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Disruption of traditional work does not spell doom

Singapore

THE brave new economy, powered by gig work and automation, has stoked fears about the displacement of blue-collar workers.

But Jenny Lee, managing partner of GGV Capital, believes that tech advancements are fundamentally beneficial. "I think it's very important to think about innovation as not (being) a zero-sum game. It's not about taking away from one and then that's it, we have no more jobs here," she said.

"Actually, it's about a win-win situation; it's about job creation on all fronts."

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The rise of gig economy services like ride-sharing has activated dormant segments of the workforce, she pointed out, such as housewives, retirees and college students.

"Coming (here) this morning, I took a Grab ... and I was just thinking, the whole ride-sharing economy, if you combine Uber, Didi (Chuxing) and Grab, in the less than last four to five years that they have been in existence, they have created jobs for over six to seven million drivers," she said.

Another example is VIPKid, a Beijing-based unicorn that links up Chinese students with English tutors in the US and Canada. Like the ride-hailing drivers, these tutors can be individuals who were previously not active in the workforce.

Such services are also meaningful in building up "Education 2.0" where learning takes place both online and offline.

Automation will likely replace manual labour in factories, like workers who pack mushrooms in factories, added Ms Lee. But this may not be a bad thing, given how factories are increasingly facing a shortage of such labour.

"Young people don't want to be mushroom pickers. They want to be Uber drivers, they want to be with Didi, they want to be a gaming live-streamer … There are so many alternatives that the new economy has created, so many jobs that have been created beyond our traditional doctors, lawyers, auditors and engineers," she said.

"We need to figure out how much has been created versus focusing on what has been displaced, because what is displaced cannot be replaced ... you just don't have enough 60 or 50-year-olds to be mushroom pickers," she added. "The new economy is good for the world."

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