March 23, 2017

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Authors Posts by Daniel Yap

Daniel Yap

Daniel Yap
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Daniel has spent most of his career working in media agencies and enjoys the challenge of running a publication, and of building a better tomorrow. He can be reached at daniel@themiddleground.sg

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by Daniel Yap

The Labour Market Report for the third quarter of 2016 shows signs of a gloomy season for Singapore.

Total employment for the period was down by 2,700 – while it isn’t a big number in itself, it shows growth dipping into the negative for the first time since Q1 2015. The previous time it dipped was during the 2008/2009 downturn.

Total employment growth in the first three quarters of 2016 is also the lowest since 2009, at 14,500. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that the job losses affected mainly Work Permit holders and was due to contractions in manufacturing and construction.

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Layoffs up until September are also the highest since 2009. But a small positive counterpoint to that figure is that resident re-entry rates (re-entering the workforce after a redundancy) have bucked a nine-month long slide to come in at 49 per cent, an improvement of over 45 per cent compared to three months ago.

Long term unemployment (more than 25 weeks) for Singapore residents also rose from 0.6 per cent to 0.8 per cent compared to the same period in 2015. Seasonally adjusted overall unemployment stayed level between the second and third quarters at 2.1 per cent.

The Manpower Ministry’s conclusion: “The contraction in total employment, heightened redundancy levels and decline in job vacancies to unemployed ratio reflect the current subdued global economic conditions and ongoing economic restructuring.”

And with the global outlook showing no signs of improvement, that means tough times ahead.

You can find detailed numbers from the report on MOM’s website.

 

 

Featured image Singapore CBD by Flickr user Brian EvansCC BY-SA 2.0

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by Daniel Yap

WITH Singapore suddenly caught in the spotlight of the nine Terrex infantry carrier vehicles (ICVs) coming from Taiwan, Singaporeans have been reacting in the extremes. Some have asked for Singapore to apologise to China and accede to the superpower’s demands to secure survival. Others have insisted that the island-state be belligerent and demand our right to our legally-shipped military hardware, and escalate the row if need be.

What do Singaporeans need to pay heed to when trying to process this latest turn of events? How should we react to the unfolding drama?

 

This selection of Hong Kong as the seizure port is deliberate

It’s no accident that Singapore’s Terrex ICVs were seized in Hong Kong. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has been using APL to transport its military hardware for years (APL is a subsidiary of former national shipper NOL) and APL’s Kaohsiung-Singapore route passes through Xiamen and Hong Kong before going to Chiwan (Shenzhen), Port Klang and then Singapore.

Had China really wanted to have the ICVs more firmly in their hands, they would have chosen to stop them at Xiamen or Shenzhen. It is possible that Hong Kong was selected because it presented the most effective mix of control over the port, “leaked” press coverage and acts as a sign to Taiwan about how Beijing sees them as another territory, like Hong Kong (more on that later).

Hong Kong also provides the most effective way for the ICVs to be returned to Singapore. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), it was a case of botched paperwork that was presumably detected in Xiamen, but Chinese authorities left it to Hong Kong to do the seizure.

Even though such a situation could have been resolved quietly between customs officials, China engineered a bilateral blowup in Hong Kong, where it would be easier to contain any escalation that would impact ties more than Beijing wanted.

Hong Kong’s Factwire said it was given the news of the seizure by Chinese customs sources. It’s not a big leap to think this was a deliberate leak of information to a non-state-owned media outlet to give maximum impact to the news break and make the incident as international as possible.

 

It may be as much about Taiwan as Singapore

Taiwan’s relationship with China has become tense again with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen refusing to disavow calls for Taiwanese independence, and her failure to acknowledge China’s “one China” policy that considers Taiwan a renegade province. Beijing cut off diplomatic communications with Taipei in June after years of warming relations under Mr Ma Ying-jeou.

This tactic of isolation is being extended to Taiwan’s friends, in the hopes that it will lead them to distance themselves from the territory.

This is not to say that China doesn’t want to make the most out of this incident to impose itself on Singapore as well. Beijing still bristles from Singapore’s stand of supporting an international ruling that rejects China’s claim over parts of the South China Sea, and will want to pressure the city-state to reconsider its position.

China considers control over the South China Sea as a “core interest”, and therefore we can expect its more propagandist and nationalistic publications like the Global Times to continue to attack Singapore for its refusal to submit to China’s stand on the matter.

