Those who have been in the workforce since the 1980s will remember a time when there were massive changes in the way work was done. From using typewriters to personal computers and now laptops; from sending documents through telegrams to fax machines and now emails.
Why does change in technology at the workplace still scare us so much? This is especially true for older workers. Surprisingly, they are the ones who have gone through the earlier transition and are often regarded as the pioneers of disruption.
Perhaps, it is now the speed of change that has filled us all with anxiety. Many of us think that it is now harder to keep up than before.
Pace of Change
According to American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist Raymond Kurzweil, technology is today increasing at an exponential rate.
“We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress [at today’s rate],” predicted Kurzweil at the turn of the century, in 2001.
Well, we are experiencing that now. For the vast majority of workers in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the workplace they entered evolved at a much slower pace. For them, new technology was introduced steadily every decade or so. But that is no longer the case for us today.
Every few months, we will read or hear about new technology that will “revolutionise” our jobs. New technology is supposed to help us. But instead, it scares us because we think that we may lose our jobs if we cannot keep up.
The Future of Jobs and Skills
At NTUC’s Future Jobs, Skills and Training (FJST) inaugural forum held on 11 January 2018, the future of jobs and skills was at the forefront of panel discussions.
The panellists agreed that no job is immune to change.
According to Han Kwee Juan, the chief executive of Citibank Singapore, we must accept that jobs will eventually change, especially when technology is involved.
He gave an example of how workers like bank tellers and cash officers have evolved to become universal service bankers.
“Some of these people had a singular skill. A teller is good at counting money, but he or she who does the counting can do adjacent job roles and skills,” he said.
Port Officer’s Union President Benjamin Tang puts it like this – our jobs are not at risk. Instead, it is our skills that are at risk of becoming redundant.
So if Mr Tang is right, we now have to think about how to convert skills that are at risk, to those in demand.
Another perspective came from the National Trades Union Congress’ Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) CEO Gilbert Tan who gave us a rather easy equation to remember on how to remain employable.
“E=MC2,” he said, and he wasn’t referring to Einstein’s special relativity equation. Rather, it means to gain employability, we would need the right mindset paired with the right capabilities (skills) and connections (network).
To keep up with the pace of technology, we must first overcome our fear of change, no matter how quickly it comes, for this is our only limitation, believes Healthcare Services Employees’ Union President K. Thanaletchimi.
Only when we overcome this fear would we take a proactive approach in our upskilling and continue swimming upstream against the tide of disruption and technology. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.