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Guest-Of-Honour Remarks at Singapore Computer Board (SCS) Tech3 Forum

Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower, Mandarin Orchard Singapore Ballroom

My Parliamentary Colleague Mr Patrick Tay, Asst Sec-Gen, NTUC

Mr Howie Lau, President, SCS

Dr Kwong Yuk Wah, Chairperson, SCS Tech3 Forum Steering Committee

Dr Timothy Chan, Chairman, SCS Committee of Tech Skills for PMETs

Friends and colleagues

  1. Thank you for inviting me.
  2. Of all the speakers here today, I’m the least qualified to talk about technology but I must commend the Singapore Computer Society’s yearly effort to organise this forum to advocate for professional and career development of ICT professionals.
  3. You don’t need me to tell you the world is changing fast, due in large part to technology.
  4. All around us, we can see and feel its impact; From the way we get taxi rides to how we shop for groceries and clothing, book air tickets or hotels and even to get job assignments.
  5. Every now and then, we also hear predictions that can be very alarming; How many million jobs are lost to robots/automation.
  6. They make one wonder, what should our attitude be towards technology? Is it something to be resisted vigorously or something to be embraced unconditionally?
  7. Technology will most certainly change how businesses operate and also our jobs.  Take ICA for example.
  8. At our land checkpoints, currently, officers must carry out visual inspections on all cargo and conveyance. Soon, bus scanners will be installed and process automated. But, this does not mean that the officer’s role will be gone.
  9. We will still need a person to identify abnormalities. Therefore, the Officer can learn to analyse scanned images and be deployed to do a higher value job.
  10. This will help ICA perform faster, more reliable security screening and make Singapore safer for everyone.
  11. Another point to note: Even if technology reduces manpower-reliance in some areas, growing companies may still have to hire more to fill other jobs.
  12. Take Amazon for example. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of robots used by Amazon in its operations increased from 1,400 to 45,000; a 30-fold increase.
  13. But over the same period, the number of employees (full- and part-time) increased from around 100,000 to about 320,000; a three-fold increase. In other words, it hired many more people even as more robots were introduced.
  14. In other words, businesses and jobs will be transformed by technology, potentially creating more meaningful, enjoyable work.
  15. New jobs may also be created in growing companies/industries, potentially offering better prospects for workers.
  16. Working people can benefit, provided they are not stuck with old skills in declining businesses and are given a chance to reskill and be redeployed.
  17. There is another case to be made for technology: its impact on wages.
  18. Historically, advanced industries1 in US have provided more upside to workers’ earnings. In a 2015 report by the Brookings Institute in Washington, they found that a big difference in US industries characterised by deep involvement with tech R&D (research and development) and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
  19. Workers in these “advanced industries” increased their average earnings per worker 5 times faster than the rest of the economy. 
  20. Put another way, there is good evidence that where technology helps improve productivity, wages can be higher. The experience across different countries reinforces this.
  21. These observations should shape the way we think about technology and the disruptions that may follow.
  22. They encourage us to reject the idea that we will be defeated by technology, but instead to direct our energies towards making the most of technology. 
  23. In other words, keep finding new ways to let technology work to our advantage. Because the truth is, the future of work is still being shaped. No one knows exactly what it will look like or how to prepare for it.
  24. What we do know is that it can be rewarding; and it pays to be one step ahead of the competition.
  25. This means that we will need an agile workforce and agile businesses that are always alert to emerging trends, checking what works, what doesn’t and seeking to be better.
  26. It will have to be an agile workforce with agile mindsets and agile skills, complemented by agile businesses with agile operating models.
  27. That is why I agreed to join you today.
  28. From MOM’s perspective, the Digital Proficiency Programme (DigiPro) which the Singapore Computer Society is launching today is a proactive initiative to be agile and win with technology.
  29. The short modular courses targeted at busy PMETs help them stay relevant without having to travel physically to learn in a classroom setting. Increasingly, this will be the mode of learning for working adults. I thank the partners Nanyang Polytechnic, NTUC’s U Associate and NTUC’s e2i for supporting the initiative.
  30. To conclude, we have no reason to fear the future. Technology can benefit workers, address business needs, and provide solutions to our everyday needs.
  31. We are all partners in this journey of making technology work better for us.  And as long as we are agile, we can win together.
  32. I wish you a fruitful day ahead.

 

FOOTNOTE

  1. Workers in these advanced industries are extraordinarily productive and generate some $210,000 (USD) in annual value added per worker, more than twice the average amount, $101,000 (USD), in other industries. This accounts for their high pay.