Help workers feel excited about industry changes

Although Singaporeans may not have the right skills yet, programmes like apprenticeships and the Attach and Train programme announced in the Budget last week can help to prepare them for the roles in industries with growth potential.
Although Singaporeans may not have the right skills yet, programmes like apprenticeships and the Attach and Train programme announced in the Budget last week can help to prepare them for the roles in industries with growth potential.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Beyond broad plans for how industries are to be transformed by technology, the key to helping workers prepare for jobs of the future is to get them excited about how their industry is changing.

This is so that they have a stake in learning the skills they need in order to adapt, said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong.

Some of the Industry Transformation Maps rolled out so far - to set out plans to improve technology and jobs in various sectors - have been top-down in nature, while others had workers involved in identifying the gaps in current operations and how processes can be improved through technology and productivity, she said.

"Workers know how this will change... (and that they) need some new skill sets," she said.

"We need the workers to take ownership. They must feel excited because, otherwise, it's just another new process."

Ms Cham was at a post-Budget discussion last week with Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants president Gerard Ee, Garena group president Nick Nash, and UOB economist Jimmy Koh.

Passion is what will help workers do well, said Mr Ee, who is also chairman of the Charity Council.

"We launch courses and people enrol for the courses without passion because they think it's going to pay well. Many will be intelligent enough to complete the course but they're going to discover (because of the) lack of passion and interest, they're not going to do well in that job function," he said.

WHERE’S THE BOX?

Alot of the SMEs say, ‘Okay I want to innovate. So what do I do next?’When it comes to thinking out of the box, they want to know – am I in the box or am I out of the box, or where is exactly the box? So I tell them, if you are making money, and you think you’re going to make a lot more money, you’re probably out of the box already. If you’re making money today, but five years down the road you know that this business is going to struggle, you’re still in the box. If you are already losing money today, your box is sinking.

MR JIMMY KOH, UOB chief economist.


AGE OF DIRECTORS

The average age of a director at a company - particularly companies going through their own forms of transformation - often tends to be around where the experience is significant, the judgment is significant but the data exposure to some of this disruption may be a bit more indirect.

We could do a better job of inter- generational engagement in governance, in problem-solving. And let's be honest, over 20 years you've earned the right to be on a board but sometimes that puts you a little out of touch with your customers.

MR NICK NASH, group president of Garena.


CLEAN ADVANTAGE

The competitive advantage that Singapore has over all the other bustling cities in Asia is our clean environment and we want it to be so liveable that it's the preferred choice for people and their families to set up base in Singapore.

I'm very pleased that we are looking at that and not ignoring it.

MR GERARD EE, chairman of the Charity Council and president of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants.


WORKERS' MINDSET

We need the workers to take ownership (of the industry transformation process). It should not be one where it's top-down. The sector agency is telling companies that you need to buy this equipment, you need to share this info, you need to improve your technologies. But we need the workers to take ownership. They must feel excited because otherwise it's just another new process. And over time it will not change mindsets, it will not change behaviour, because they're just waiting for things to happen.

MS CHAM HUI FONG, NTUC assistant secretary-general.

Employers also need to look at the skill sets that will be needed by their staff as they shift to new business models, so that a pipeline of skilled local workers can be trained, added Ms Cham.

Although Singaporeans may not have the right skills yet, programmes like apprenticeships and the Attach and Train programme announced in the Budget last week can help to prepare them for the roles in industries with growth potential, she said. Under the Attach and Train programme, workers can join companies for training attachments, even if the firms are not hiring yet.

On learning skills to adapt to changing jobs, Mr Nash suggested creating a 30-day e-commerce course for all workers in the retail and wholesale trade sector.

This will help them make the transition to a digital economy, and is something his company Garena will support in terms of funding, time and effort, he said.

Workers should also make use of the opportunities to venture out to neighbouring countries in Asean, and pick up soft skills such as the ability to sell business ideas and argue constructively, panellists said.

Two measures announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in the Budget were a Global Innovation Alliance and the SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative. Both will help Singaporeans gain more overseas experience.

Professionals, managers, executives and technicians can also look abroad for jobs. In the accounting sector, for example, with an understanding of the culture and ways of communication in emerging markets, Singaporeans can find jobs there teaching accounting practices, said Mr Ee.

"There are great opportunities there but Singaporeans, individuals, must make that move," he said.

Mr Nash suggested making it compulsory for students in local universities to spend six months studying abroad in Asean universities, such as the Bandung Institute of Technology and University of Indonesia or Thammasat University in Thailand, instead of traditional choices like the London School of Economics or Harvard University.

They can network and gain a better understanding of Asean cultures and languages, panellists agreed. Schools can also start preparing people from an even younger age, and spend more time teaching foreign languages as well as the history of countries in the region.

Studying humanities subjects, like history, can help students grow up more well-rounded in their knowledge, said UOB's Mr Koh.

"The world moves in cycles, there's so much to learn from the predecessors," he said.

Another useful skill for workers is constructive argument, something that is not often encouraged in Asian families, added Mr Nash.

Instead of shutting down children's arguments, parents could instead ask: "What are your points? Why do you believe that? What are the facts that back that assertion?" he said.

Mr Koh added that new skills will be needed to navigate the next 10 or 20 years, which will be far different from the past 10 or 20.

He said: "The key is: How do we as parents, as employees, as employers, as organisations evolve to think (about) how to engage in the world. It is not perfect, it is agile, it is (about) ambiguity. And that ambiguity will be the new norm."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Help workers feel excited about industry changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe