Speaking at an Ong Teng Cheong Labour Institute (OTCI) graduation ceremony last Saturday, DPM Tharman gave a piece of advice that sounded a little like a warning at the same time.

“…stay relevant in job market, advance and refresh your skills. We’re living longer and able to stay active longer after retirement”, says the DPM.
Accroding to a Workmonitor survey by Randstad, more than 9 in 10 employees in Singapore believe that refreshing their skills and competencies will enhance their employability.

However, the advice provided by Tharman goes a little further than that. The clue is buzzes in the words “we’re living longer”.
The climate in which our society exists now is one of rapid change and uncertainty. New jobs are created and old ones destroyed at a rate never before experienced by mankind.

One doesn’t have to look very far to see jobs evolving, they’re right there on your smartphone. Uber, FoodPanda, Facebook… these and thousands of other applications are making the need for many businesses (and manpower) redundant.

Amazon replaced countless local bookstores. The change of reading behaviours has caused the global book giant Borders, to shut down. Where once in 2003 it boasted of more than 1,200 stores, the retailer has now filed for bankruptcy.

The smartphone has completely replaced the traditional camera. The “selfie” replaced the “Kodak moment”. In 1998, Kodak employed 86,000 and 145,000 at its peak (and paid them mostly middle-class wages). After emerging from bankruptcy, it has a skeleton workforce of 8,000.
If you were a worker at Kodak, what would be your livelihood after facing redundancy?

“Take charge of your own skills upgrading”, says Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung last Sunday.
Skills and education needs to stem from an interest to learn and an awareness that one needs to always sharpen one’s skills.

The OTCI graduation shows how busy workers can find time to plug in to classes and training sessions. If families form the foundation of support to these graduands, then colleagues must be the pillars that reinforce the corporate structure.

There is always the nagging excuse of “not enough time”. With families to raise, never-ending responsibilities to fulfil at work… it takes more than simple commitment to drive through the skills upgrading endeavour.

But then again, “learning never stops”… and understanding how to balance time is perhaps all part of the learning.

(The OTCI is an established centre for labour education and training in Singapore. It offers various work-related programmes, ranging from short courses to certificate, and professional diploma courses for trade union leaders, labour-management groups and those interested in the industrial and employment relations field to grow the skills of union leaders and members.)