Young leaders discuss the future of work

Mrs Teo and Assoc Prof Tan engaging in a dialogue session with the delegates

The third edition of the Singapore Summit Young Societal Leaders (YSL) Programme — organised by Temasek Foundation in partnership with NUS — brought together 18 delegates from across Asia and beyond who helm organisations that are making an impact on society. Themed “Catalysts for an Inclusive Tomorrow”, the participants engaged in robust discussions with their peers, as well as established business and thought leaders to share perspectives and experiences on global societal issues over the four-day programme.

At the welcome dinner on 18 September, the young leaders took part in a dialogue with Guest-of-Honour Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs, on how the workforce can continue to thrive amidst challenges brought about by the fourth industrial revolution.

Opening the dialogue, Mrs Teo shared how she has seen technology being used to perform repetitive, mundane tasks, freeing up workers to pursue work that is more interesting and meaningful. However, she warned against the use of technology for the sake of it, sharing an anecdote about a warehouse where a smart robot could locate items efficiently, but still required a worker to perform the menial task of moving items from the shelf to a cart for transportation.

We all expect that the future of work will be reshaped. The question is how it will be reshaped and whether we can anticipate, and if we have a better sense of what to expect, what we can do about it.

The Minister went on to encourage the delegates to focus less on the jobs that may be lost as companies embrace digitisation and the use of robots and artificial intelligence, and more on how jobs will change to adapt to new technology. “We all expect that the future of work will be reshaped. The question is how it will be reshaped and whether we can anticipate, and if we have a better sense of what to expect, what we can do about it,” she explained.

Responding to a question from Ms Cherrie D Atilano, founder and chief executive of an agricultural social enterprise in the Philippines, about how to empower women to seek leadership positions, Mrs Teo said that women still take on more of the caregiving responsibilities at home. “What we think of when we talk about women’s empowerment in Singapore today is what the practical ways are that can allow women to continue to advance in their professional lives and that means helping to take care of other commitments, primarily the family,” she added. Using Singapore as an example, she shared that this could be done by improving childcare and eldercare offerings.


Mrs Teo and Emeritus Senior Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong, Patron of the Singapore Summit, posing with YSL delegates

Mr Ken Chua, founder of (these)abilities, an inclusive design and technology agency that works with companies to accommodate persons with disabilities, asked the Minister what can be done to promote the value that persons with disabilities bring to the workforce. Mrs Teo acknowledged that education and familiarisation about the needs and abilities of this community can help improve their employability. “In the earlier days of Singapore’s development, understanding the whole range of disabilities, how to intervene and bring out human potential even with these disabilities — that was not something we were able to do very well… In today’s context, I think I see much more optimism. We are understanding disabilities better, intervening in the child’s life much earlier, and we’re giving him much better opportunities to develop his abilities so that by the time he is ready to join the workforce, his options are expanded,” she said.

The dialogue was moderated by Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.