Preparing for an automatic future

There has been many articles written about how automation will change the face of work. Recently, there has been many advertisements, both print, radio and on television, about the first ever tech conference for youth and parents in Asia. It’s a conference that will allow both parents and youth to understand about the changing nature of technology and how we can adapt to the future.

While the future of automation seem uncertain, one thing is certain, we will see a much more automated and technological future. I recently read an article on The New York Times “How to Beat the Robots” by Claire Cain Miller. In the article, Claire shared on some policies that economists and policy experts think could help workers in the future.

More Education, and Different Kinds

With jobs requiring more skilled workers, we need to increase college enrollment. This is something that is already being done locally, with the setting up of new universities, thereby opening up much more spaces for undergraduates.

For those who lack bachelor’s degrees for varying reasons, vocational training could be an option. The Earn and Learn Programme is a start, but it will probably needs to be better refined to adapt to the changing job landscape.

Government retraining programmes such as the Professional Conversion Programme is helpful to retrain some workers in a dynamic economic environment.

There should be a greater focus on teaching technical skills such as coding in the primary and secondary schools. I see this already happening with pilots done in certain schools. This is encouraging, however, policy makers need to move much faster, considering that the cycle of change in today’s world is much quicker and shorter than before.

Finally, we need to learn flexibility and how to learn new things. This ability to be flexible and pick up new things would put us in good stead to handle an ever-changing world.

Create New and Better Jobs

Subsidize private employment (such as the wage support credit for companies) or even volunteer jobs such as paying people for caregiving jobs. Caregivers play such an important role, especially in our ageing society, that paying them better could increase the labour supply to these labour-intensive roles and possibly improve the quality of service.

Make-work, meaning we create employment such as government-funded jobs gardening in parks or reading to older people. This can provide employment opportunities to locals while reducing the dependence on foreign workers. Also, it can seek to build up a greater sense of community as people are working to make their environment better.

Focusing on key areas such as advanced manufacturing. In the recent Committee of Future Economy report, there has been some key pillars identified in the economy, which will be the areas of focus.

Bolster the Safety Net

While we are unlikely to see universal basic income anytime soon in Singapore, we definitely have safety nets available, such as Workfare and the recently announced PMET wage support.

Change the Way Work is Done

With more and more people working as freelancers, we need to explore greater benefits for freelance workers.

Make it easier to start small businesses. Singapore is already one of the easiest places in the world to start a business but can we do more? With the recent announcement during the Committee of Supply debate, there seems to be more support for startups.

Shorten the workweek. This is pretty interesting, but one option that can be employed so we don’t see unemployment in the economy. In Germany, there is job sharing.

Give Workers more of the Profits

The rise in automation and technology has resulted in phenomenal wealth but greater inequality, in terms of income distribution. There needs to be a way to redistribute this income in a more equitable manner, else there may be unrest arising from inequality.

Bill Gates suggested taxing robots, which can be a source of revenue for the government and could be use to fund social programmes or provide support to workers who do not benefit from automation.

While most of the policies above are meant to be undertaken by the government, as an individual, there are some steps you can take to prevent yourself from being taken over by a robot, such as being flexible in your thinking and being willing to pick up new skills along the way.

“How to make the forces of technology and globalization work for people and not against them is the biggest public policy challenge in America,” Mr. Kessler said. “The rise of populism, both on the left and the right, is because middle-income voters feel that their elected leaders don’t have the answer to this question.”

In a similar way, Singapore must be ready to step up to the challenges posed by changing technology and increased automation. Policy makers need to be in tune with the changing landscape and be proactive and daring in advocating for policies that will benefit the population. Only then, can we reduce the rise of populism that we see sprouting all around the world.

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