Technological and demographic changes mean financial firms need a better approach to hiring and staff training, according to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
They need to use broader criteria when recruiting, while taking a more active role in providing courses to improve employee skills.
Mr Goh told about 500 industry figures at a dinner organised by the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF): "Employers should not look at just academic qualifications in their hiring process. They should look at other qualities as well.
"Organisations will also have to rethink traditional career paths, creating greater diversity and flexibility for an ageing population."
More flexible recruiting will be crucial if the industry is to stay competitive in Singapore, which is now undergoing a major economic and workforce restructuring as its demographic profile evolves.
WILLINGNESS TO LEARN
Many are saying that opportunities are scant in the financial industry now because of changes in the sector. But I think this is an industry where you will always have a future if you are willing to learn and grow.
MS JASMINE LI, consumer loan operations manager at OCBC
"Life expectancy at birth here increased by seven years from 1990 to last year. Living longer means more time spent working," Mr Goh noted.
"Multiple careers in one's lifetime will be commonplace, and lifelong learning will be crucial," he said, adding that such factors, coupled with the declining birth rate, will see the economy become more reliant on older workers.
The speech acknowledged the ongoing election season, with Mr Goh saying at the start: "What I find missing at the hustings so far is a serious debate on the future of our economy. And yet the economy is central to our lives."
Mr Goh, also a senior adviser to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said employers should provide an environment for lifelong learning and skills development, at a time when cloud computing, automated solutions and social media platforms are reshaping job markets.
By 2025, about one-third of jobs will be replaced by software, robot and smart machines, he warned.
The Government is committed to supporting skills development through initiatives such as the SkillsFuture programmes, rolled out this year, but "employers are at the heart of the skills equation", he said.
"They must be alert to the changing environment, and take responsibility to develop the workforce. They must be willing to invest in the continual skilling-up of their employees, and inculcate a culture in which learning and improvement are the norm."
The importance of training is gradually coming into focus on the ground, said the IBF, which offers training and assessment programmes structured around competency standards that it developed with the industry and regulators.
Individuals trained under its standards training scheme grew in number from 13,646 in 2013 to 15,465 last year; successfully certified professionals, from 1,914 to 2,520.
In his speech, Mr Goh cited Mr Beaver Chua, who started out in the police force before earning enough to pursue a degree. He is now Citi Singapore's anti-money laundering compliance officer.
Financial professionals have also benefited from in-house training provided by individual banks.
OCBC consumer loan operations manager Jasmine Li, 33, said her career had progressed steadily in the past 13 years, even though she was a Temasek Polytechnic graduate with a diploma in electronics.
"Through the years, I have seen this industry become more levelled for Singaporeans from various disciplines - 30 to 40 per cent of my team are from non-financial backgrounds," she said.
"Many are saying that opportunities are scant in the financial industry now because of changes in the sector. But I think this is an industry where you will always have a future if you are willing to learn and grow."