Life beyond data entry...

Skills that will be increasingly important in the future include “horizontal
skills” – communication skills and learning to learn.
Skills that will be increasingly important in the future include “horizontal skills” – communication skills and learning to learn. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Q In 2030, workers in Singapore want to be in a position where their skills are in demand. The Government has rolled out the SkillsFuture programme to ensure the workforce stays relevant even as it ages and business cycles get shorter. But amid the thousands of courses, how does one correctly pick the skills that will be marketable when one gets older?

LEGRAND Perpetual learning, an appetite for learning and understanding that you're going to have to learn for the rest of your working life.

We come from a place where we go get a diploma and think it is the key to employment for 25 years. This world has changed, so we need to get in the minds of our kids that school is just one step.

The other thing we can do for our workers is give them actionable insights, use big data to tell them what is it they should learn, because putting people in front of thousands and thousands of courses and saying: "Hey, pick one" is very overwhelming.

TOH There are some things that are beyond the scope of the individual micro perspective. Workers will not know what kind of jobs will demand their skills in 14 years' time. So individual desire has to be matched with what I broadly call government planning.

Only the Government knows by its reading of the international economy, technology and whatever changes, some areas that might demand more workers.

NG There is some steering that is required, but there is a limit to how much the Government can do, because as industries change, we can work on the supply side, but employers need to shift as well. It's a tripartite approach, looking hard at how will a particular sector change, how manpower and skills-needs change. We put that information out but ultimately it would still be up to Singaporeans to decide where their strengths are, where their interests are and then how they then over time build a career around it.

Q I still haven't got an answer from you on what skills to pick up now for 2030.

NG Maybe I can try. There are a bunch of what we call "horizontal skills" - communication skills and what Olivier talked about, learning to learn. I think those are horizontal skills that will be increasingly important particularly where jobs change. It's the ability to be adaptable.

Then at the same time there are what I would call technical skills which are increasingly important. So areas like data sciences, for example. You see data sciences required across many different fields.

BOEY You need people in the business to make sense of the information, whether you're an Uber driver who has lots of data around demand and supply and where to pick people up, or in healthcare and administrative jobs. You're not going to be the data entry person any more, but you're going to have information around suspicious transactions or anomalies, and know how to make sense of that data in order to make the right decisions around it.

TOH Social skills, too. We always assume that jobs at higher risk of being replaced are those that can be automated. That's work that is done in front of a terminal, compared to dealing with older patients and burgeoning ranks of older people that need some form of personal direct care.

NG Companies need to be willing to hire somebody from a completely different sector and that requires work. In the past, companies looked quite narrowly at the vertical that they're focused on. Now we see a lot more of them saying: Well, I'm looking for a PMET to fill this job, but I'm prepared to look for somebody else with no relevant experience whatsoever.

That's where WDA (the Workforce Development Agency) is working to come in with what we call a professional conversion programme to help companies and individuals make that switch.

Another area we're working on is the need for a skills taxonomy. If you are able to break down what the individual has done into skills that he or she has built up and then say how these skills are relevant if they were to switch industry or jobs, that makes the transition much easier.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'Life beyond data entry...'. Print Edition | Subscribe