SINGAPORE - Singaporeans must prepare for one wave of change after another, so as to ride them and stay ahead, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Sunday (Sept 25).
Each wave will disrupt and displace jobs, but people can make up for this by being part of the new opportunities created, he added.
This will involve significant changes in education and culture: Singaporeans must have diverse experiences when young, which will help them develop soft skills needed to embrace change.
"Young Singaporeans must have the chance to have very different experiences as they grow up. Outside of studies, what do they do? Is it sports, three or four times a week, dance, is it expeditions, a chance to go to Cambodia?" he said at a dialogue with around 100 youth.
People should embrace the mindset that they must keep growing throughout life, he added.
The young should also be encouraged to have more free play, which gives birth to "a sense of dare and ambition", to foster entrepreneurs.
And Singapore has an advantage - it is a system that that does not have big problems or gaps, he said.
"We are starting from a position where we don't have big problems. We... have a legacy of a strong education system," he added. "More diverse experiences, growing through life, and more free play when young is not going to wreck the system. We can only improve."
The dialogue at Bukit Batok Community Club with residents aged between 17 and 35 was organised by the People's Association Youth Executive Committees in Jurong GRC, Yuhua and Bukit Batok.
Participants discussed issues Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised at last month's National Day Rally with all five Jurong GRC MPs and Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai.
They had questions on the impact of disruptive technology on jobs, ways to encourage entrepreneurship, and changes to the elected presidency, in particular the provision to have minority presidents from time to time as the office symbolises Singapore's multiracialism.
One participant said he felt some older Singaporeans still harbour racist sentiments, while another wanted to know the MPs' assessment of racial harmony in Singapore.
Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam said while some among the older generation may think along racial lines, the young can choose not to go down that route by making friends with people of other races and appreciating their cultures.
Mr Murali cited the example of Sri Lanka, which enjoyed peaceful relations among its people at independence, but was divided by racial tensions in the years after that, to show how today's state of affairs cannot be taken for granted.
He said: "The attitude that we must have for the future is always striving to make racial relations stronger."
Citing another example, Mr Tharman noted that the first generation of immigrants in societies like Britain and France were quite different in terms of identity, but made accommodations to their host societies, which in turn accommodated them.
But some among the second generation that grew up in France felt alienated, separate, and became vulnerable to influences from outside, he added.
The task of building a multiracial society will always be ongoing, Mr Tharman said, citing a rise in ethnic and religious consciousness leading to conflicts and troubles globally.
"Because the world is now a more troubled place... we need to put even more effort into strengthening our multiracial compact," he said. "Never be satisfied with what we have achieved because that can tumble down quickly."