Singapore's workforce hopes for global equality amidst pandemic

As work opportunities continue to wither, Singaporeans wish for a better future.

With massive struggles and challenges, 2020 has changed the way Singaporeans live, socialise, and do business. One of the most hard-hit areas of impact this year is the employment sector.

Salesforce Singapore’s general manager Cecily Ng said that it is clear that Singapore is in the midst of a jobs crisis. Singaporeans have concerns surrounding jobs, as 81% said income equality is not improving, whilst 72% said access to job opportunities is not improving.

At this stage of the pandemic, businesses have a bigger role to play and are expected to step up in order to help alleviate some of the critical issues. The clearest change for businesses in Singapore would be the sudden adoption of remote work, with 69% of Singapore respondents saying remote work would become the norm, whilst 64% of respondents saying that remote work has empowered them to live where they want. Despite how widely accepted it has become, remote work is still considered a luxury for some, with 71% agreeing remote work is only available to a select few.

“In terms of priorities, as companies harness technology to emerge from the pandemic stronger than before, there is a clear shift to ensure the workforce learn to build adaptability, build resilience and undergo employee training and skill development to respond to the ever changing work environment the pandemic has opened us up to,” she explained.

Work trends
As people’s understanding of work continues to change in Singapore and around the world, the need for leadership and collaboration remains constant. Whilst technology can help retool and reskill, people will ultimately rely on soft skills to thrive both in the physical and digital workplace.

In the digital economy, the products sold, the expectations of customers, and the nature of work will transform. Similarly, the journey to building soft skills is never-ending.

Working from anywhere, the challenge ought not to be just how companies manage teams but how to empower them. Beyond seeking to maintain levels of morale, employers must cultivate a shared sense of purpose wherever they are. Investing in hard skills will help us do jobs better and keep companies competitive.

“It’s our commitment to building interpersonal connections, willingness to trust one another, to work and lead with empathy which will make our workplaces great,” Ng said.

Singaporeans have gotten used to working remotely. Employees have not just transitioned to the practice quickly but are now urgently reskilling to succeed in an all-digital world.

In a research conducted by Salesforce through its Global Stakeholder Series, more Singaporeans are looking to upskill, with 75% of people wishing they had access to free training and 64% of people becoming more interested in online learning since the pandemic. Employees without the option to work remotely are also seeking access to better technology, with 55% of non-remote workers saying that they don't have technology to effectively help them in their jobs.

Tech in work beyond COVID
Before being spurred on by the pandemic, the practice of remote work is already on the trajectory of being a norm in the future.

Thanks to the abundance of technologies that are readily available at our fingertips, companies, regardless of size, are now able to work anywhere with flexibility and cost-effectively. Companies that are seeking to make work-from-home the default simply have to ensure that the technological framework they put together allows their users to access data from anywhere and work remotely; share information wherever they are; keep hardware costs low; keep up with customer expectations; automatically do technology updates; and backup data with ease.

“COVID-19 has rewired the fabric of global society, challenged companies across every industry, and of every size, to radically transform the way they operate and serve their stakeholders. This era of hyperspeed requires a values-based, human-centric approach. In order for technology to complement society, it must work in tandem with humans,” Ng said.

She added that having a comprehensive technological framework in place can be instrumental in addressing these, but companies also need to be guided by principles to maintain a balance in a values-based, human centric approach. Companies need to ensure that the technology framework that they build rapidly as a response to the crisis also has ethical considerations in mind, such as protecting human rights and equality; honoring transparency; minimising data collection; taking a long-term approach; and ensuring the security of personal data.

Careful considerations, meaningful collaborations, as well as strong communications with employees will be the best way forward as a values-based, human-centric approach to technology, in ensuring employee safety at work, workplace design, and reskilling.

The responses are directly linked to local respondent’s concerns over the uncertainties COVID-19 has brought about surrounding maintaining work performance, workplace safety, and job insecurity.

However, Singaporeans still have some anxieties as businesses slowly work towards full recovery as the coronavirus has not been completely eradicated despite its low numbers, thus safety at work remains a top concern.

As for workplace design, properly equipped technology in the workplace will be instrumental in helping the workforce remain productive and collaborative. More companies are rethinking the workspace, and are now designing around a hybrid model of home and office, a new workspace that is effective during and beyond the pandemic.

“Similarly, the focus on reskilling is also about preparing themselves for the new workplace as the implementation of technologies that helps drive us forward despite the pandemic induced slowdowns may also inevitably mean that the world is going to be increasingly digital,” she added.

Future with adaptability
As more businesses shut down under the weight of the pandemic, many workers are losing their jobs, whilst some are being reskilled and redeployed. Reskilling will only become more important as technologies like AI and machine learning automate existing jobs.

Singapore must align its education system to emphasise skills and practical learning rather than mere degrees. As for the active workforce, Singapore must also make it easier for workers to retrain themselves and stay relevant. 

How people work is forever changed in the pandemic’s aftermath, with some jobs disappearing, and new ones emerging. The future will see a growing need for skills in data analysis, data science, and software development.

Ng further explained that AI will also fundamentally change the way people live, work, and relate to one another and revolutionise every aspect of business and is set to transform personal and professional lives.

To thrive in the AI-driven future of work, companies will need employees who can quickly acquire new skills, such as how to adapt to and collaborate with the increasingly capable machines alongside them in the workplace. To train and retrain employees, companies need to think more like academies and cultivate a mindset of continual learning, transform how they do business, as well as prepare employees for the future of work.

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