Act now to adjust to brave new world

Office workers in Singapore on March 24.
Office workers in Singapore on March 24. PHOTO: REUTERS

On Labour Day, throughout the world, it is the norm to see public demonstrations of workers asking for higher minimum wages, better unemployment benefits, less working hours and so on ("Workers around the world stage May Day protests"; Monday).

This is a mindset left over from the Industrial Revolution, when many industrialists exploited factory workers.

It was fashionable for young, idealistic intellectuals to be socialists, to support trade unions fighting against industrialist bosses.

It was a confrontational approach which still exists in many parts of the world today.

But we must recognise that the world is changing rapidly.

With advances in technology, it is no longer the same job or same employer from the start of one's career to the end.

Now, unemployment is structural, due to changes in job requirements on account of technological advances.

When Sony popularised the Walkman, the global manufacturing industry got a boost.

Now, that technology is no more, and millions of workers have had to change jobs.

Digital technology, particularly the mobile phone, has cut down the might of giants such as Kodak and Polaroid.

We can expect more rapid changes. Within our own lifetimes, we will see people living longer and healthier, robots taking over jobs from humans and, soon, driverless vehicles may make taxi and bus drivers redundant.

We cannot go against change, but must move with it.

Fifty years ago, any university graduate was virtually guaranteed a well-paying job.

Now, all over the world, young graduates cannot get jobs.

What is the answer?

We need to revise our thinking and adjust to the brave new world.

We need to change our way of training our children, so that they can be flexible enough to adapt to changes.

Similarly, we need to make our workers more flexible within their lifetimes.

I can see that the Government is trying to do this. We are moving in the right direction, but I would like to see more being done.

I would like to see an intensive effort to make every Singaporean, young or old, employer or employee, embrace this new lifestyle of work and living, to adapt to this rapidly changing world.

We need to discard old paradigms, such as those on the iron rice bowl of a university degree, retirement age, workers versus bosses, and having the same job for a lifetime.

We need to mobilise a think-tank to galvanise the people to make the Little Red Dot relevant in the rapidly changing world of technology.

George Wong Seow Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline 'Act now to adjust to brave new world'. Print Edition | Subscribe