Sustainable Employment for the Long Term

In a lively scenario planning exercise among business leaders, industry experts, and top academia hosted by SBF last year, two potential trajectories for Singapore in 2040 were surfaced.

The “Globalism” scenario envisions Singapore as a hyper-competitive city state with a sizeable number of dominant firms driving innovation and the economy, while the average SME finds it a challenge to stay in the game. Vulnerable employee groups such as older workers, freelancers, and those in blue collar jobs face downward pressures on wages and social polarisation deepens.

The other scenario, “Renaissance”, imagines an innovative and agile city state.  SMEs, start-ups, and solopreneurs flourish alongside larger firms. Singaporeans have a plethora of options to make a living – full-time, part-time, and own-account employment, as well as opportunities for sabbaticals for self-development. The social compact is stronger in spite of the challenges associated with a silvering populating, increasing global competition, and the bifurcation of technology.

These scenarios are not predictions, but extreme projections meant to provoke conversations about Singapore’s strategies for the future. With this long view in mind, public and private sector stakeholders have a shared interest in preparing for the future and developing profitable businesses and sustainable employment for Singaporeans.

For the business community, sustainable employment in the areas of building vital skills as well as embracing new models for the future of work is key to long-term business success and growth.

Building Vital Skills for the Future of Work

McKinsey Global Institute predicted in 2017 that by 2030, up to 30% of the global workforce could have their work potentially displaced by automation and up to 14% would need to switch occupational categories. This pace of change is now magnified with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in acceleration digital transformation and adoption.

At the Sustainable Employment Conference held last year, Mr Jason Ho Executive Vice President and Head of Group Human Resources at OCBC bank shared, “When you (employers) are able to upskill your PMETs, you are able to reposition your business in order to remain competitive.”

Human capital is one of the most valuable components of any business and a key determinant of how productive, innovative, and successful a company is. As with any investment, there is an initial cost involved and a long-term view is needed to balance this against the subsequent benefits to be reaped. The Government has prioritised the upskilling and reskilling of Singaporeans with a suite of resources that has been put in place and enhanced in response to the challenges brought about by COVID-19. Businesses must be proactive in taking the lead to identify potential job disruptions and new opportunities, develop robust  training and development plans for the upskilling of their workforce, and tap on the relevant Government programmes and grants for optimum impact.


Embracing New Models for the Future of Work

The traditional 9 to 5 workday may soon be a thing of past as companies embrace new employment models to gain access to and attract a wider pool of talents. DBS Bank recently rolled out a voluntary job sharing scheme as a form of flexible work arrangement where two or more people share the responsibilities of one full-time job. While not many in Singapore are familiar with this employment model, the business case for job sharing includes greater work-life integration and more time for upskilling for employees, as well as increased productivity and a wider pool of capabilities to tap on for employers[1].

Another employment model is that of multiskilling, as exemplified by the latest effort by Gardens by the Bay to cross-train a central pool of employees in guest relations management, security operations compliance and customer experience. Similar to job sharing, this allows employers to ramp up or scale down their manpower deployment based on operational requirements. As the Singapore economy faces a K-shaped recovery where an economy and its industries recuperate unevenly, businesses should be open about exploring and adopting new models to provide meaningful career pathways for their employees in tandem with the needs of the businesses.

As the future of work bodes more fluid modes of engagement with job sharing, multiskilling, remote working etc. gaining traction, employee engagement will also need to evolve. For some business and human resource leaders, this may entail a shift from a “parent-child” type of engagement to that of a  “peer-to-peer” relationship where employers and employees take on joint responsibility for charting an individual’s career and training roadmap and enriching his or her job functions to contribution more effectively to busines goals.


The Sustainable Employment Pledge

Keen to get started on improving your company’s sustainable employment practices in areas of building vital skills as well as embracing new models for the future of work to drive long-term business success and growth? Join over 160 like-minded organisations in taking the Sustainable Employment Pledge and be a part of this growing community committed to sustainable employment and building a bright and inclusive future for all Singaporeans.

The Sustainable Employment Pledge was initiated as part of the launch of a special report by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) titled “Sustainable Employment – Achieving Purposeful Business Success Together”. A by-business-for-business initiative, the report called on businesses to step up efforts on the upskilling and reskilling of PMETs as well as redesigning jobs with the needs and strengths of mature workers in mind.

For more information on Sustainable Employment, visit our webpage or reach us at [email protected]



By Yvette Chee, Director for Strategic Planning, Strategy and Development Division, Singapore Business Federation