THE National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is not only concerned with the number of jobs created, but also with the quality of jobs being created, NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing said on Monday.
From NTUC's perspective, the aim is not only to have more jobs, but also to make sure that each job allows for a higher "value added per worker", which allows workers to earn a better salary in time to come, said Mr Chan after a visit to machinery manufacturing company Yamazaki Mazak.
Mazak is Singapore's first "cyber machine factory", where machines themselves take the lead in the production of more machinery for various industries.
"Many of the jobs that were traditionally done by human beings will now increasingly be replaced by robots," Mr Chan said.
He said now that this trend is understood, Singapore workers must position themselves to be the makers of this kind of precision engineering and these kinds of robots so that they are able to earn the higher value-added to give themselves another quality of life.
"Our challenge is always to make sure that our workers can keep pace with new demands and not fight for jobs of yesterday, but always be ready for jobs of tomorrow."
According to Mr Chan, since what Singapore has today may not be sustainable, the nation must constantly stay one step ahead of its competition. "That means that year-in-year-out we must constantly upgrade the kind of skill sets that our workers have, so that they can continue to stand out in good stead in the global competition."
Corporations such as Mazak require highly qualified skilled machinists and people with many years of experience, examples of "the jobs of tomorrow", according to Mr Chan.
In order to stay one step ahead of the competition, workers must go into this new and higher "value-add" industry, he said.
Over the years, Mazak has seen a shift in production from being manpower-intensive to technologically driven.
The implementation of the cyber factory allowed the reduction of manpower from two shifts - day and night - to just one shift in the day while night production is self-run by the unmanned machines. No retrenchments took place with the incorporation of machinery into production processes. Instead, jobs were redesigned through training and upskilling, allowing workers to take on supervisory and management roles.
The manufacturing plant itself has expanded since its opening in 1992, boasting sleek, clean and high-quality facilities.
"Singapore's manufacturing climate has evolved over the years," said Toh Hock Poh, president of the Metal Industries Workers' Union. "In the past, manufacturing was known to be labour-intensive, with repetitive work in a dirty and dangerous working environment.
"However, companies like Yamazaki Mazak invested in technology and made use of automation to make jobs easier, smarter and safer."