What happens to low-skilled workers, especially those at the lowest rung of earners, amid Singapore's push for automation, robotics and artificial intelligence?
And what does this change mean for students when the skills they learn today may become irrelevant tomorrow? These and other questions, including how the Government, schools and corporations can deal with technological disruption, popped up at the St Gallen Symposium 2018 Singapore Forum at the National University of Singapore's University Town yesterday.
Centred on the theme "Beyond the end of work", this was the third time it was held in Singapore. Past symposiums held in Switzerland included Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam as speakers.
The symposium was established in 1970 by the International Students' Committee from the University of St Gallen in Switzerland, and holds yearly talks involving policymakers, business leaders and academics.
Yesterday's keynote speaker, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Education Janil Puthucheary, said that students and workers alike will have to adapt not only in today's industry transformation, but future ones too.
Said Dr Puthucheary: "The thread that runs through all of this is that we do not want technology to be a separate applied learning subject or initiative. It is the process of learning about technology that we are trying to make possible.
"The end of work has already arrived, and the end of education as we know it may be starting."
A separate panel comprising West Coast GRC MP Patrick Tay, IBM Asia Pacific vice-president Janet Ang and Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/ Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times, also dived deep into the future of work. The discussion was moderated by communications consultant Viswa Sadasivan.
Mr Tay, the National Trades Union Congress' assistant secretary-general, said the shared economy and the "Uberisation" of workers today can create a new wave of low-wage earners. On the other hand, virtual reality technology also means new opportunities. Bus drivers can be trained through virtual reality, while risky jobs can be done remotely through VR goggles.
Ms Ang warned there will be problems if all bosses only want "to take care of those of the highest ranks".
"Income disparity is man-made... But (for individuals), is this something we are waiting for someone else, like the Government, to solve for us? Or is it something we can change by learning (new skills)?"
Mr Fernandez recounted how during a recent retrenchment exercise by his company, the top concerns of those let go were how their bills will be paid and time will be spent. "Many asked what they are going to do to give them meaning and purpose in life," he said.
Noting that just about every industry is facing disruption, he said that individuals and societies are going to have to grapple with those questions in the decades ahead. "At a time of major change, the most valuable education you can have is the broadest one, to help you develop a mind that is nimble."