Seizing military vehicles, however, does not seem to be an action well-suited to achieving the goal of getting Singapore to buckle on its adherence to the rule of international law. It is, ironically, adherence to international law that allows military vehicles to be seized given botched paperwork.

While the move may be retaliatory in nature, it is likely to achieve nothing more than to strengthen Singapore’s resolve not to be bullied by a larger power. The Republic will stick to its guns on the South China Sea issue, and its citizens may galvanise against those who call for submission to China’s demands.

 

Kowtow? Protest? Neither?

Singapore seems to be pushed into a position where it feels pressured to acquiesce to Beijing’s demands to cut off ties with Taipei, as well as to ease off on defending Asean interests in the South China Sea.

In reality this cannot be done without severe consequences. Singapore’s military relationship with Taiwan goes back to our early years as a nation – the Operation Starlight training agreement began in 1975 and is an open secret. Taiwanese officers have held the top posts in Singapore’s Air Force and Navy.

And Asean is Singapore’s immediate neighbourhood, and a bloc that Singapore benefits from being a part of. If Asean interests are jeopardised, then Singapore stands to lose out as well. Complicating matters is Singapore’s current role as Asean co-ordinator with China. Perhaps the Chinese had expected Singapore to nudge the grouping in favour of China’s claim.

Yet Singapore’s military dealings with China have also grown in the last decade. The island city also sends its troops to participate in joint exercises with the People’s Liberation Army, a move that has been noted by Taipei and is also closely watched by Asean nations.

Given that China is a nation which Singapore has many close dealings with, it will also be unlikely that either side wants this to become a serious bilateral spat, even as both nations feel the pinch of slowing economic growth.

When stuck between a rock and a hard place, it is good advice not to try and move too much. Singapore’s best bet will be to keep a low profile, minimise reactions and simply wait for China to release the ICVs once it feels that it has milked all the diplomatic capital it can from their seizure.

Singapore will now also have to be more cautious about taking sensitive shipments for granted – Beijing has shown that it is willing to kick up a fuss at Singapore’s expense, even though it had let such shipments through in the past. Any dealings with the now-disfavoured Taiwan will have to be kept clear of China’s shores.

 

Hold out against a world power

Singapore knows that its options are limited as a small state with an open economy. It cannot afford to fully ally itself to one world power or another. Not only would that ultimately result in vassal-dom, it would also close it off to options to pursue international political, economic and social objectives that are in its own national interest.

Its only recourse when large powers flex their muscles is summarised in this statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the South China Sea dispute: “We support the peaceful resolution of disputes… in accordance with universally-recognised principles of international law… without resorting to the threat or use of force. As a small state, we strongly support the maintenance of a rules-based order that upholds and protects the rights and privileges of all states.”

 

 

Read the other articles on the seizure of Terrex ICVs here:

  1. Return our… SAF vehicles!
  2. Return our… SAF trucks! Part 2
  3. Toy Story: The return of the SAF trucks
  4. Terrex tank seizure: Hold your fire

 

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Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Daniel Yap

I AM proud to say that I know ousted NKF CEO Edmund Kwok. He was my mentor and leader when I was in my teens and a part of my church youth group, and I looked up to him. In many ways, I still look up to him.

He was an example to me of what a good man would be like: he raised a loving family, he was respected by his colleagues, he shared in earnest about himself and his life, and he was never preachy in the decade or so that I was under his leadership, even though it seemed to be his right as a leader in the church.

I was excited when he joined National Kidney Foundation, not just because his professional experience would benefit many, but because I knew the spirit and values he would bring with him there. I thought that maybe he could be the one to help NKF shed the running-joke legacy of TT Durai. It was not to be.

It is painful for me to watch this drama unfold in the news. That pain is shared by those who know him as well as I do, as we watch everything unravel slowly in a story that only promises more sordid detail and public judgment.

Any wrong that he has done has not taken away my admiration for him. He confessed when he was confronted and will face the full consequences of his actions, as he taught me that a good man should do. I am glad that NKF, apart from that very sketchy first announcement, has said that it will not cover up this incident.

Any wrong that he has done has not taken away my admiration for him. He confessed… as he taught me that a good man should do.

Mr Kwok is still, as NKF chairman Koh Poh Tiong put it, “one of the best”. Not just one of the best CEOs, but one of the best people I have known in my life. It seems fitting to remind myself again today that the best people are human.

It is not the first time that I have seen someone I looked up to fall from grace. There have been other less public but far uglier “indiscretions” in the communities I have been a part of. Some of these were covered up, to my disdain. Others were made public at the earliest opportunity.

