Naweera Sidik
Marketing Communications Manager
Emergenetics Asia Pacific

By Naweera Sidik, Marketing Communications Manager, Emergenetics Asia Pacific

Emergenetics Asia Pacific and Lifelong Learning Institute, together with South West Community Development Council and WeWork, recently co-organized the Skills Future Festival in Singapore where business leaders came together to share their knowledge and expertise to promote mastery of skills on their lifelong learning journey. In this session, three local leaders weighed in on the role that skills mastery plays in the future workplace and how to prepare for it.

It is a familiar refrain repeated to countless generations of youth in Singapore. If we wanted to have a happy-ever-after, all we needed to do was to study hard, get a good job and we would be all set.

And I have realized that things are no longer the same. The narrative about job stability and a certain future has changed, and new questions are being raised.

One such question that has been surfacing lately is whether skills mastery is still relevant, considering how fast jobs have changed in the last 10 years.

That was the topic tackled on at WeWork Beach Centre, when the Emergenetics Asia Pacific team worked with our partners to kick off the SkillsFuture Festival Executive Series @ WeWork with an Opening Panel discussion. On the panel were:

  • Ms. Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West District and Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Manpower;
  • Mr. Turochas “T” Fuad, Managing Director of WeWork Southeast Asia; and
  • Ms. Ong Chin Yin, Head of People at Grab.

More than 70 corporate executives, business owners and authors of business publications attended the panel that was moderated by Terence Quek, CEO and Master Trainer of Emergenetics Asia Pacific.

The Future of Work – What Does it Look Like?

Having worked with both the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Ministry of Education (MOE) to help determine the landscape of job demand, Mayor Low Yen Ling was the first to share her views on what the future of work would look like. A fourth revolution is upon us, she said, but unlike the first three industry revolutions, the pace of change is going at a much faster rate. Every sector is not only being disrupted, it is being “Grabbed!”, making a tongue-in-cheek reference to Grab, one of the most successful start-ups to disrupt the ride-hailing industry in Southeast Asia.

The platform business model has leveled the field, and in a good way too for consumers. Giants no longer hold all the cards.

If anything, this shows how important adaptability is to maneuver the future landscape, which Ms. Ong Chin Yin described as “highly ambiguous.” Chin Yin saw that work is no longer the traditional ladder that one climbs, but more of a jungle gym where one moves laterally and vertically.

Is Skills Mastery Still Important?

A large percentage of people thought so. Emergenetics Asia Pacific conducted a quick online poll from 19 June to 2 July, from a crowd of 124 individuals to ascertain their views. The results showed that 73 percent of respondents found skills mastery more important in the future workplace than it is today.

23 percent didn’t think it would be more or less important, while 4 percent found skills mastery to be less important, citing reasons such as the ambiguity of future needs and thus, future work.

While most people think that skills mastery is important for the future, what exact skill is important? And, how do we approach skill mastery in light of an ambiguous future?

Mayor Low shared that she believed in the ‘T-approach’ – going deep in skills, but not forgetting to diversify our skillset to other areas of development. Chin Yin opined that one needs to be selective about the skills chosen to go deep in and also take on broad skills that can be applied across any situation and sector. Mr. Turochas “T” Fuad emphasised his belief in investing in people skills, seeing that collaboration is the way forward in work.

Yes, we still need to master skills, and we need to consider the skills of the future.

Skills of the Future

Interestingly, the poll indicated that many of the skills cited to be important in the future enterprise were largely soft skills that revolved around critical thinking, communication and interpersonal relationships.

The three leaders concurred. Turochas remarked that human connection is one of the more important skills to master. Technology will always be there, and it will always evolve, but human-to-human interaction remains a fundamental skill for business. Mayor Low believed suggested that skills such as adaptability, resilience, empathy and conflict resolution would be important to master as one grows into the future, while Chin Yin shared that agility and a learning mindset would be critical to future growth, and to remain competitive.

It quickly dawned upon the audience that it was time to buckle down on our “softer” skills.

Preparing for Future Work

With all this information, I started to wonder if we, as a nation, are indeed prepared for the future enterprise. As a natural worrywart, I began to think back on the last time I had looked into developing my personal communication skills. (The answer was embarrassing.)

Yet the three speakers were more positive. “Anything can be learned” seemed to be the echoing message – and learning has to begin with ME.

Mayor Low encouraged each person to find ways to better understand him or herself, either through profiling (I thought immediately about the Emergenetics Profile) or to truly seek out what puts “a sparkle in your eye.” Turochas dared us to dream, and Chin Yin urged us to travel far and wide, and to “walk in another person’s shoe”.

In all honesty, it doesn’t sound too hard to start.

Mastering Together

But one thing from the session struck a resonating chord. As we pursue our individual growth paths, we must not forget those who are underprivileged and underrepresented – the ones that could use a little bit of help.

I was inspired by how Grab helped the spouses and children of drivers in Indonesia and the Philippines, by empowering them with skills and know-how to grow their income for their families. This helped to protect the family’s income and break the poverty cycle. Grab didn’t have to do this, but they understood the importance of the ecosystem.

Less About Self, More About Community

While the past was about individuals clamoring to be on top of the ladder; the future is about teams helping each other move through the jungle gym.

It seems that the future is still in people.


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