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Speech by Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng at at DBS FutureForward Week

Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower , DBS Auditorium

Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you at DBS’s Future Forward Week.

2. More than two years has passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are always risks of new variants, and just two days ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Monkey Pox as a global health emergency. I think notwithstanding the fact that we should always not let our guard down and remain vigilant, life has to move on. We cannot keep holding still. It is important that amidst these global uncertainties with the Russia Ukraine crisis and inflation, we need to shift gears and seize new opportunities as the world reopens. The theme for this year’s Future Forward Week, “Be the best that you can be”, is very apt. Having all of our workers, our colleagues, our employers achieve their highest potential will help us, especially in this tiny red dot, to seize these new opportunities.

3. Today, I would like to speak about two areas which is important to fulfilling the potential of our workers and our employers. First, how we can support our employees and our workers, amidst rapid technological changes and accelerating disruptions, to be the best that all of us can be through upskilling, reskilling and job redesign. Second, how businesses can be the best employers by fostering inclusive and progressive workplaces which will support talent retention and attraction, as well as a more production and more engaged workforce.

Upskilling and Job Redesign

4. First, on upskilling and job redesign. Emerging technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain, and big data, are driving the creation of new jobs that require new skills. These technologies also transform existing jobs throughout our entire economy. For example, digital skills are in-demand in both the Retail and Financial Services sectors. To be at the top of your fields, both workers and employers will need to adopt a growth mindset to transform. Change is not a constant. Change is accelerating. The treadmill; the gradient is increasing, and the speed of the disruption is also increasing. So you need to have the mindset that we are on a treadmill and we need to run faster and faster. We need to seize new opportunities arising from these emerging technologies.

5. In particular, our mid-career workers have acquired valuable experience and transferrable skills from their career journeys. With skills top-up, they can be effective in new roles. But I do not want to underplay the effort that upskilling takes. It requires very strong commitment from both the workers as well as employers to bridge the skills gap.

6. I am therefore very encouraged by one of your colleagues, Mr Brian Chong’s experience. During the pandemic in 2020, Brian was laid off from his job at a global payments firm. He decided to upskill and specialise in cloud computing, so he registered for the Technology in Finance Programme (TFIP) and joined DBS on a traineeship before converting to a permanent staff. He has been exposed to various functions in the bank including cyber security.   

7 The Government will continue to provide strong support to help both employers and workers with training. Workforce Singapore offers a variety of Career Conversion Programmes, or CCPs for short, to help our workers. We continuously work with industry to develop new CCPs in emerging areas like sustainability, 5G, and advanced manufacturing. These CCPs offer substantial training and salary support for that difficult conversion period, which goes toward facilitating successful transitions in a long way.

8. Upskilling is not only for individuals who are making a major shift in job roles. All of us will need to constantly learn and upgrade to stay abreast of the rapidly evolving and accelerating technologies. In fact, we can harness these very same new technologies to pursue skills upgrading at scale. In 2021, DBS embarked on a pilot programme called “iGrow” which uses machine learning and AI to help individuals identify their future career aspirations, map the skills needed to reach those goals and even recommend personalised development options, just like what a career coach would do. I am excited that the iGrow programme will be formally launched for all DBS Singapore employees today. Perhaps once DBS has piloted it well and once It has become very solid (I wouldn’t even call it a minimum viable product) and once it goes viral, I think it is something for DBS to consider moving out to the rest of the industries, and of course, DBS will always have the source codes.

9. Upskilling workers is one side of the coin. Jobs also need to be transformed to make the best use of workers’ skills. This is why we have developed sectoral Jobs Transformation Maps, or JTMs for short. These JTMs provide detailed insights on the impact of technology and automation on specific jobs in each sector. Besides identifying the key technologies driving changes in jobs and skills, the JTMs also lay out the pathways for employers to transform jobs, and opportunities for workers to acquire the requisite skillsets for these evolving and emerging jobs.

10. One example is the JTM commissioned by MAS and the Institute of Banking and Finance in 2019, examining the impact of data analytics and automation on 121 job roles in the financial sector. The study found that 40 job roles would be highly impacted in the near-to-medium term. This means that a significant proportion of tasks in these roles could be substituted or replaced by technology, especially those areas that are rules-based or highly repetitive in nature. This highlights the opportunity for job redesign, to create higher-skilled, higher value-added jobs involving tasks that require more judgement, more creativity, or more of the human touch.

11. DBS has put insights from the JTM into practice. Earlier on I had a conversation with a few of your colleagues. Ms Parameswari Rajandiran started as a bank teller in DBS. With her desire to upskill, she enrolled for a diploma in Business Accounting at Nanyang Polytechnic. She took night classes while working during the pandemic to complete her diploma. During this time, her managers were supportive of her studying and working, and they also supported her decision to take on the role of a wealth planning manager. Congratulations to her.

