“New technologies also enable the prediction and prevention of problems before they occur.”

The Skills to Jobs Conundrum: Understanding the Effect on the Ground

Reading Time: 5:30 minutes

By Christopher Yu, Industry Business Architect (Public Sector), Singapore, SAP

Lifelong learning: What does it mean to the layman?

Over the past few decades, policymakers have been placing increasing emphasis on skill mastery and lifelong learning.

We read about the massive shifts regarding the future of work: Industries which are fast changing as a result of technologies and disruptions. And skills needed to keep up that are evolving more rapidly than ever. We understand automation is threatening to displace jobs. And that the gig economy is redefining the employer-employee relationship as freelancers and contractors fill roles previously occupied by full-time employees. As a result, workplace dynamics have changed. And so has the need to upgrade ourselves and develop a mastery of skills to become more productive, more relevant and more competitively employable to maximize our potential.

But what exactly does that mean to the layman on the ground? And how is it relevant to his or her everyday work and personal life?

Changing priorities and philosophies

In the past, people spoke about one career for life. The concept offered financial stability in the matter of providing for the family, paying for the mortgage, placing food on the table and even setting aside funds for vacations. Today, with many having multiple careers, we hardly talk about this anymore. Financial stability or long-term clarity on how to provide for the family have also taken a backseat as topics for further discourse.

In this context, what does lifelong learning signify to the people? Do citizens see it a means to increasing economic benefit, i.e. getting a job or higher wages? Do they regard it as a platform for greater employer recognition and career development? Is it supposed to be an activity one undertakes if he or she is unemployed? Or one that keeps senior citizens occupied and in good mental health?

Changing expectations

Amid these changes we are witnessing in personal priorities and philosophies, it appears that expectations are changing too.

Some examples I encountered in my previous work included a lady who, then unemployed, used to earn $10,000 per month. She rejected a job with a wage of $10,000 per month because she felt the offer was beneath what she was capable of after having upgraded with a specialized master’s degree. Another illustration was from a person with a disability. He lives in Tampines and therefore rejected a job offer in Tuas (these two towns are about 48 km apart). That was fair enough. He was then identified for a job in Tampines. But he wanted $1,500 instead of the $1,200 per month offer. He also felt it was too much of a hassle as he would have had to take several buses to get to work. So, that job was turned down as well.

The case in point here isn’t about how unappreciative these people are. Rather, it is about a few important aspects that we perhaps need to pay deeper attention to. First, we need to recognize that expectations have changed. People no longer jump at the first job opportunity even if they have been unemployed for a while.

Second, we need to consider whether we have accurately communicated the facts and our intentions. Do our people and businesses understand the economic outlook? Does an individual know what he or she needs to consider regarding one’s employability and long-term aspirations in such an outlook? What about businesses? And how lifelong learning comes into the picture?

Third, these factors, when combined with an aging population, make it evident that talent will become scarcer. We will have to be more comprehensive in managing the changing workforce demographics and friction. In today’s digital and experience economy, that entails using innovative technologies to make intelligent decisions. Plus know the outcomes on the ground.

Skills to jobs: What’s the effect on the ground?

Very often, we have the top line numbers such as the number of job portal page views, number of people attending workshops or the number of users of a certain scheme. But what about the bottom-line data? Data such as who undertakes adult learning and why? What are the outcomes in terms of employment and wages, as well as citizen and business satisfaction? Are the many roadshows promoting culinary and IT literacy classes, or cybersecurity courses translating into happy, engaged and employed citizens? Are businesses getting the right skillsets they need amid all these efforts?

As with all implementations, it’s the effect on the ground that matters. We need to know if the skills acquired from lifelong learning efforts are translating into desirable jobs that can improve people’s lives and drive economic prosperity. Or if directed at individual social and personal well-being which is also an important aspect, whether these efforts are reaping those outcomes.

This is perhaps not as apparent as we wish right now though we are seeing efforts in that direction.

For example, more and more companies are facilitating education in fields that require skillsets aligned to their business objectives. The SAP Skills University Singapore, a collaborative effort between SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), the Polytechnics and SAP, is one such initiative. Microsoft and Oracle have similar ventures. Such schemes nurture individuals with skillsets for roles in demand. So, people with interest in such opportunities can get trained and hired. That means the input in terms of investment in time and dollars – both from the individual’s and the company’s perspectives – will result in an output that’s desirable, and an outcome that’s beneficial to both parties.

Knowing the impact

As innovations emerge making it possible for personalized public service at scale, government agencies should also consider how to harness these technologies for policy development and implementation. For instance, it is already possible now to use Qualtrics to extract data from every engagement point with citizens and businesses to be turned into actionable insights. By facilitating a deeper understanding of the people served, these new technologies also enable the prediction and prevention of problems before they occur. That would allow the relevant agencies to optimize the experience for people and companies and build trust by meeting their expectations.

Afterall, we don’t want new skillsets and productivity to just bring in foreign direct investment (FDI). We also want it to bring in quality jobs which can in turn improve lives.

Today, in Singapore, the Economic Development Board brings in FDI. Workforce Singapore (under the Ministry of Manpower) readies the people to meet their career aspirations and helps businesses in the creation of quality jobs and a manpower pipeline to support growth. SkillsFuture (under the Ministry of Education) strengthens the ecosystem of education and training in Singapore, which in turn helps ready individuals for fulfilling careers.

Together, these entities have the missions of addressing economic growth and the realization of the aspirations of citizens in a transforming world. It is important that these organizations know they are accomplishing these missions, along with the actual impact on the society and economy. In today’s rapidly evolving world, knowing we are creating the right outcomes would make the efforts truly fulfilling. And investing in technologies would definitely help them realize this vision objectively and effectively, with enhanced citizen experience.

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