Speech by Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport, Mrs Josephine Teo, at the UniSIM Convocation Ceremony 201409 Oct 2014
Venue: SIM University
Speaker: Mrs Josephine Teo
Mr Gerard Ee
Chancellor and Chairman, SIM University
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat
President, SIM University
Ladies and gentlemen
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me.
2. I can sense the pride in you and your family and I feel very honoured to be a part of this very significant milestone in your life.
3. As you know, Singapore celebrates 50 years of nation-building next year.
4. Earlier this year, we introduced the Pioneer Generation Package to honour the contributions of Singaporeans who stuck with Singapore through thick and thin, especially in the early years of our independence when we were a struggling new nation.
5. We have much to thank the Pioneers for, because they did more than help to build the Singapore of today. They have given Singapore the foundation upon which to scale greater heights and created opportunity for successive generations of Singaporeans – yours and mine - to be pioneers in our own ways.
6. In recent months when I have met Pioneers, I can see how thrilled they are to be honoured. You see, they belong to the generation who didn’t think that what they did was particularly special. When they toiled away, they did so out of a sense of duty, out of love for their families, and often because there was no other choice.
7. Many of them feel they did little more than what should be expected of them as good citizens, good children, good parents, good siblings, and good colleagues. They thought it was quite ordinary. And yet collectively, it was this accumulation of many little good but ordinary things the Pioneers did in all of their varied roles that gave us the extra-ordinary Singapore of today.
8. But why am I talking about Pioneers today?
9. Because in you, I am hopeful we will find the same pioneering spirit that brought Singapore this far, to take us forward the next 50 years.
10. You see, Singapore is a work-in-progress and will always be.
11. However much we develop as a nation, we cannot change the fact that we are small. There are dozens of quite liveable cities (not countries!) in Asia alone with populations bigger than ours, and more to come. However much we develop, there is a limit to our size. When you are a small country, you adapt to the world around you; not the other way round. And since the world will constantly be changing, we will have to adapt constantly. Adaptation has to be the name of our game.
12. That’s why I say we will always be a work-in-progress: we can always get better and we may never arrive. But that is really not such a bad thing; because what it means then is that every successive generation of Singaporeans gets to re-invent ourselves. Indeed, we have to, in response to changes around us that we cannot prevent from happening.
13. Some changes pose challenges, but also opportunities. Take the world of work, for example. Let me share two developments that you may already have heard of.
14. The first is online talent exchanges, which are the new marketplaces for work. Portals such as Elance.com and oDesk.com allow anyone with an internet connection to respond to job offers from anywhere in the world. In one instance when a company in US advertised a translation job on Elance, it attracted 25 bids from individuals in 15 countries including Uruguay. This sort of online work is expected to reach US$2 billion this year and rise to US$5 billion in 2018.
15. Another development is that service sector jobs are becoming increasingly automated. In the legal sector, observers see the potential for the breaking down of professional work into its component parts, and for many of these parts to be standardised or made available with online service. Already there is an online legal service provider which boasts 30 million users, where subscribers pay a monthly fee for instant access to pre-prepared documents and tutorials, as well as legal advice from experts at participating firms.
16. In the financial sector, IBM has worked with several banks to provide “customer service agents” services using its Watson computer system, which beat two former champions in the Jeopardy game show a few years ago. Watson’s capacity for natural-language processing and its ability to tap into a large amount of data suggest that this system could speak plainly with callers, offering them specific advice on even technical and complex questions.
17. How does this impact you and me?
18. First, the competition for jobs is not always in Singapore, and may not even be with another human. We can prevent too many foreign PMEs from coming to work in Singapore but can we prevent companies here from sending them more work wherever they are located? We can’t, just as Robinsons cannot stop you from bypassing their store in The Heeren to shop online for the best bargains. You have Amazon and Alibaba. Businesses will have their own versions for getting work done by people anywhere, everywhere.
19. Ironically, when you have many more competitors joining the field, you can still have a shortage; not a shortage of people to do the job, but a shortage of specialist skills and deep expertise. For example, you can find any number of people round the world to translate a task list in a food factory, but there are only a small number who can do so for a pilot’s manual.
20. And, while robots can do some of the jobs for humans, it does not have the human touch, the ability to convey love and warmth. So careers like nursing and childcare are not easily replaced. And I don’t know about you, I can eat the char kway teow fried by a robot but I still wouldn’t trust a robot to cut my hair!
21. The second impact is that we cannot expect to succeed in the same way our parents did. Our parents’ generations thought of their lives as distinct stages of learning followed by working and income-generation. In school, you learn. At work, you earn. They performed clearly-defined tasks most of the time and focussed on getting better bit by bit.
22. However, the nature of work and what will contribute to effectiveness and performance is evolving rapidly. Companies themselves have to constantly adapt or go out of business. So too must industries. This means that skills learnt could easily become obsolete or inadequate and people have to deepen existing skills or learn new ones, sometimes very quickly. What this means is that we don’t just need to learn new skills, we need to develop the skills for learning:
a. how to un-learn and re-learn;
b. how to have skills that are portable – you can use it here, you can use it there.
23. In other words, our honing of skills and expertise has to be a lifelong, learning journey without end. The Government has known this for some time. To give the matter more urgency and attention, we have set up the SkillsFuture Council to bring the industry, union and education sector together in charting out our manpower strategies, sector by sector. There is no guarantee we can succeed. But it is only through such a concerted, effort on developing deep and future-ready skills that we might turn this potential problem into opportunities, and re-invent Singapore in the process.
24. So, now that you will be armed with a new degree, you may be thinking of re-inventing yourself or your career too. Here are three things you might think about:
25. One, what is the special thing you are doing or can be doing, that is not just good but outstanding? This is important because, as I illustrated in the example of online talent exchanges, your best assurance of job relevance is specialist skills and deep expertise i.e. being one of a few who can do something or do it really well, and certainly better than a robot can.
26. Two, when you have identified this special thing, what can you do to become even better at it, and possibly the best in the field? The fact is that if that if you’re not getting better, someone else is. The world is constantly moving.
27. Three, are you taking charge to move out of your comfort zone, and if not, what are you waiting for? After all, the Government is determined to help you and we are determined that employers come on board with their full support too.
28. You see, we can’t re-invent Singapore without each of us re-inventing ourselves in some way. And, as the Pioneers have shown us, we can move mountains when we put our hearts and minds to it.
29. So, to everyone who is graduating today, may this milestone not mark the end your journey in education, but the beginning of a new chapter in your life of learning, with many more chapters to come.
30. Hold your heads high and continue to give of your best for your families and our beloved Singapore. Congratulations once again!