Some fresh graduates are getting a market reality check, as reflected by a rise in the under-30 unemployment rate last year. The figure itself is not large and nine in 10 of them found jobs within six months of graduating. But once-familiar assumptions are being shaken. The link between their degrees and promising jobs is not a given these days. Yesterday's knowledge is passe now and today's jobs reflect the passing of old models and growth rates. Against a downbeat global outlook, the Monetary Authority of Singapore sees the island-state's own fortunes as uncertain over the short term. But what of tomorrow's jobs?
Economic metrics, technological change and social trends matter in imagining the future, of course, but one's frame of mind is also crucial. "A bad attack of economic pessimism", as economist John Maynard Keynes put it, can be self-fulfilling. The Future Economy committee, chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, would scarcely inspire new possibilities without itself reflecting a sense of realistic optimism. Keynes, who was not blind to "technological unemployment", saw future generations much better off than their forebears - significantly, he wrote this during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Singaporeans, living in far better circumstances, ought to reima-gine the future with similar conviction.
To expect a handy script for the future of jobs from Mr Heng's panel would be unrealistic as it's hard to predict product cycles and disruptive trends. Even past leaders, credited for extraordinary prescience, learnt late new technologies and social applications after finding themselves behind the curve. The State and its key partners will not have all the answers necessarily about the future, no more than old money types did when they once chose to protect their legacy while upstarts surfed new waves of interests. What it can do is to identify launch points into a future that is within Singaporeans' reach to shape together.
For an analogy of broad participation, consider the role of the House of Medici and other leading families of Italy in the birth of the Italian Renaissance. Beyond their extensive business interests and political dealings, the Medici supported the work of Galileo, set up an academy of science, and were great patrons of Michelangelo. That diversity drove change. The young with an eye on good jobs via degrees should note that just as star-gazers, scientists and artists alike made a difference to that remarkable era, so will the deep skills of many in the next renaissance. Instead of viewing the economy as a machine (with workers as cogs) that can be tuned for higher performance, people should see themselves broadly as economic actors in different ways, not just from the community angle advocated by the authors of Take Back The Economy. In the joint effort to create new jobs, collective optimism matters.