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THE call has gone out for professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) in the financial sector to future-proof themselves.
NTUC (National Trades Union Congress) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay wrote in a blog post in the labour movement's website on Tuesday that employers also ought to be pro-active about developing their PMEs by leveraging SkillsFuture or the sectoral manpower plans to ensure that these workers are "less affected by retrenchments".
His call, coming at a time when businesses are buffeted by the pace of technological change and the impending usurping of jobs by robots, was aimed specifically at the financial sector, where he said he has seen a "somewhat worrying trend" of foreign banks laying off their employees.
He added that Singapore PMEs working at the three local banks - UOB, DBS and OCBC - "may have less to worry about" as recent reports stated they were still hiring and not expected to reduce staff drastically.
Mr Tay said: "I worry for Singaporeans working in foreign banks, as many decisions are made at the global headquarters. We have seen hints of the challenges faced by several large global and regional banks, and several have gone on wage freezes locally."
Still, he urged PMEs to not feel discouraged, but be ready, resilient and relevant, and to embrace "second-skilling, deep-skilling, re-skilling, up-skilling and multi-skilling".
Adaptability is key today, as businesses transform to reposition themselves in a more volatile environment, said Gerry George, dean of the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University.
"I prefer to look at the 'T' model, where the individual is an expert in a functional domain, but has the capacity to front a few more areas. This gives him the skill to bridge from one business need to another."
Asked whether firms today would hire an individual who can perform several tasks over someone who can do only one, Dr George said this has been true for some time. "The challenge isn't that the individual is less skilled. When times are good, he gets the benefits of focus and there are few incentives to broaden his skills. When the ground reality shifts, he is stuck because now he is really good at one thing, but that one thing has become less important for the business."
Ben Chew, business director at TBC HR Consulting who believes PMEs should master the skill of networking: "Many roles are not advertised on printed or online media. Employers entrust good recruiters with confidential or strategic roles such as market expansion. Through networking, potential job-seekers get to meet future employers or recruiters and know of such roles."
Meanwhile, advances in artificial intelligence are creating robots that can perform financial-sector jobs, taking over from human bank tellers, loan officers or mortgage brokers.
A DBS spokeswoman said in response to this: "We have started to bring in talents who are versed in tech - UX (user-experience) designers, coders, engineers and data analysts. Our newly-launched DBS Academy is key to promoting continuous learning among employees and an innovative mindset."
OCBC launched a Holistic Development Programme last year to inspire the career development, well-being and personal growth of its employees, said Jacinta Low, head of HR planning at the bank.
Of UOB's plans, a spokeswoman said: "We take a long-term view of our staff strength, as we do with building deep relationships with customers, through economic cycles and beyond uncertainties. We are committed to ... investing in talent-development programmes across our regional network."
All three banks said they will continue their recruitment drive.