There is a difference between job disruption and job displacement. With the former, one can still find another job; with the latter, the job has disappeared ("Get set for job disruption"; last Sunday). Hence, we must consider different perspectives when discussing Singapore's long-term outlook.
In particular, our leaders will have to address the issue of economic planning. Singapore's open economy is especially susceptible to unexpected jitters in the global marketplace. What worked for us in the past 50 years may not necessarily work in the next half-century.
Thus far, Singapore has tried to respond to changes and bolster its economy through extensive economic restructuring, causing job displacement. It is precisely this ever-changing economic landscape that may have left many of our workers behind.
It is easy to say that workers need to transform and develop "obsolescence-proof skills" to suit changing circumstances. But it is questionable if this technique will work both qualitatively, in terms of efficacy, and quantitatively, on such a large scale, encompassing so many members of our workforce.
There is a danger in exploring so many new sectors. Some, such as biotechnology and pharmaceutical research, are specialised fields which will only ever employ in small numbers.
Singapore cannot endeavour to be a jack of all trades, and risk becoming a master of none. We cannot afford to flirt with technical underemployment. Rather, we have to address this seriously with pragmatic measures for the long term.
Instead of pursuing radical economic restructuring, state policy should be refocused towards enhancing relevant vocational skills training before a new industry is introduced, and offering generous subsidies to transform our workforce, aiming for the long haul.
We also need to strengthen our small and medium-sized enterprises, the bedrock of any successful economy.
Paul Chan Poh Hoi