The jobs and skills needed in the future economy will be very different from what are needed today. But the most crucial trait will be an ability to adapt to new demands.
This was the consensus among five panellists yesterday at The Straits Times Future Economy Forum. They also agreed that it is key for people to take charge of their learning and careers.
Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said that while the Government provides the system, "you've got to own your education".
He was responding to Jurong Junior College student Ryan Ng, 19, who recounted how he lost a mark in a biology exam because he did not italicise the name of a lizard.
How can people be selected for future jobs that value creative thinking when today's education system favours mental rigour and fixed methods, Mr Ng asked to applause from the audience.
Mr Ong said: "You look at education as a much bigger experience - making friends, sometimes from other countries; working with teachers who are caring, who are unreasonable - these are all people you're going to work with next time."
Firms also have their ways of picking people with the right skill sets, beyond academic results, he said.
Mr Andrew Chong cited how at semiconductor firm Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific, where he is president and managing director, people are assessed on quantifiable success as well as how they adapt to situations and setbacks. "We do measure people on 'what', whether they have succeeded that year or not on all the targets. But we measure equally also on 'how', so failures can be positively viewed."
During the panel discussion moderated by ST political editor Zakir Hussain, Mr Chong said key skills for the future include being able to manage projects and work well with people and new technologies.
Economic Development Board managing director Yeoh Keat Chuan said global trends such as digitalisation and advanced manufacturing will create good jobs, and Singapore's ability to move quickly in regulations and reskilling workers should work to its advantage.
But Dr John Powers of the Singapore University of Technology and Design's Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities cautioned against skills mismatches persisting, such as when science-trained graduates aspire to jobs in other fields.
ST associate opinion editor Lydia Lim said: "The more individuals own the problem and take it upon ourselves to be self-directed in our learning, in our reskilling, the better the chance Singapore has to do well in adapting to the disruption."