Empowering Workers in the Digital Age with the Right Skills

You’re swimming in a river. The water is calm and cool. Just the right temperature for a refreshing dip. You’re comfortable.

Then as you’re enjoying the water on your skin, the sun in your face, you realise you’re moving farther away from where you started.

The current of the water is getting stronger. You’re being dragged away. You swim as hard as you can to get back to the safety of the riverbank. But you can’t.

The current is too strong. It seems like the harder you try, the harder it is to stay afloat. You’re getting tired, and you feel a cramp coming up in your leg.

At that moment you realise that if help doesn’t come quickly, you’re going to drown.

A raft appears. The people in the raft hold out their hands, but they can’t reach you. Not unless you hold out yours as well. And that is what you do.

We are the Swimmer

Every worker in Singapore today is that swimmer. Digital disruption has hit industries like an undercurrent building up, unnoticed by many workers on the ground.

For the media industry, preference for online media and blogs have caused a decline in newspaper circulation numbers. RIP print media.

The F&B and retail lines have seen many brick-and-mortar stores closing their doors permanently, opting instead to serve customers from an online platform.

Meanwhile, Apps like Grab and Gojek coupled with cashless payment have made commuters rely less on street hail and cash payments, affecting the traditional taxi sector.

In any industry you can think of, digital disruption has already begun.

And if we have no clue how to turn this into an opportunity for ourselves as workers, then we’re already drowning.

Although many of us are still able to stay afloat today, we may soon find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with the situation to come. We might need a raft, and that comes in the form of training.

Staying Afloat

In Singapore, opportunities for upskilling have been presented in many ways over the past few years.

To name a few, we had the national SkillsFuture initiative launched in 2015 and the Skills Framework as part of the industry transformation roadmaps.

The latest one we have is the company training committee (CTC) – an initiative by the unions, supported by employers and endorsed by the Government.

CTCs see unions and companies working together to help workers reskill and upskill.

NTUC President Mary Liew was recently at the International Labour Conference where she touched on CTCs in a panel discussion.

“We are working closely with the ground, our union leaders are reaching out to companies to have a two-way platform and engagement. We are telling the companies that we are with you and we want to transform with you. And if the companies do well, the workers will benefit too,” said Ms Liew.

So far, companies and unions from several industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, building facilities management, hospitality and telecommunications have set up training committees. There are currently 57 CTCs at work to prepare about 27,000 workers for the future economy.

From what we know, the plan is to have at least 1,000 CTCs helping 330,000 workers in the next three years.

Facing Transformation Together

One CTC set up was between Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and the Healthcare Academy last month.

TTSH’s Centre for Healthcare Innovation Executive Director David Dhevarajulu said: “Transformation is really about people. How do we engage and empower them to be agile, digitally dexterous, equipped with tools to iteratively reinvent themselves to remain current even as healthcare models change? I see this collaboration with the Healthcare Academy enabling this.”

Many other employers share his sentiment – there is no transformation without workers.

Sembcorp Industries Senior Vice President (Waste Management) Neo Hong Keat said: “Our people are our greatest asset, and SembWaste believes in investing in training and programmes to enhance our employees’ competencies and well-being, so they are equipped to carry out their jobs efficiently and safely. More importantly, such training also allows our employees to enhance their career prospects with the company.”

Doing Our Part

Working with unions, employers like these are already holding out their hands, waiting to pull workers onto the raft so that they can ride out the rapids of transformation together. But they can’t reach the workers if they don’t hold out their hands too.

Ms Liew also believes that transformation is nothing new as we have time and time again tide over it in the past decades.

“We have gone through the industrial age, and we have gone through the knowledge-based economy. But what is happening right now, in Industry 4.0, is that it is happening so fast. The pace is so much quicker and we know that there are concerns among workers,” she said.

We need to prepare ourselves with relevant skills for the future economy, whatever it may bring. Take every opportunity to upskill ourselves – go for new courses, read about the new technology in our industry, talk to people who know more about the upcoming technology at our workplace.

We need to accept that change is inevitable. It’s not like we have a choice. New tech will seep into our work, and we need the skills to adapt. Our livelihoods will depend on it. But thankfully, we don’t have to get into the game alone.

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