Singapore faces biggest reskilling challenge in Southeast Asia

SINGAPORE — Singapore will face the highest rate of job displacement resulting from technological disruption in Southeast Asia, and the country is racing to introduce countermeasures.

The government recently launched a new framework for the wholesale sector, providing training in areas like data analytics and digital marketing. The wholesale trade industry, which employs 9% of the country’s workforce, is among those most at risk, and large trading houses are bracing for the disruption.

Several other initiatives have been made to equip people with the skills required to remain competitive in increasingly digitized industries.

Workforce Singapore, one of the city-state’s statutory boards, launched a program in June to help people retrain midcareer in financial forensics, in partnership with several industry bodies. There are even efforts to train seafarers with skills to cope with automation in the maritime sector.

A recent study by Cisco and Oxford Economics claims that Singapore faces the biggest mismatch between skills and jobs created in the region. It also said the rate of digital transformation taking place “significantly outpaces” that in neighboring countries, which will lead to a much greater displacement of production workers and laborers.

According to the report, one-fifth of Singapore’s full-time equivalent workforce will have had their jobs displaced by 2028. In addition to wholesale, the retail sector is expected to be hit hardest, followed by manufacturing and transport. The study mainly applies to citizens and permanent residents of the city-state.

“Jobs are being redefined as technologies continue to evolve,” said Renzo Taal, senior vice president of APAC at Salesforce, a cloud-based software company. He added that a growth mindset and the courage to learn, unlearn and relearn skills would be “critical for the Singapore workforce” as the country moves toward Industry 4.0.

Over 90% of Singaporeans are open to learning new skills, according to a survey of more than 7,000 working professionals by Salesforce and Milieu Insight.

Demographics changes are also of a concern. “The Singaporean workforce is aging and hence [there is] the need to ensure that they remain relevant and competitive with the economic restructuring,” said Julia Ng, group director of enterprise development at Workforce Singapore.

Some, however, have questioned the sustainability of such projects. “Strictly speaking it is still early to judge on the realized effectiveness,” said Trevor Yu, associate professor at Nanyang Technological University. “Future developments should include increased engagement with the entire education system to make sure that the right foundations can be laid for the various types of learning required to support these initiatives,” he added.

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