‘Everybody one step to the right’: Chan Chun Sing

Apr 22, 2016 03.00PM |

by Daniel Yap

Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing wants to give the order: satu langkah ke kanan! No, it’s not a military drill, it’s how he hopes to be able to fill gaps in the the job market and move people from shrinking industries to growing ones.

IT’S been a tough period for the economy: slow growth, weak exports, and a rise in redundancies. The nice word for it is “restructuring”, which really means we are going through an economic shakedown.

Weaker companies will shrink and wither, like dead leaves on a tree. New ones sprout. Some jobs will disappear, and others will be created. These shifts create structural unemployment – people unable to find employment in their old jobs even though jobs are available in other sectors or disciplines.

Mr Chan gave the example of how this affects retail. “Maybe the shoe salesman will lose his job as e-commerce grows, but that doesn’t mean there are less jobs… When some jobs are lost, others are created, let’s say for example for e-retail – there may be an opening for a cyber security engineer.”

The question is how we can get the shoe salesperson to fill the cyber security job. The answer? “Some you can; most you can’t.” says Mr Chan, “You can’t throw a shoe salesman into e2i (NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute) and expect a cyber security engineer to come out.”

NTUC Secretary General Chan Chun Sing shares his concept of "satu langkah kekanan"
NTUC Secretary General Chan Chun Sing shares his concept of “satu langkah kekanan”

So how? Mr Chan’s military background showed when he shared about satu langkah ke kanan, a military drill to move everyone one step to the right, at an NTUC townhall event on Wednesday evening. How is this supposed to help? The shoe salesman retrains – not into a cyber security engineer, but into another job related to retail sales, hopefully further up the chain. The person he replaces in his new job also moves on – maybe upwards, but maybe sideways into a related industry. And so on and so forth, with someone else eventually moving into the seat of cyber security engineer.

What it needs, though is a willingness for everyone to move from their current jobs, says Mr Chan. The moves may not be linear, that is to say workers should not only be thinking of getting a ‘promotion’, but career moves can be lateral as well, for example into purchasing, which welcomes people from a variety of work backgrounds. People who get too comfortable or who think that their job will still exist five, 10 or 15 years from now put themselves at risk of becoming redundant as times change. Workers, Mr Chan said, always have to be thinking of what other jobs they can or want to move into and pick up knowledge and skills to prepare themselves for such a possibility.

But the situation is not only going to be remedied at the marketplace. “If e2i is too busy, (it means that) upstream there is a problem,” said the Labour Chief. “We also need to get students into jobs that they like and can do.” This will help ease structural unemployment challenges “not just for today, but for tomorrow”.

One participant at the townhall, Ms Shamantha Yan, 30, agreed. The director of a training and coaching consultancy is working on a project called Growthbeans and part of their objective is to help people just entering the workforce to find a good fit.

Ms Yan sharing about Growthbeans at a booth during the event
Ms Yan sharing about Growthbeans at a booth during the event

“We are seeing that quite a few people are not comfortable in their jobs and after a few years they want to switch careers.” Growthbeans plans to work in collaboration with Young NTUC to provide part-time coaching and mentoring to students and younger workers. Volunteers who are currently working will share their employment experiences with others who are thinking of switching to their industry.

This will complement the current system of career coaches, who may have been working full time in career coaching for several years and, while skilled at their jobs, may not have the most up-to-date knowledge of what workers are facing.

Mr Chan also advocates for workers to consider how they can apply their skills sets in addition to their knowledge and work experience. He related an example of one company which found a pool of talent for quant trading from an unusual source – it seems that highly-skilled cyber gamers have the potential to become good quant traders because of their speed on the computer, ability to focus intensely for extended sessions and analyse movements in data intuitively.

Who says learning new skills can’t be fun?


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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