SINGAPORE - The gap between jobs and skills will widen as businesses transform in the digital economy, but Singapore must see this as an opportunity, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
"The job and the skills mismatch will not go away. In fact, we must expect it," she said.
"If we are transforming our economy at a fast enough rate, then the job skills mismatch must actually enlarge. We must see that as an opportunity," she added.
Mrs Teo was speaking at the launch of a Workforce Singapore (WSG) programme that helps workers in the retail industry to take on jobs in the digital economy, held at the Decathlon Singapore Lab in Kallang.
She raised the possibility in a Facebook post in October that the skills gap in Singapore is widening because both employment and unemployment inched up in the third quarter based on flash data. The finalised figures on Thursday (Dec 12) showed a similar mixed picture.
"The story for Singapore must be that businesses do want to innovate, and when businesses innovate, job requirements will change," Mrs Teo said at the event.
The innovation story becomes possible in Singapore if the Republic has a good system in place to help people acquire the skills that will make them effective in their re-designed jobs, she added.
She said that the job redesign place-and-train programme for the retail industry can train workers in e-commerce, an area where employers are competing for talent.
The WSG will work with retailers to customise their training plans, which can comprise a mix of classroom and on-the-job training. The agency will also pay up to 70 per cent of the employee's salary when he or she is undergoing training.
Mrs Teo said that Decathlon, a French sporting goods retailer, has redefined jobs in the sector, where store employees learn skills such as digital marketing, Web merchandising and improving customer experience.
Mrs Teo said that the traditional view of retail workers' jobs as repetitive and disenfranchised is increasingly outmoded with innovative companies like Decathlon.
"What Decathlon staff do, people may not associate with retail," she added.
Omnichannel sports leader at Decathlon Lim Su-Lin, 47, joined the company as a cashier in 2016.
The former associate director of marketing at DHL left the workforce for 12 years because of personal health reasons and to take care of her son.
She decided to apply for the job after visiting a Decathlon store to look for sports equipment with her son. Ms Lim said that her son is older and more independent now, which frees up her time.
The graduate from the University of Oregon in the United States said that she was initially apprehensive to apply for a job for fear of being rejected, and she took about two months to send in her application.
What she did not expect was to find a second career, she said, adding that her role changed after she underwent training in the past two years to include using data from customers' purchasing habits to drive sales.
She is also in charge of membership acquisitions for Decathlon in Singapore and works on click-and-collect orders.
She said: "I feel young again... and I never expected to contribute so much to the store. I had expected to just do cashiering when I signed up."