Focus on jobs that technology has created, not on jobs that were lost: Josephine Teo

Mrs Teo in a dialogue with moderator Kenneth Paul Tan, Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, during the event. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - When it comes to the 4th Industrial Revolution, marked by digitisation, robots and artificial intelligence, there is an "obsession" with trying to estimate the scale of the impact on jobs, particularly job losses.

But even as jobs disappear, new ones appear and existing jobs change as well, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Wednesday (Sept 18).

"It is important to pay attention to job creation, even as we think about and pay attention to the jobs that are being lost, because that's really where the hope lies," she stressed at a welcome dinner for the Singapore Summit Young Societal Leaders Programme.

The four-day event, which ends on Saturday, is attended by 19 delegates from 13 nations, including China, Thailand and the Netherlands.

Co-organised by the National University of Singapore and Temasek Foundation, the summit explores how individuals can collaborate and lead initiatives for social inclusion in the technological and social sectors.

In her speech, Mrs Teo also said work in future will involve greater partnership between employers and the Government because the scale and depth of changes will be more intense than in the past.

The kind of new technologies employers decide to use for their businesses, as well as how they choose to transform their business models, will drive the changes in the nature of jobs and the skills required to meet those changes, she said.

"The scale and the depth of the changes in all likelihood will be more intense than in the past... there is great value in attempting to crowd-source understanding of what's happening, of issues as they emerge and also ideas for solutions," she added.

She also stressed that whatever the 4th Industrial Revolution may mean to businesses and industry, "a focus on workers and a focus on jobs and skills ought to be at front and centre of everything we do".

Mrs Teo also shared four areas of employment outcomes that "keep her awake at night": keeping employment rates high; keeping unemployment rates low; having sustainable wage growth for citizens; and achieving a sense of financial security in retirement.

"We all expect that the future of work will be reshaped. The question is how it will be reshaped, and whether we can anticipate (changes), and if we have a better sense of what to expect, what we can do about it."

At a dialogue after the dinner, a delegate from the Philippines, Ms Cherrie D Atilano, chief executive of an agricultural social enterprise in the Philippines, asked the minister about women empowerment in leadership.

Replying, Mrs Teo, who is one of three women ministers in Singapore's Cabinet, said the biggest challenge for women is still that they have to take on more of the caregiving responsibilities at home.

"We have to ask ourselves what are the practical ways that we can allow women to continue to advance in their professional lives, and that means helping to take care of other commitments, primarily the family."

Citing Singapore, she noted the big push to create provisions for eldercare and more places for pre-school.

"This idea of women empowerment is contextual. You have to look at different societies and ask what is impeding women from going further, and then find practical ways to address it.

"I would not say that Singapore has completely arrived, (but) I think that we've made good progress, and we'd like to be able to do more," she added.

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