High potential for more to work remotely as 57% of jobs are done by PMETs

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the transport system will benefit as working from home becomes more widely accepted. PHOTO: ST FILE

There is high potential for more people to work from home regularly as 57 per cent of the jobs in Singapore's economy are done by professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Singapore is going to make a greater push to have more people work remotely, he said, noting that both workers and businesses have become more comfortable with doing so during this period, when safe distancing measures are in place.

People are actually questioning the need to go to the office regularly, beyond having to retrieve physical documents or use specialised machinery, he added.

As working from home becomes more widely accepted and workers have greater flexibility in arranging when they need to go into the office, the transport system will be one of the beneficiaries, he said in an interview with The Straits Times this week.

Not having to cater to a narrow peak hour in the morning or evening can save Singapore "quite a lot of money", he said.

"As (Minister for Communications and Information S.) Iswaran and I always say, never waste a crisis. So, we can make full use of this situation to push for greater digitalisation," Mr Chan said.

He also said that small and medium-sized enterprises and some larger firms have also become very innovative, adaptive and agile during the circuit breaker.

"They have all taken on board many of these Internet technologies to expand their market share, and I think there is no turning back.

"Once they are onto this path and they see the potential for this, they will definitely continue on this trajectory," he said.

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This is why Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday announced more than $500 million worth of measures to support businesses in their digital transformation as part of the fourth Covid-19 support package, he added.

He noted, however, that there will still be many jobs that need on-site workers, such as those in the military or Home Team and in the medical field, and they need to be able to go back to work safely.

Mr Chan also highlighted the need for workers to build deep core skills and complementary adjacent skills, as well as master digital platforms, to ensure their job prospects remain bright.

For example, an accountant who also has some business advisory, legal and finance skills will be able to provide more all-round services and compete beyond Singapore.

Even rank-and-file jobs like those of security officers can be transformed so that workers develop a wider range of skills, he said.

He cited how Certis has gone from just offering security services to also providing taxi queue management and concierge services at Changi Airport, as well as management of facilities and fire command and control systems at commercial buildings.

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With a bit of technology and reworking of processes, one worker can be much more productive and able to do more things, the minister added.

Another example is how many central kitchens have automated processes so that even middle-aged, less educated workers can take on jobs there and earn better salaries than if they were to work as cleaners or fast-food servers, he said.

Singapore has to keep pushing the boundaries to ensure that better jobs are created for Singaporeans, Mr Chan added.

"I don't belong to the school of thought that says that just because today they are cleaners, then forever they must continue to do the same thing, (with) the same job scope and earn the same pay," he said.

"Our job is to always ask ourselves: How can a fellow Singaporean do better, earn more and have a better life?"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2020, with the headline High potential for more to work remotely as 57% of jobs are done by PMETs. Subscribe