Digital skills alone not enough for future, says EDB MD

Singaporeans should not think that currently valued skill sets will be enough to see them through the coming years.

This and two other cherished beliefs were myths that Economic Development Board (EDB) managing director Chng Kai Fong sought to debunk when addressing educators yesterday.

The first myth is that digital and technical skills will be enough. The second is that Singaporeans need to focus on opportunities only within the country, and the third is prioritising long-term career plans, he said in his keynote address at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Teachers' Conference, which was held virtually.

He said many people think learning to use data and to code will be sufficient. "I'm not saying that's not important, but I'm saying that's not enough... because many of (these processes) will eventually be automated if they can be."

Soft skills - empathy, the ability to tell a story and create connections with others - will help people differentiate themselves.

Mr Chng also said it will be important to disabuse people of the notion that "Singapore is enough".

"What worries me is we are so focused on what's happening here... 'I just want to get a simple job', 'I want to just create stuff for Singapore'. Increasingly, if you think that way, you'll start getting pressures from elsewhere because there's global competition. There's competition with robots and technology." There are opportunities globally and in Asia, he added, and Singaporeans must ensure they stay relevant.

Noting that many pride themselves on long-term planning, he said: "Growing up as a Singaporean, we all think there's a divine plan for us and our children... You clear secondary school, go on, get a job and that's your plan for life."

But life is not that straightforward. The ability to react and plan in the short term will be important, he stressed. Students should pursue their "obsessions and side hustles", which will help them build confidence and find meaning.

ITE chief executive Low Khah Gek also spoke at the conference yesterday, touching on disruptions in the economy due to Covid-19. "We need to understand the new reality of where the Singapore economy is heading, further shifts in industries and businesses and, more importantly, the changes to jobs and workplace skills."

Dr Gog Soon Joo, chief skills and research officer as well as chief futurist at SkillsFuture Singapore, said there will be fewer "single skill" jobs. A data scientist, for instance, will be expected to do storytelling and convey a message with analysis. "We expect more and more job content to change."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2020, with the headline 'Digital skills alone not enough for future, says EDB MD'. Print Edition | Subscribe