Fostering an inclusive and diverse workforce for the future of work
Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth & Transport, at the Singapore Human Resources Institute Future of Work Forum, at 80RR Fintech Hub SG
22 May 2019
Ms Low Peck Kem, President, Singapore Human Resources Institute
Mr Eddie Lee, Executive Director, SHRI
Ladies and gentlemen,
- Good morning. I would like to thank SHRI for inviting me to share my views on the future of work. I am from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and we see the youth as our future. And in my work in the Ministry of Transport, some may see it as a more established industry so how do we, at the same time, take care of the more mature workers and how we can help them adapt to the future of work.
- Indeed, many changes are coming our way. The work we do will be increasingly complemented – not replaced - by automation and Artificial Intelligence. We need to find people who are dynamic and innovative to do the future of work. We will also no longer keep to traditional work structures and office spaces, as technology gives us more room to collaborate.
- The exact nature of how these trends will unfold is something that no one can predict with certainty; but what we can anticipate is that the impact will be distributed unevenly across industries. I believe that even within each industry, across different types of work - this impact will be uneven. The global transport industry was one of the first to be hit by this disruption.
- We know of Grab, the ride-hailing service. In fact, the government is also learning how to deal with and regulate it, while at the same time allowing new services and business models to have the chance to be developed and benefit the public at large. Retail is also being shaped by e-commerce. I am heading a panel to look at how we can redevelop Somerset Belt for our youth, and there is a larger plan to look at how Orchard Road should be rejuvenated as our main shopping street, and how it is adapting to new challenges brought by online retail.
- Change is a constant but there are two things which I believe are evergreen – the first is to maximise the productive potential of employees, the second is to tap on the strengths in diversity. The more diverse a workforce or team is, there are greater opportunities to gather ideas and find new ways of doing things.
Maximising productive potential
- No matter how technology advances, human skills will still be needed. Skills that reside within the human being, such as complex problem solving, communication, creativity and collaboration will remain relevant. If we invest in the most cutting-age technology but not our people, we will not be able to reap the full benefits.
- Maximising the productive potential of our workforce is crucial for our continued economic vibrancy. Singapore faces a demographic challenge as our workforce is both shrinking and ageing. In 2018, 1 in 4 of our resident workers are aged 55 and above. Lower birth rates and slower population growth will result in fewer young workers entering the labour force. Hence, it is vital for our organisations to continue engaging and employing our seniors.
- Our organisations will benefit from the raise in retirement and re-employment age, which is set to increase further beyond 62 and 67 years old respectively. More seniors are now willing to stay in the workforce compared to previous generations because of improving health and longevity. There is also more suitable work available for our seniors because of increasing automation. To ensure that our organisations are ready to react nimbly to opportunities, we should plan ahead to invest in upskilling our employees across all ages. It is not just for the younger ones, but everyone.
- Beyond re-skilling and upskilling, mindsets about what constitutes good work performance must also change. For instance, instead of focusing on employees’ physical presence and hours spent in the workplace, our organisations can benefit from other means of measuring quality of work outcomes. This offers the opportunity of having flexible work arrangements to help employees across all life stages to maintain a balance in their work and personal lives. Studies have shown that such employees are more motivated, which then reduces turnover. A win for all parties.
Tapping on the strengths in diversity
- As we mark the Singapore Bicentennial this year, it is timely to reflect how far we’ve come, how our values of openness and multiculturalism have contributed to our success, and how they will guide us into our future. Our pioneers came from different lands, and brought with them different skills, languages and cultures. Over time, they interacted with one another, overcame obstacles and built a nation together.
- Our social harmony has been our competitive advantage and it will continue to be so. In the same way, our organisations stand to gain when we tap on the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of our employees, and build an environment to encourage positive interactions at the workplace. Diversity can be defined in many ways, such as age, nationality and gender. But no matter how we cut it, research has shown that well-managed diverse teams outperform homogenous ones as they tend to be more creative and effective at problem solving. Crossover of skills during the process of collaboration will also raise the overall organisational capabilities.
- As we become more globalised, we are seeing the benefits of having nationally and culturally diverse teams. International companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, which also have a presence in Singapore, are well known for their multi-national set-ups - their achievements speak for themselves.
- Our foreign manpower is intended to complement the local workforce by plugging existing skills gaps and bring about knowledge transfers. To maximise the potential of our multi-cultural teams, we need to pay attention to promoting inclusive practices, such as the use of a common language. Workplace policies should also be applied equally and fairly to all, as per the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices. For companies that are bolder, it can make its company diversity report public, just as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have done. I hope that in time to come, more companies - including local companies - will also see the value in such diversity reports. It is not about the reports themselves, but changing the way of running their businesses and workforce, managing and motivating employees, and tapping on diversity.
- Another form of diversity that I want to emphasise is gender diversity. Women make up about 45% of Singapore’s labour force but they occupy only a third of all available senior management positions. This is not our strong suit but there are signs that we are making progress. For instance, there has been an increase in the number of seats held by women on the boards of listed companies from 2017 to 2018. I think there has been greater awareness, and companies are making efforts to invite more women on boards.
- There is still a misperception that talented women may not be suitable as board directors because of their multiple commitments at home and work. However, I say this is a misperception because of my personal experiences. We have many female leaders in the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth – Minister Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State Sim Ann and Permanent Secretary Tan Gee Keow – and they are living examples of how it is possible to push hard at work and spend time with their families. There are benefits to greater gender diversity, given our shrinking workforce. It has also been proven that gender diversity at the Board has a positive impact on corporate governance and financial performance.
- The journey towards greater diversity will not be an easy one for some companies, especially when mindsets and culture shifts are involved. But, I am confident that we will get there. Having more progressive hiring practices and greater transparency in the way we apply workplace policies will help our organisations attract the best employees in the market. At the end of the day, we have to remember that results are gender, race and nationality-blind. Only ability counts.
- The future of work in Singapore is exciting because work can become more meaningful for all of us. As Singapore progresses further, our work must have higher value, both in terms of output and satisfaction to our workers. But to get there, our HR policies and workplace infrastructure must be designed to enable this – to have fair and inclusive spaces where everyone can enjoy the benefits of work – regardless of race, nationality, gender or age.
- I hope you will have a great discussion and learnings at this forum, and please continue your good work in investing, motivating and building our workforce for the Future of Work. Thank you very much.
Last updated on 27 May 2019