Be ready with new skills, not just any skill but those that are related to your workplace by paying attention to the emerging skills and trends in your industry, says Patrick Tay Teck Guan, MP-Elect for Pioneer SMC, Asst Secretary-General, NTUC, in this exclusive.

For many, the past few months have been plagued with immense anxiety for what the future holds and how we can survive through COVID-19. As we gradually move towards the reopening of the economy, the questions weighing on our minds are: What’s next? How do we brave through a post pandemic era, and prepare ourselves for the future ahead, when we don’t even know what the future holds?

This is why I embarked on putting together a four-part series, “Let’s Talk About…” on Facebook Live and Zoom, regarding issues revolving around jobs, work from home, skills and training, and employment rights.The series is my attempt at helping to shed some light on the current situation surrounding work, so that together, we can forge a solution through the new challenges brought about by the pandemic.

In the episode where we talked about skills and training, the focus was on how we can learn new skills and future-proof ourselves in this post-pandemic era. This was followed by a poll (conducted among 61 participants), and here are some key highlights uncovered:

patrick tay poll provided 

The idea of equipping ourselves with new skills is something that everyone is aware of – especially now more than ever. I dare say that it is easy to preach about the need to upskill, but how many of us can walk the talk and practise what we preach? Surprisingly, 68.9% of the respondents had learnt something new in the past two months to help them with their future career. Many of us, myself included, have also been increasing our usage of virtual platforms such as Zoom for online courses, as evident by how Zoom’s stock had soared by more than 250% this year. These developments are but a foretaste of the technological change that is to come and is something we should be prepared for.

"If we spend 20 years of our lives preparing for our first job. shouldn’t we spend the rest of our lives injecting ourselves with new skills to prepare for the rest of our future?"

Age is but a number

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, the labour market has undergone tremendous change, and this is likely to continue. As we move into a low-touch economy, the way we work will be impacted and many are concerned about their future livelihoods. As Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing aptly put in his recent national broadcast: “We will create opportunities for all Singaporeans, no matter how old you are, to improve your lives at every stage of your careers. So long as you are able and willing, we will support you.”

Whether you are a fresh graduate, a worker in your mid-career or a self-employed individual, the importance of equipping yourself with new skills for the new economy has never been so starkly highlighted until now. It is thus encouraging to know that 94.3% of respondents agree that age is not a factor and that they can train and upskill at any age.The pandemic has brought about new waves of challenges with more to come, and only those who can future proof and equip themselves with new and relevant skills will be able to emerge from the other side unscathed.

patrick tay flexible working provided

Never let a crisis go to waste

Amidst the impending downturn and uncertainties, we should utilise this downtime to get up to speed on in-demand skills. COVID-19 has accelerated our digital trajectory and pushed many businesses and workers to embrace the digital world. Many respondents who took part in the poll were divided as to whether their skills are sufficient to prepare for the future of work and future jobs. In fact, if we spend 20 years of our lives preparing for our first job. shouldn’t we spend the rest of our lives injecting ourselves with new skills to prepare for the rest of our future?

Even before the pandemic, the Government and the Labour Movement had urged Singaporeans to take timely action to reskill and upskill, to seize new career opportunities. Make good use of the SkillsFuture Credit that has been put in place: the one-off SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 for Singaporeans aged 25 and above, and the additional S$500 for those aged 40 to 60.To that end, it is very encouraging that 76.4% of our respondents agree that the SkillsFuture Credit has been very useful for them to pick up new skills for their future.

The Labour Movement is also playing our part to ensure that workers have access to help and support for their training needs. NTUC union members can also rely on the Union Training Assistance Programme (UTAP) which allows for 50% of unfunded course fee support of up to S$250 each year. What’s more, in line with our continued push to help middle-aged PMEs, union members aged 40 and above will receive up to S$500 a year under UTAP, to defray out-of-pocket expenses for course fees.

This goes to show that learning can be limitless; neither confined to the classroom nor only for the young. For those who are not able to tap on these training support, fret not – the multitude of resources online means that you can seek out alternative avenues, such as EdX or Coursera to gain new knowledge.

While gaining new expertise is important, we must also be mindful of the emerging and in-demand skills to keep ourselves relevant, and not do so blindly. Keep a lookout for technological and digital skills, and make sure that you are comfortable navigating through new software and technology. Deepen your existing skillsets and equip yourself with adaptive skills such as strategic thinking and effective communication. Stay open minded and adaptable. The pandemic has ushered in a new age of learning and this is the best time for us to pick up new skills, to become learners forged in the crucible of COVID-19. We should not let it go to waste – it is now or never.

That said, many may still be anxious and feel unprepared for the jobs of tomorrow. This is reflected by how only 32.7%of the respondents feel confident that their skills are sufficient to prepare for the work of the future jobs. On a similar note, 48.1% also expressed that the skills for the jobs out there are changing all the time and that they are not able to keep up.The reality is that with or without COVID-19, changes in the economy are bound to happen. COVID-19 has merely accelerated these changes and transformation.

Our plans for digitalisation and internationalisation have been years in the making.Similarly, the push for a smart nation, or the efforts in nurturing a regional and global presence for Singapore businesses are not new ideas, and we do not need to look upon them with dread and trepidation.The instinct to be safe can urge us to resist change, but change is what is demanded of us in the new economy in order to be safe.

Will it be difficult? Yes,change is never easy but this ability to adapt will be the most crucial factor that sets apart those who succeed from those who fail. In a post-pandemic world, it is only the agile who will survive. 

Moving forward: Staying ready, relevant, and resilient

No one knows what the future holds. The post-pandemic era could be a return back to how it was before, or we could be navigating through an unrecognisable new normal. In a world full of uncertainties, one thing remains certain – we need to stay ready, relevant, and resilient if we want to bounce back from this pandemic and emerge stronger than before.

Be ready with new skills, not just any skill but those that are related to your workplace by paying attention to the emerging skills and trends in your industry. Hone your existing expertise in your current domain and deepen your skillsets. Keep yourself relevant for changing and emerging jobs, especially as we transition into a digital economy and will face a whole new set of challenges. Technological and digital skills should be something you have and are comfortable with.

Lastly, stay resilient by maximising this opportunity with targeted upskilling efforts and stay positive for the challenges ahead. Learning should never end just because you are no longer in school. We need to take initiative and responsibility for our own learning, the road has been paved for us and it is up to us to take the first step.

Utilise the resources available and keep a healthy and positive mindset so that you can confront the uncertainties brought about by digital transformation. Lean on your family and friends for support during this hard time – our connection is what makes us stronger and will help us pull through this crisis.

So how do we stay ahead of the curve? The answer is simple: it starts with you; it starts with me.

Lead photo / 123RF
Graphic / Provided