Inclusive and progressive workplaces

12. I will now talk about the second area – inclusive and progressive workplaces, something that is very close to my heart. Skills and job redesign will upgrade our workforce, but they are only part of the story. The best workers would expect to work in the best workplaces. Today, I am sure all of you here believe that DBS is the best workplace. To retain and attract talent, we must also build an inclusive and progressive workplace where workers feel valued, engaged and empowered.

13. An important aspect is in helping workers achieve work-life harmony. In a very tight labour market, such as the one that we have today, this becomes key to supporting talent retention and attraction. You should not be a funnel, where it comes in at one end and it goes out at the other end. An important aspect like what I said is to help workers achieve work life harmony. In a tight labour market, like what I said earlier on, this is key, and I cannot emphasise it more. I hope that DBS will continue to shape your company’s policies and practices to support workers in fulfilling both their work and personal aspirations. Generally, not just DBS alone, employers will be able to better retain and attract talent. You will also be able to tap on a larger pool of workers such as caregivers, and senior workers who might otherwise leave the workforce to fulfil their personal or family responsibilities and needs. It is about 380,000 people [1]. Today, 260,000 women are out of the workforce. They could be at home fulfilling certain caregiving responsibilities, cultivating and bringing up their loved one, their children, taking care of their elderly parents. If you could bring them back, that would be one huge talent pool that you can tap. And another 120,000 people who have retired, but they could still opt to do something in their life, to find their own fulfilment in certain interest areas that they might have wanted to pursue but when they were actively working.  

14. Because of the pandemic, we are now familiar with telecommuting. Many workers have shared how this has contributed to much better work-life harmony for them. Telecommuting is just one of the many forms of flexible work arrangements. I want to reiterate that Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) does not equate ‘work from home’. Otherwise, we would have just merged them into one entity. FWAs means that you can stagger to work with your company to fulfil both the company’s interest and your work, to seek some form of alignment. There are certain types of FWAs that might not be suitable for certain job roles. For example, those involved in customer-facing operations may not be able to work-from-home all the time. However, alternative forms of work arrangements such as flexible shift scheduling, staggered work hours, part-time work or job-sharing can still be explored.

15. I want to applaud your bank again for the Job Share programme. It is an excellent example. Ms Shirley Cheong, an analyst with DBS’ Institutional Banking Group has two young children and was working full time before taking on the bank’s job- sharing scheme. This offered her the flexibility to pick up her child from childcare and allowed her more time to bond with her children and family while still pursuing her career. This is win-win; for DBS, it also means that they can retain experienced and skilled talent. For Ms Cheong, she can also have that very precious time bonding with her children and watching them grow.

16. As an adopter of the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements since it was introduced in 2017, DBS has been bold in offering a variety of FWAs to cater to its diverse workforce profile. Apart from job sharing, DBS has adopted a permanent hybrid work model across the bank since February 2021, with all employees given the flexibility to telecommute up to 40% of the time. This is commendable In addition, caregivers and parents with newborns have the option to work remotely completely for up to six months at a stretch. Thank you DBS and everyone for leading by example in this.

17. DBS has implanted all the best practices within the tripartite standard including having a clear policy on how to request for flexible work arrangements and expectations on its responsible use. This means that while DBS as an employer still decides ultimately on how flexible working arrangements are implemented, DBS evaluates employees’ requests for flexible work arrangements fairly and objectively, and communicates the outcomes in a timely manner. And this is crucial to set the right tone, that flexible working arrangements if implemented well, can be the norm rather than the exception.  

18. As a result of your efforts in promoting greater workplace flexibility, DBS benefitted from having a happier and more productive workforce. You have been entrusted with greater flexibility over how they manage their work. I am pleased to see that in DBS, employee satisfaction levels with their flexible work arrangements have continued to improve since the beginning of the year, hitting 92% in June 2022. Congratulations.

19. Today, close to eight in 10 employers already provide at least one form of flexible work arrangements on a sustained basis, but many are not yet adopters of the Tripartite Standard. As such, jobseekers or even employees within the company may not know that their employers are offering flexible work arrangements. We hope to see more companies adopt the Tripartite Standard, and position themselves as progressive employers of choice.

20. A wide range of resources and support, such as workshops and guides, are available to support companies in implementing flexible work arrangements and adopting the Tripartite Standard. Companies requiring further assistance may approach the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP).


21. DBS has been a standard-bearer in preparing the Singapore workforce for the future. I urge all workers and employers, including DBS, to continue with your excellent efforts to upskill, redesign jobs, as well as build an inclusive and progressive workplace. I look forward to learning and to hearing more about DBS’s partnership with their employees on their career development journeys. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.


[1] 260,000 women aged 25 to 64 and 120,000 residents aged 65 to 69 who are not in the labour force.