Future of work: New trends, different skills

Technological innovation and the growing importance of data have brought huge changes in the working world, altering the way people and companies interact in industries such as banking, telecommunications, e-commerce and hospitality. In the third of a four-part series about the future of work, The Straits Times looks at up-and-coming industries that will grow in importance in the coming decades.

One of the most vexatious questions of our time is whether machines will ever make better decisions than humans.

There are some who argue that a significant share - as much as 60 per cent - of the work we now do will be entirely replaced by machines within two decades.

But others point out that the real answer lies in training people for better, higher-skilled jobs.

Change has already been afoot for some time - technology has affected not only manual and lower-skilled labour, but also medium- skilled jobs.

In the past 20 years, the computer and digital revolution has changed the workplace almost beyond recognition, and jobs that involve repeated, routine actions are being replaced by automated machines and robots, said Ms Christine Wright, managing director of recruiting experts Hays.

While there are enormous opportunities for enterprises to take advantage of connected devices, there is a shortage of people with the requisite skill sets here, said Ms Aparna Bharadwaj, a principal at the Boston Consulting Group.

This disruption is taking place across all industries and in all geographies. According to a 2013 study by the Oxford Martin School, 47 per cent of all jobs in the United States and Britain are at risk because of computerisation.

 

The rate of computerisation depends on several factors, including regulation of new technology and access to cheap labour. However, the same study also noted that for workers to win the race, they will have to acquire creative and social skills, which are significantly tougher for machines to replicate.

Amid this upheaval, new jobs and industries are coming to the fore. For instance, Google - now so ubiquitous that it even has its own verb - was founded just 17 years ago.

 

Other key trends are also emerging, including a growing ageing population in the developed world and their attendant healthcare needs as well as the anticipated vast spending on infrastructure in developing countries, noted Ms Wright.

These developments will bump up global demand for healthcare professionals, architects and civil engineers in the coming decades.

 

"Climate change will also lead to job creation in the development of green energy sources, and in occupations needed to mitigate the impacts of global warming," Ms Wright added.

Experts said Singapore still lacks the skills necessary to be at the forefront of some of these developing trends. While there are enormous opportunities for enterprises to take advantage of connected devices, there is a shortage of people with the requisite skill sets here, said Ms Aparna Bharadwaj, a principal at the Boston Consulting Group.

Skills required in e-commerce, for instance, differ significantly from traditional retail. "In traditional retail, people need to negotiate with suppliers, and plan for logistics and storage. These skills are irrelevant in the new paradigm where space is unlimited," she said.

Large e-commerce retailers are looking for people "who can think of the entire e-commerce supply chain". "A very different set of skills is needed to sell in the digital world, compared to brick and mortar," added Ms Bharadwaj.

While there are enormous opportunities for enterprises to take advantage of connected devices, there is a shortage of people with the requisite skill sets here, said Ms Aparna Bharadwaj, a principal at the Boston Consulting Group.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Future of work: New trends, different skills'. Print Edition | Subscribe