Wide talent networks, continuous learning are key in future of work: Chan Chun Sing

MORE than the local-foreign composition of Singapore's workforce, a bigger challenge of work today is "how wide and how deep a talent network a company or country can command, to determine our speed of evolution to outrun the competition", said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Sep 20).

This is because the nature of work, especially for high value-added work, is no longer confined to a specific geographical locality, he said in a speech at the Singapore Institute of Management's Future of Work series.

 "The real matrix of success for Singapore is… how many good opportunities we create for Singaporeans in Singapore and beyond through our ability to combine our talents with those from around the world," he said.

To remain competitive, he added, we must be able to "refresh the entire workforce at scale and at speed, which will require a stretch goal of having 20 to 30 per cent of our people learning something new every year".

"If we only depend on the flow of 30,000 to 40,000 graduates from our education system, we are only renewing our workforce at a rate of 1 to 2 per cent per year,"

Group chief executive officer of Singtel Yuen Kuan Moon, a panellist in the event's discussion of the future of work, said: "With the current great resignation, or great reshuffle, we are looking at a 15, 20 per cent annual attrition rate. How are you going to replace (workers) fast enough? There's no way… we have to look inwards."

James Dyson, chairman and founder of tech giant Dyson, who gave a speech at the event, said: "The future of work, and the future of education, is one and the same. Education is a never-ending continuum."

Chan said that institutions should work with industries, "providing just in time, specific training modules for workers to enable the industry transformation to take place".

In the evolving work environment, individuals who can command a premium are those who can continuously learn, look ahead to seek solutions and collaborate with others, he added.

He believes that rather than providing short-term education, institutions should nurture a culture of lifelong learning to "sensitise our students to shortened career cycles, and the need to constantly upgrade themselves", as the lifespans of Fortune 500 companies shrink.

Microsoft Singapore's managing director Lee Hui Li, who was also on the future of work panel, added that in the company's culture: "You don't need to know it all, but you need to learn it all".

The curricula employees studied may not be relevant in 10 years, she said. What is important is a good mindset, willingness to learn and soft skills such as critical thinking.

Chan said that individuals, industries and institutions need to "go beyond the basics of solving yesterday's problems with yesterday's solutions".

"Lifelong learning is a whole of society movement," he said.

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