There was a time when owners, faced by angry employees demanding better conditions, only had to point to the hordes of unemployed people waiting outside the factory gates to make their point: There were people out there who were hungry for work. Labour relations are more civilised now, but the fundamentals of labour and economics have not changed. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is under way, continues but sharpens the legacy of previous revolutions, which saw machines replace manual labour in factories and the advent of computers that refashioned how even machines worked. The latest revolution can impact on human labour even more by harnessing the technological prowess of the Internet and other smart technologies such as robots, artificial intelligence and 3D printing in the workplace. But just as previous generations survived the technological onslaught, Industry 4.0 needs employees who are hungry for survival.
The challenge faced by workers the world over is to meet the reality of a new age of manufacturing which produces higher-quality jobs but not necessarily as many. Singapore, therefore, must go beyond the traditional boundaries - between industries, nations, and public and private sectors - to make the most of opportunities. Political and industry leaders here have voiced that message, including by observing that Singapore's character as an advanced country gives it an advantage over many others. But it has to also change fast enough to prevent itself from being overtaken. Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon put it clearest: A successful Industry 4.0 in Singapore is only possible with worker 4.0.