the very machines that replaced him.”
No job is immune to creative destruction. The qualifications you worked so hard for may well become obsolete with time. (Yes, even lawyers can be automated; judgement can be made through algorithms and statistical machines while precedents can also be read and analysed by machines)
But fear not, because automation should mean these to us:

  • Hiring of less foreign labour (The current ratio stands at an appalling 2 local worker to 1 foreign worker, this is not viable!)
  • Shifting from manual and menial tasks to more meaningful jobs
  • Making it up to the manpower crunch in sectors such as the F&B industry
  • Dishing out of pay hikes brought about by increase in productivity
  • Focusing on the ‘human-centricity’ of jobs and building relations… (Because you can’t outsource a handshake and the human touch cannot be replaced by robots!)

Instead of feeling threatened, we should be receptive to change and allow technology to augment the workplace and our lives.
The Devan Nair Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and Singapore Industrial Automation Association (SIAA) signed a two-year memorandum of understanding (MoU).
Under the MoU, companies can expect events like knowledge sharing, visits and consultation for companies to learn about robotics and automation. Workers will also be trained to manage and use new technologies and applications.
Truly, the way for us to win the race against the machine is to run alongside it.







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