Each time, a community of people was let down. Sometimes, people in that community were crushed.

At each of these revelations of human weakness I relearnt the lesson – never put a man on a pedestal. It is not that we should not trust or admire or love, but that when we do, we must see the real person behind it all, shown with all his weaknesses.

It is only then that our admiration becomes real, and that the one we admire becomes confident of his value in our eyes.

At each of these revelations of human weakness I relearnt the lesson – never put a man on a pedestal.

We sometimes idolise sports stars, business leaders and politicians – somehow they can do no wrong. This is the realm of the die-hard. The counterpoint to such idolatry is unreasonable criticism – blaming them for weaknesses and failures as if we expected them to do no wrong. This is the realm of the hater.

Both of these types of idolatry are dangerous things for us. One is the fantasy of complete security as you walk along the edge of an abyss. The other is a bloodthirsty attack that scars the attacker more than it wounds the victim.

That is why I am extremely distrustful of leadership styles that rely on a facade of un-impeachability, where leaders are slow to confess to failure, because I know that the image of the perfect leader is simply one that has been covered up, smoothed over, even falsified.

To maintain it, one must lie, believe the lie and feed the lie.

I too am someone’s hero. Even though I am not some high-ranking CEO, I know I carry the weight of my children’s adulation. Someone, somewhere, hopes that they can become something like me, but I hope I can teach them that they must be better than I am. I hope to show them my weaknesses and I hope that they will help me overcome them, or at least hold me accountable for them.

In this respect, I do not believe Mr Kwok (“Uncle Edmund” to me) has failed. In all the years I have known him, he has not been one to put up a false front of perfection. I trust he will make things right.

I am praying for him. I believe he will stand tall again, even if it is just in the eyes of those who trust, admire and love him.

 

See our other related stories here:

NKF scandal: CEO sacked over ‘personal indiscretion’ with male staffer

NKF scandal: So, was it sexual or not?

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Daniel Yap

INNOVATE. Our bosses urge us to do it, teachers equip us to do it, and the G desperately wants us to do it. Innovations can pay off and change the way we live, but even when they have a huge potential to benefit people, they are sometimes seen with scepticism, even hatred.

Every significant-enough innovation will have its share of fans and haters. How do we cut through the ideology, rhetoric and force of habit to really figure out what is or isn’t a step forward?

Whether it is simply a distrust of technology, incumbents fighting disruption, or a culture clash, there have been many reasons why mankind has stood against innovation.

Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo could hardly be counted as the first men to have their innovations and new ideas beaten down by dogma. Nikola Tesla too fell victim to the politics of innovation in business when his alternating current system (and a host of other inventions) was made unpopular in a smear campaign by business rivals.

More recently, the blockchain, the technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, was viewed with simultaneous wonder and scepticism: a “wild west” for finance. The financial world kept its distance, sometimes decrying the market as nonsensical.

Today, banks and governments are falling over themselves to implement the underlying technology into new systems that could secure and track assets at a fraction of the cost.

 

Fear of innovation

Uber is a name often associated with disruption, and it is no stranger to being the unpopular new kid on the block, especially when taxi drivers feel that their livelihoods are being threatened.

Imagine how they would feel about the push towards self-driving cars – a technology that Uber, Google and a host of other companies are spending heavily on.

On principle, most people today don’t trust driver-less cars. It’s a bit too much to remove the driver from the driving equation and trust a computer to do what is considered a complex series of measurements, calculations, decisions and actions. It’s even more of a leap to put your life in the hands of a robot.

I had a friend tell me, soon after Nutonomy announced its world-first on-road driver-less taxi in Singapore, that he would not under any circumstances step into such a vehicle, and that he would steer clear of them on the roads.

Driver-less cars have pros and cons – code ensures that such cars make cold calculations. Without the vagaries of emotion and fatigue, the mistakes that driver-less cars make can be corrected permanently with updates, for example.

On the other hand, one downside is that there is no clear precedent on who is at fault when a driver-less car gets into legal trouble. We don’t trust the technology and don’t know how to manage it within the current framework of society.

 

Smoke and mirrors

When Philip Morris International rolled out their new iQOS tobacco product in Japan in September last year, nobody expected it to capture three per cent of the market in 12 months (NOTE: the iQOS market share as of end-September is now 4.1 per cent, the original figure was based on the end-July numbers).

