Embrace, not obstruct, technological change: PM

PM Lee Hsien Loong also said that companies and industries must adapt to new technologies and market conditions, while workers have to adopt the mindset of lifelong learning.
PM Lee Hsien Loong also said that companies and industries must adapt to new technologies and market conditions, while workers have to adopt the mindset of lifelong learning.PHOTO: AFP

He urges govts to help displaced workers take on new jobs during speech at G-20 summit

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on countries to embrace technological change instead of yielding to their anxieties by obstructing it.

During a brief speech about the future of work at the Group of 20 summit, he urged governments to help workers displaced by new technology take on new jobs.

"We cannot freeze the status quo, we will not succeed in preserving out of date arrangements, because the world will leave us behind," he said on Friday.

Companies and industries must adapt to new technologies and market conditions, while workers have to adopt the mindset of lifelong learning, he added.

Singapore is attending the G-20 summit as a representative of Asean - which it chairs this year - at the invitation of this year's G-20 president, Argentina. Singapore is also speaking on behalf of an informal coalition of small and medium-sized states known as the Global Governance Group.

Argentinian President Mauricio Macri made a call for countries to work together for the common good in his opening speech, urging the G-20 leaders to build consensus through dialogue.

"Many people look at us and have doubts regarding these summits and what they're good for. It is our duty to show to the world that today, global challenges require global responses. We can't resolve problems such as the future of work or climate change issues on our own," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Dutch PM Mark Rutte (left) at a bilateral meeting on the first day of the G-20 summit on Nov 30, 2018. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Reminding them of how the G-20 came together to prevent a worsening of the global financial crisis 10 years ago, Mr Macri said: "Even though the agenda that brings us together today is different, I'd like to ask you to act with the same sense of urgency that brought us together in 2008."

The summit this year has been overshadowed by trade tensions, particularly between the United States and China, which have made markets jittery.

All eyes were on a dinner here yesterday between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Mr Xi Jinping, with hopes high that they would at least agree on a truce in the trade dispute.

Both sides appeared optimistic with Mr Trump quoted as saying there were some positive signs and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Buenos Aires speaking of increasing consensus.


Observers said global financial markets would take their lead this week from the outcome of the talks.

In his speech at Friday's session on the global economy, the future of work and women's empowerment, PM Lee said that countries should work on the basis that technological disruption will create new jobs even as old jobs are taken away.

For instance, in professions such as accountancy and law where tedious work has been automated, professionals who focus on tasks requiring human judgment and interaction still remain.

"Jobs will be there. Our task is to provide our people with the right education and skills to take them up," he said.

Governments can work with businesses and unions to equip employees who are at risk of being displaced with new skills and to redeploy them, he said. On top of this practical support, workers should also be reassured because for every person displaced, many more are worried and anxious, said PM Lee.

"We must give them the confidence to make the adjustments, intervening wherever possible before the workers are displaced," he said, adding that this is what Singapore has been trying to do.

PM Lee also met the leaders of Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa separately on the sidelines of the summit on Friday and yesterday. He was scheduled to speak at another session on infrastructure, energy transitions and a sustainable food future later yesterday.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 02, 2018, with the headline 'Embrace, not obstruct, technological change: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe