Don't worry about being replaced by robots and focus on human strengths: Lawrence Wong

Mr Wong noted that robots and computers will never be able to think creatively or have face-to-face conversations. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - There is no need to worry about robots and machines replacing humans or if people can learn to beat computers.

Instead, the way forward for tomorrow's workers is to double down on human strengths, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong.

For instance, robots and computers will never be able to think creatively, have face-to-face conversations, brainstorm and challenge one another or come up with solutions as a team, he added.

Spontaneous, "social learning" is also something machines will never be able to do, he said.

Mr Wong was speaking on Friday (Sept 25) at a dialogue on the future of jobs and skills for Singaporeans.

Joining him on the panel were the five mayors: Ms Low Yen Ling (South West District), Ms Denise Phua (Central Singapore District), Mr Desmond Choo (North East District), Mr Alex Yam (North West District) and Mr Fahmi Aliman (South East District).

Said Mr Wong: "People start thinking, what should I do to be better today? Should I learn more programming, coding, IT? I think all of these are important skill sets.

"We need to better understand technology, so that we can work well with machines... but we do not have to learn how to be better computers to beat the computer.

"The way forward is for us to double down on our human strengths... It's not to be taken for granted that human soft skills are natural and innate, and that everyone can do it well. We need to practice and get better at it."

Ms Phua said not all future skills have to be tech-related, and that there are emerging sectors such as eldercare and disability care that are not necessarily "tech-heavy".

"Most of us feel like the jobs of the future, everything, has to do with technology and that's why the main words we hear today are 'data analytics' and 'cyber security'," she said.

But there are other jobs, such as in healthcare, that will focus on care models or the process of caring for patients, with technology being used more for communication purposes, Ms Phua added.

Mr Choo touched on how fresh graduates and young job seekers should be ready to adapt to change. He said: "Changes are quite rapid. But the silver lining that we have seen is that workers who are prepared to make changes and adapt, are willing to get re-trained, they generally do find that getting a job is much easier."

For example, a engineering graduate would have a number of transferable skills, and he can take a six-month course that builds on what was learnt in school and after that, pivot to another job, he added.

The dialogue session was held after a memorandum of understanding was signed between Ms Low, SkillsFuture Singapore chief executive Ong Tze Ch'in, and Employment and Employability Institute chief executive Gilbert Tan.

Ms Low was representing the five Community Development Councils (CDCs).

The three-year agreement will run until August 2023, and aims to provide Singaporeans with information on SkillsFuture programmes, and how they can tap various resources for their career planning and upgrading needs.

The SkillsFuture Advice initiative was launched in 2017 and more than 110,000 people have attended over 4,300 SkillsFuture Advice workshops since then.

On Friday, the agencies said SkillsFuture @ CDC 2020 - a virtual event offering career workshops and a guide to resources for skills training - will be extended.

It was initially conceived as a week-long event running from Aug 10 to Aug 16. In that time, it attracted more than 257,000 participants, and is now extended until July next year instead of ending this month as earlier planned.

The event is organised by the five CDCs, and highlights include workshops to help residents better understand the job market and skill trends amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and live chats with experts across various industries.

Ms Low said: "The extension of SkillsFuture Advice comes at a time when Singaporeans need exceptional support in employability. Our priority is to expedite job search opportunities and ramp up programmes and initiatives to meet the growing demand for upskilling and reskilling."

Mr Ong added: "In this challenging period, we want to reach out to as many Singaporeans as possible, to let them know what they can do to reskill and upskill themselves, and remain employable."

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