Singapore is undergoing a whirlwind of changes and stresses:
- lower demand for goods and services
- cyclical unemployment
- structural unemployment
- technological disruption and the sharing economy
- tighter foreign manpower policy
- maxed out Labour Force Participation Rate
- low total fertility rate
- exit of baby boomers from workforce
- debt scramble of US$12bn
Is there a way to escape this perfect storm?
For the last year and more, one solution that has been repeated again and again by the government is how SkillsFuture will help Singaporean workers of today acquire skills of the future.
Yet the major criticisms hurled against SkillsFuture are:
– what skills of the future should I learn?
– will these skills guarantee me a job in future?
In a recent year-long study by Singapore Management University and J P Morgan, SkillsFuture was found lacking in focus on soft skills and cross-job skills.
The study also identified gaps in:
1. Info-comm technology (namely cybersecurity, lower level software engineering and programming)
2. Electronics and electrical manufacturing
3. Finance and insurance
A vicious cycle of Singaporeans vs foreigners
Without enough Singaporeans to fill these gaps, companies turn to cheaper foreign labour, which depresses wages and makes these jobs unattractive to Singaporeans, driving up demand for more foreign labour.
Despite government initiatives, mid-career professionals are reluctant to join the ICT sector due to concerns of pay cuts and steep learning curves.
What use is SkillsFuture if we don’t know what to study for and what are the future jobs or sectors to aim towards?
So the big question is:
Who is identifying the skills and jobs of Singapore’s future?
There are quite a few opinions going around, notably one article from Jack Sim which went viral a few days ago. He shared 7Cs to survive an anti-jobs future:
- Curiosity to question;
- Courage to imagine and implement;
- Commitment to complete challenging and tedious tasks;
- Compassion to empathise with all people: customers, colleagues, bosses, and the world at large. The power of love is infectious to boosting teamwork;
- Collaboration. The ability to mobilise others into win-win alignments;
- Community circumspection so as to be able to use an “ecosystem approach” to solutions, instead of thinking only in fragmented silo views; and
- Communication skills to inform, equip and motivate actions by others.
Regardless of these well-meaning efforts to encourage Singaporeans to upskill, the lack of a concerted nationwide effort to identify future jobs, develop plans to train workers (current and future unemployed) to fill these jobs, create courses in skills that don’t exist today but will tomorrow, is worrying.