Digital skills will not be sufficient in future: EDB chief Chng Kai Fong

There are opportunities around the world and in Asia and Singaporeans will have to make sure they stay relevant.
There are opportunities around the world and in Asia and Singaporeans will have to make sure they stay relevant.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - To be future-ready, 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 labelled myths that Economic Development Board managing director Chng Kai Fong sought to debunk when addressing educators on Wednesday (Sept 30).

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

Elaborating, Mr Chng said that most people think that learning to use data and to code will be sufficient.

"I'm not saying that 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."

He said that soft skills - the ability to tell a story, to have empathy, and create connections with others - will help people to stand out and differentiate themselves.

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

"What worries me is that 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 around the world and in Asia, which is growing, he noted, and Singaporeans will have to make sure they stay relevant.

Touching on the final myth, Mr Chng said that many people here pride themselves on long-term planning.

"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," he said.

But life is not as straightforward as this. The ability to react and plan in the short term will be very important, he stressed.


He encouraged students to pursue their "obsessions and side hustles", which will help them to build confidence and find meaning.

ITE chief executive Low Khah Gek also spoke at the conference on Wednesday, where she touched on disruptions in the economy due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We need to understand the new reality of where our Singapore economy is heading, further shifts in industries and businesses and, more importantly, the changes to jobs and workplace skills," she said.

Dr Gog Soon Joo, chief skills and research officer as well as chief futurist at SkillsFuture Singapore, also spoke on issues such as future jobs and skills that will be in demand.

There will be fewer jobs that require a single skill, she said, giving the example of a data scientist, who will be expected to be able to do storytelling and conveying a message with analysis.

"We expect more and more job content to change."