Covid-19 to accelerate structural changes and the future of work, says DPM Heng

COVID-19 already has and will continue to accelerate a series of structural changes around the world, radically changing the shape of globalisation, trade and the future of work. And while it is not possible to say now what shape Singapore's recovery will take, the city-state needs to move quickly to embrace the new economic model that is taking shape, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has said.

Already, the Covid-19 pandemic has created shock waves that will trigger changes that will themselves be built on structural changes already underway, he said in an interview with The Straits Times and The Business Times on Monday. These include the areas of technology and innovation, the shape of globalisation and the future of work.

When you couple globalisation with digitalisation, it changes the labour market in a fundamentally different way, he said. For instance, a person in a developing country can now leverage digitalisation to pick up skills which will make them a viable hire.

Be it jobs in the services economy such as retail or F&B, where digitalisation and fear of clustering is going to result in a new model evolving, or other jobs which may be outsourced, it is imperative that every one upskill or reskill because it is going to be a very different world, he stressed.

"Our job as workers is no longer defined by just a job to do, but rather by the skills and value that we can create."

Asked which categories of workers would be most vulnerable to job losses arising from Covid-19, he said sectors most directly hit by Covid-19 include aviation and tourism, and to some extent, F&B and retail. He added that he does not expect global travel and global tourism to "just bounce back", but he is looking forward with great interest to see how the decision to allow European travel will pan out.

"I'm hoping that it goes well because it's a bold experiment in Europe ... I think if it goes well, we will have hope that global aviation and tourism can recover quickly. But I think it will be realistic for us to learn to live with this Covid-19. I don't think the virus will be eliminated or overcome just like that."

Mr Heng added that despite these challenges, he is optimistic that if Singapore pulls together, we can not only overcome this crisis, but we can emerge stronger.

"The reason why we have to pull together is that we cannot be looking at jobs in isolation. I still believe that organisations that can bring people together will be stronger," said Mr Heng.

Whether bringing people together physically or digitally, partnerships and collaboration will be a significant cornerstone in the new economic model of the future.

"And I believe Singapore has what it takes to make a leap to this new model quickly and allow people to continue to have good jobs."

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