Emerging Stronger Taskforce: As S'pore businesses transform, they must equip workers with skills for new roles

The task force urged businesses to work with intermediaries and unions to identify job disruption and training needs early on, and chart suitable upskilling plans. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Even as businesses transform themselves to adapt to the changing nature of work, their workers will also need the right skills to take on new or redesigned job roles.

Besides businesses, there is room for training providers, institutes of higher learning and unions to play a "bigger and more sustained role" in upskilling and creating career progression pathways for workers, according to a report released by the Emerging Stronger Taskforce on Monday (May 17).

At the same time, Singapore must remain open to talent from abroad to boost the local workforce.

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, who co-chairs the task force to guide Singapore's economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, said there is a need to help workers here bridge skills gaps and prepare for an uncertain future.

"We'll support Singaporeans in this journey, provide the assistance as well as the resources that they need to take on new and better jobs in a post-Covid-19 world," he added.

To ensure workers stay ahead of the curve, the task force urged businesses to work with intermediaries and unions to identify job disruption and training needs early on, and chart suitable upskilling plans.

In addition, industry leaders, or "queen bees", can chip in to help with the training needs of not just their own staff but also those from other firms. Already, some queen bee entities, such as SMRT and Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital, are lending their expertise and leveraging their extensive commercial networks to support smaller firms.

In its recommendations for businesses and workers, the task force also called on the Government to grow a pool of large local enterprises that "cannot be easily displaced in global value chains". It suggested ways - such as innovation, internationalisation, mergers and acquisitions, and talent development - to help these firms scale up.

But Singapore's corporate ecosystem has to be made conducive for a broad base of firms to excel globally, including small and medium-sized enterprises, noted the report. It highlighted the Republic's industry transformation maps - blueprints for how 23 key industries should transform themselves for the future - as an example.

This will in turn create good jobs for Singaporeans, strengthen our Singapore core, and produce the next generation of successful enterprises, said the report.

The task force recommended the use of different tools to help promising high-growth enterprises create new products and access new markets. Some of the ways include equity financing and encouraging technology and capability transfer.

Companies should be given opportunities to test their products here before expanding to overseas markets.

Even as Singapore develops its local workers, the task force stressed that it must remain open to skills from abroad. This comes as future opportunities require new capabilities it may not currently have.

"We will need to continue bringing in global talent to complement Singaporeans so that businesses have access to the skills they need to grow, with a view to ultimately helping Singaporeans build up and refresh their skills to move into better jobs," it said.

The task force pointed out that workforce challenges will be more pronounced as Singapore faces an ageing population and a low resident total fertility rate.

The workforce will require new skills in areas such as digitalisation and cyber security, it added.

"A highly skilled workforce with good quality jobs is both the enabler and the goal of our economic transformation. Singapore will only be as competitive as the talent we have."

Some task force members noted that even as Singapore transforms its workers into Worker 4.0 - a term for the next generation of workers who are equipped with in-demand skills - employers must ensure the work environment embraces such changes.

Mr Amos Leong, president and chief executive of Univac Group, called for a "Manager 4.0" mindset, adding that workforce development begins at the top.

"We can keep sending workers for training but when they come back, we must have the processes and expanded job scope to fit them," he said.

Ms Jessie Yeo, executive secretary of the Singapore Port Workers Union and human resource director at the National Trades Union Congress, said such a move would ensure that workers who have upgraded themselves can put their new skills to use, instead of returning to "the old ways of working".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.