Going Digital: Why Workers Need to be Ready Now

Smart Nation

We all know that Singapore is en route to becoming a Smart Nation.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first set the goal during National Day Rally 2017 when he was speaking on national technological projects to advance e-payments, sensor networks and lifestyle mobile applications.

Six months on, we hear a series of new measures at Budget 2018 to equip Singaporeans with the necessary technological skills and encourage businesses to adopt cutting-edge technology. Some measures even arrowed in on certain industries– which, we guess either need more help in getting out of their old ways or can benefit from digital transformation in a big way.

Smart Nation is getting real, and you as workers are going to get affected.

We know you must be thinking if there is really a need to fuss over it… Can’t we think about it later or leave all the action to the Government?  The answer is “No”.

Global business consultancy firm, Frost & Sullivan’s Public Sector & Government Director Abhineet Kaul said: “To improve business, cultural, and people linkages, a platform is needed. The basic level is ICT [Information and Communications Technology] connectivity. A smart nation helps to improve business efficiencies in Singapore, communicate more ideas across cultural and ethnic barriers, and overcome labour supply challenges.”

The Zero-Sum Game

According to him, digital solutions are replacing and redesigning the low and medium productive jobs respectively. Roles with high productivity, in contrast, are being enabled.

So, which type of job do you belong to?

As announced during Budget 2018, the TechSkills Accelerator – a programme launched in 2016 to train people in digital skills – will be expanded into new sectors such manufacturing and professional services.

These are the job types that many of us think of as “iron rice bowls”, so why is there a need for workers to upskill or worry about job security? Well, my friend, they drive a large part of our economy, don’t they? That is why they need to transform themselves faster than anyone else.

Needless to say, manufacturing – contributing 20 per cent of the gross domestic product and 14 per cent of total employment in 2016 – is at the forefront of it all. Many factories of the past that involved manual assembly and inspection have now been remodelled by smart dashboards, 3D printers and robotic hands.

In professional services such as legal, the State Courts and Agency for Science, Technology and Research‘s Institute for Infocomm Research are already working together to develop a Speech Transcription System that transcribes court proceedings in real-time and will be implemented in 2020. Once the system is ready, the state courts may no longer need external service providers to complete the transcription. Not only can judges, prosecutors and defence counsel access the recorded evidence immediately, clarification can also be sought on the spot if the system detects unclear speech.

“For workers, it is critical to upgrade their digital skills, as even if their current jobs do not become redundant, their jobs in future will include engaging with digital solutions. For employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, the biggest concern for such skills upgrade programmes is the time-off from work for their employees. There needs to be a change of mindset as the employers currently do not see a direct benefit to their bottomline through such programmes in the short-run,” emphasised Frost and Sullivan’s Abhineet.

If this continues, we will have the zero-sum situation, where nobody wins. Workers seek higher-value jobs in growing sectors but do not have the skills for it. Employers want to jump on the technology bandwagon to increase profits but don’t have the right talents to build or utilise them.

Abhineet said: “To change mindset in the short-term, incentives work. Government has been providing monetary and non-monetary incentives for employers to encourage them to send their employees to training. However, in the longer term, the return-on-investment of such training needs to be clearly made available to employers. This could be in form of case studies or ambassadors who have benefitted with the training.”

Conquering Skies and Seas

Private-hire cars, bike-sharing and new bus operators have shaken things up in land transport. Our Mass Rapid Transit rail system is going through major enhancements and new lines are due in the near future.

So, it’s about time aviation and maritime up their game as well. At least, that is what the Government seems to say when they introduced the Aviation Transformation Programme and Maritime Transformation Programme at Budget 2018 to support research and development efforts in these sectors. Details will be unveiled at the Committee of Supply later.

Double yay! But… What kind of technologies can we exactly look into?

Abhineet suggested: “Some of the best practices from overseas can be a fully automated port like the Port of Hamburg, which focuses on driverless haulage, mobile apps, remote monitoring, predictive maintenance of port equipment, and easy clearance of cargo.

“For airport, the digital upgrades could include human-less check-ins and baggage handling using biometrics such as those piloted in Dublin and Brisbane. Video analytics can also be used to upgrade infrastructure.”

They may sound like a feat, but we think it is manageable for Changi Airport Group that has just welcomed its state-of-the-art Terminal 4 and award-winning PSA Singapore that is anticipating its Tuas Mega Port in 2030. Abhineet noted that both the aviation and maritime industries have been very active in adopting digital solutions and engaging technology vendors to help them in the process.

The Future in Your Hands

With all that said, adopting technology blindly may not be the way to go either.

“To develop Singapore as a Smart Nation, we do have the basic infrastructure in place. However, the challenges come from retrofitting new solutions to existing infrastructure. This requires new investment in form of capital and human skills,” explained Abhineet.

Technology has brought on a new era full of promise, but reward comes to those who work for it. So, whether you are an employer and an employee, make sure you grab the opportunities and maximise the resources the Government is providing. Start thinking about the baby steps you can take. Start today!