The "Smart Nation" tag would be more befitting if Singaporeans take full advantage of the training opportunities being created for them. A $200 million boost that workers will receive from the labour movement and the Government is the latest being offered, on top of the $1 billion SkillsFuture scheme. To ignore such incentives to upgrade one's skills would be hardly smart, especially when the urgency in upskilling is underlined by the speed with which technologies are advancing. This is one of the chief causes of the creative destruction that drives a market economy forward while causing economic displacement globally in the form of lost jobs and the advent of so-called sunset industries.
The International Labour Organisation notes that the world economy is estimated to have expanded by 3.1 per cent last year. However, if current policy responses are maintained, the outlook is continued economic weakening, which poses significant challenges to enterprises and workers. The ominous reckonings are contained in the organisation's World Employment and Social Outlook study, which analyses the policy combinations that are most effective in delivering high employment and balanced incomes. What it underscores is the connected nature of macroeconomic policies, employment and social outcomes.
Singapore's formula has been to treat change as a constant, and devise its policies accordingly. It has preferred employability to schemes such as unemployment insurance, which could entail sizeable expenditure and affect the motivation that workers need to function in a competitive economy. The focus on employability acknowledges the reality of change and the futility of resisting it. One has to look at what can be done realistically to prepare employees for change - for example, how to prepare workers for a future where automation and robotics will redefine economic threats and opportunities.
Singaporeans will have broader access to education, the key factor in skills upgrading, now that the National Trades Union Congress will partner Nanyang Technological University for training programmes. NTUC possesses first-hand knowledge of workers' needs, while NTU has expertise in continuous education and the provision of technology-enabled learning. Their partnership should help produce the kind of short courses that can nurture cutting-edge knowledge in sunrise areas of the economy.
While all workers need to stay abreast of change, professionals, managers, executives and technicians warrant the kind of focused support that traditionally has been given to blue-collar workers. Of the Singaporeans and permanent residents laid off last year, an alarming 71 per cent were PMETs. They need help to identify skills in demand and to acquire these progressively.