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G-20: PM Lee allays Singaporeans' fears about digitalisation and jobs

As reported in Straits Times, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong outlined the ways governments can help workers and businesses affected by the onset of digitalisation and new technologies as he spoke at the Group of 20 (G-20). It ultimately boils down to the question of mindset, he said.

At a working lunch on digitalisation, women's empowerment and employment, he asked:  "Are we optimistic or pessimistic about the future? Are we confident in our ability to deal with major change? Do we believe human ingenuity and creativity will improve our lives, or do we fear that it will cause us more problems?"

PM Lee noted that the integration of digital technologies with jobs and everyday life has brought great hope and also great fear.

On the one hand, many people are excited about developments such as personalised medicine, artificial intelligence and deep learning.

Nothing that integration of digital technologies with jobs and daily life brought great hope and fear, PM Lee commented: "These buzzwords have generated entrepreneurial energy and exuberance, and conjured up a brave new world where anything is possible."

ALSO READ: PM Lee outlines plan to help Singapore employers create better jobs

He highlighted how digitalisation has also brought about great fear, as blue-collar workers and professionals are worried that they will lose their jobs as a result of technological advancements.

While Singapore has seen workers displaced and industries disrupted by new technologies, PM Lee added that this fear is not as grave as imagined. The report stated PM Lee believes deep transformation is needed for people and companies to feel hope.

In fact, “companies and industries need to change the way they do business and adopt new technologies, while workers have to change their mindsets and learn new skills,” he added as he pointed how governments can play an active role.

He remarked that governments must provide the right environment, institutions and programmes to help companies enter new markets, as well as develop and adopt new technologies.

They also need to set the right frameworks and rules to promote innovation, and prevent established ways of doing things from holding back progress, he added.

ALSO READ: 2 in 5 believe automation and AI will affect their workforce planning soon

PM Lee cited the sharing economy - from sharing car rides to rooms, bicycles and umbrellas - has caused disruption to traditional companies.

He noted that banning these businesses will deprive people of the benefits they offer. However, they cannot be left unregulated since there was "often good reason to regulate their traditional equivalents".

In the report, PM Lee said that “new ideas and players must be allowed to emerge”, while incumbent players still get a fair chance to adapt and compete.

Workers will also need new skills and the confidence to thrive in the new world while governments can train and equip them, he said.

Besides training workers, governments also need to help those at risk of being displaced adapt to the changing job market, PM Lee advised.

He pointed out schemes such as Singapore's Adapt and Grow that trains displaced workers, match makes them to new jobs, and subsidises their wages as they make the transition.

He cited clean-room workers of electronics plants who received help to move to the medical device industry. These workers learnt to do micro-stitching to make artificial heart valves, he said.

"When it comes to digitalisation and jobs, we must not yield to our fears and anxieties. It is wiser for us to be optimistic and work hard to make our hopes come true,” PM Lee concluded.

Photo / 123RF

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