SINGAPORE - Learning before starting work is the norm, but Singaporeans should be embracing a new approach of "learning and doing" to keep up with technology and fast-changing workplaces, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.
This comes as the world is being roiled by major structural changes, which Singapore will be well-placed to meet if companies and individuals here are able to adapt quickly enough and build up strong capabilities, he added.
Mr Heng, who was speaking at the Economic Society of Singapore annual dinner Wednesday night at the Mandarin Orchard, said the global economy is increasingly uncertain and the pace of technological change is picking up.
He highlighted a few key trends, including the impact of technology on productivity and jobs, the rise of emerging economies and the growing importance of data.
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When the Committee on the Future economy considered these trends, "there were some who sought to bet on new growth industries, new technologies and new markets to go into.
"But in a fast-changing, unpredictable world, there are no short cuts."
These shifts mean companies, individuals and institutes of higher learning need to change their habits and practices significantly..
For workers, this means shifting from "learning, then doing" to "lifelong learning and doing", Mr Heng said.
"Throughout our careers, we learn the skills that we need for our jobs, hone them by using them at work, and then, as the economy evolves, learn a new set of skills and in turn put those to use. It is a virtuous cycle of learning and doing."
In addition to skills relevant to their industries, individuals also need to pick up general skills like the ability to work with digital tools and data.
Learning does not need to happen only in classrooms - it can take place online or through on-the-job training and overseas attachments.
Also, learning need not take place only in a person's early life.
"Instead, we should learn throughout life, through on-the-job experience interspersed with bouts of more intense, modular full-time training," said Mr Heng.
Companies also have a role to play in positioning Singapore for a volatile, uncertain future - through innovation and overseas expansion, as well as building up deep industry-specific capabilities.
These involve companies collaborating with each other to develop new technologies and share resources, said the minister.
Mr Heng said government agencies are also looking into providing more integrated support to companies in areas such as helping firms build capabilities and venture abroad.
"There is no playbook to follow. What we need is the right mindset - to be proactive, dare to take risks and learn from our failures, and recognise that this is a continuous journey of upgrading."