Raise quality of workers, not headcount

It is expected that the working-age population in Singapore will decline considerably by 2036.

However, taking in more immigrants and raising the number of foreign workers will not be prudent ways of tackling the problem (Preparing for the inevitable in labour supply, by Mr Albert Ng Ya Ken; Sept 16).

As a small developed nation with no natural resources, Singapore cannot afford to follow the example of large developed countries in resorting to such measures.

Employing technology and creative solutions to improve productivity is the right approach in tackling the issue of a shrinking labour supply.

We need a large pool of trained quality workers to apply automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to increase output.

The concern is not that robots and automation will displace jobs and render humans unemployable.

The worry is the speed at which AI encroaches on the workplace.

The Government and industry need to work together to gradually phase in the automation process.

Employing technology and creative solutions to improve productivity is the right approach in tackling the issue of a shrinking labour supply. We need a large pool of trained quality workers to apply automation and AI to increase output.

Automation does not necessarily make human workers obsolete.

In a report last year, McKinsey researchers found, after analysing 830 occupations, that just 5 per cent of them could be completely automated.

Robots and AI will not take away jobs but, rather, more occupations will change, and not just be automated.

Technology will free us from mundane work for more meaningful things. Hence, we need a quality workforce, not a larger headcount, to face the changing future and technological disruptions.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2017, with the headline 'Raise quality of workers, not headcount'. Print Edition | Subscribe