The innovative product isn’t vaping – it ditches vaping’s liquid nicotine for a heating device that brings tobacco to just below combustion point, producing a nicotine vapour that tastes a lot like a cigarette, but with no smoke and, presumably, reduced risk of cancer from carcinogen exposure.

Philip Morris International opened up its Swiss research facility to major news outlets at the end of last month and is telling people to quit smoking.

It’s not altruistic for the company, which made US$74 billion in revenues in 2015. If their innovation catches on because it is truly healthier, then it will mean a huge market swing away from their competitors. That’s business – if you can put out a better product, you have a great shot at huge profits.

But anti-smoking lobbyists and the World Health Organisation’s “quit or die” approach to reducing smoking risks (which Singapore adheres to religiously) stands in the way.

Smoking is a notoriously hard habit to kick. In Singapore, high taxes and ever-harsher bans and regulations have only put a dent in the smoker population.

New innovations are banned outright, even if they pose a lower health risk. Given the presence of addiction, would it be a good idea to try innovative products that work on reducing risk, or would it be a half-measure?

Yet anti-smoking lobbyists have been decrying both vaping and tobacco heating technology as gateway products that will raise the smoking rate.

If they are right, then it will be down to assessing the public health impact of these new products, and whether they do end up helping or harming the population in markets like Japan, where they are becoming widely accepted.

Governments, including Singapore’s, need to research the health impact of the new technology to reformulate policies that will get the best result for the country overall, even if it means that it gives more room for tobacco.

 

Cultural cover-up

Who would have thought that clothing would raise emotions so? The infamous French burkini ban is a classic example of a culture clash over clothes, and innovative clothing at that.

Just as France’s Muslim community began to celebrate the newfound freedoms that the burkini – a full-body beachwear innovation that meets Islam’s typical modesty standards – offered, there was an outcry about how “un-French” it was to don the outfit.

An innovation that could have brought cultures closer together instead became a flashpoint for debate. Burkini-haters poured scorn on covered-up women at the beach, several waterfront towns banned the outfit, and the highest court of France had to step in to declare such bans unconstitutional.

The course of innovation never did run smooth, but in the end, reason has to prevail for technology to move forward – seeing advances in the way we do things not as threats to us personally, but to ways of thinking that may need to be transformed, and we along with them.

 

Featured image by Natassya Siregar.

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by Daniel Yap

OH MRS Josephine Teo. I know it is tempting to drop the sound-bite about how much space you don’t need to have sex. But don’t go down that route of locker room talk. Having a child is not just about having the space to bang, and your now-immortal quip misses the point (and the opportunity to have a serious talk).

Sex makes babies, but Singaporeans (all humans, actually) don’t have just sex to have babies. Were you under the impression that more sex=more babies? The math doesn’t work that way. You could make this nation sex-mad and horny (think of all the porn we’ve banned), but our Total Fertility Rate (TFR) will still remain dismally low.

Having sex and having babies are on two separate decision trees. You can have sex and not have babies. You can have babies without having sex (and I’m not talking about the Virgin Mary).

When Singaporeans want to have sex, we have sex. Just go and search Stomp for pictures of teens making out and making love in HDB void decks, HDB car parks, HDB stairwells, but it is not the “HDB” that turns people on.

A HDB flat is not sexy, it doesn’t arouse anyone, and doesn’t improve sexual performance. It is a symbol of security and stability and THAT is what makes people who want to have babies, have babies. Having a HDB flat (and the security it comes with) doesn’t make people who don’t want to have babies, have babies.

Families crave security. So if you can’t give out HDB flats willy-nilly (you might be able to after a few more years, though), how else can you provide the security that couples who want to have babies need (to start having babies)? How will Singaporeans believe that this nation will ensure that her children are cared for?

Our TFR is a radical problem, and we need radical solutions, not just radical words. More of the same small tweaks (money, leave, perks) will not do.

Give free antenatal care, free childcare, free education, free healthcare for children. Give a nearly-free HDB flat to families with four or more kids. Give a living wage to every non-working mother of a child under three years old so she doesn’t have to worry about work. Give a living wage to every child. Relieve our financial fears. Radical ideas, maybe, but give us the ultimate backstop and watch the babies (and human juices) flow.

But if you cannot do away with the G’s crippling fear of moral hazard, its policy risk aversion and its obsession with making “economic sense”, then you cannot provide this security to Singaporeans who want to have babies. Then we will have a small space we can have sex in, but no babies to show for it.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Daniel Yap

THE G does not condone gambling. That’s the official line, whatever you think that the latest exemptions granted to Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club seem to signal. The Remote Gambling Act that the exemptions fall under was debated and approved by Parliament in 2014, and came into force in 2015.

As Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said, it is well and good to have an ideological position about gambling or any vice, but the G also has to deal with the real-world effects of such problems, and sometimes (maybe often), hard-line legislation that mimics hard-line ideology will make the problems worse (like it did during America’s Prohibition era).

Here are some reasons given, by the G and by others, for granting exemptions for Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club.

Safe space

If you want to take risks, we want to provide a safe space for you to take them. That’s the G’s approach to online gambling. It’s like a closed track and safety gear in motorcycle racing. It’s like the yellow box and indoor bans for smoking. It’s like the regular health checks and regulation of sex workers in Singapore’s registered brothels.

Stringent safeguards are part of the criteria for Exempt Operators. A 21-year age limit, in-person registration to prevent fraud, exclusion orders, two-factor authentication, prohibitions on credit and on advertising, mandatory daily funding limits, published odds, mandatory daily loss limits, and a host of red flags and notifications are in place to make these gambling sites some of the most controlled in the world.

The exemptions are only granted to betting products such as draws, races and sports, and not to casino-style games, which are more addictive and immediate in nature. So no poker games.

But is safe too safe? Who exactly are the Exempt Operators trying to attract, new gamblers, in-person gamblers or illegal gamblers? It has never really been said. Will it work? Do gamblers even really want a safe or safer space?

 

To solve nothing about problem gambling

Channel NewsAsia asked Mr Tan about how the Exempt Operator regime would achieve a goal of curbing problem gambling given that the Thye Hua Kwan Problem Gambling Recovery Centre and the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) at the Institute of Mental Health reported a 60 per cent increase in problem gambling cases over three years.

Mr Tan did not directly answer that point during the interview but has admitted that the G is under no illusion that allowing exemptions for online gambling is going to solve the problem. With online gambling as a growing phenomenon and with more people learning how to use VPNs and proxy sites to circumvent bans, a determined gambler will have no problem harming himself to get his fix.

The G said the effects of legalising online gambling in places like Norway and Hong Kong have shown that there is very little impact on the incidence of problem gambling. It did not grow or shrink the number or rate of cases significantly.

And what’s so new about online betting in Singapore? You can already place bets with Singapore Pools through your mobile phoneTelebetting (mobile and online) has already been available as a form of remote gambling for Singapore Turf Club since 2011.

 

Reduce law and order problems

Before the 70s, gambling was largely controlled and operated by Chinese secret societies. It brought with it the spillover of violence in the form of fights over turf, loansharking, debt harassment, and other violent crimes. The setting up of Singapore Pools in 1968 was designed to combat this law and order problem, even though it did not necessarily reduce the problem of gambling itself.

The G has said that the approach to legalising online betting for the two companies is similar – online gambling is a phenomenon now and it must be controlled in the same way to avoid the same problems.

There has not yet been much of an opportunity to quantify the extent of the problem. Online gambling has only been illegal since Feb 2 last year, so it is nigh impossible to track trends in terms of offences and arrests over two incomplete years.

Has loansharking, bookie and harassment activities been on the rise since online gambling started taking off at the start of the decade? This information is not immediately available. If there is indeed a problem with law and order that is strongly linked to online gambling, we would already have been able to see the numbers change over the last five years. We know nothing about whether such a trend exists.

In addition, there has been much prodding about whether a similar approach should be taken with other vices. Should exceptions be made for the recent bans on alcohol consumption and sale after 10:30pm? Maybe only local brands can be sold – Tiger Beer anyone?

Could the same concept be applied to drugs to reduce the scourge of trafficking, or to cigarettes to cripple the effects of smuggling syndicates?

 

Improve visibility of online gamblers

Minister Tan said in the interview with CNA that the exemption meant that the G “could manage (gamblers), and we can begin to intervene in a much more constructive way to help when problems begin to arise”.

Walk-in punters are not easy to track because they are not required to show any identification when they place bets. It is hard to detect from the operators’ end who gambles how much and therefore flag potential risk cases to the authorities.

The technology and structure behind the two upcoming online gambling sites makes it easier to capture and cross-reference such data.

 

Raise revenues

Here’s what most people seem to think (based on comments online) is the main reason the G has given exemptions to Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club – money. And this is also the area where very little information is available.

Back in 1968, the Ministry of Finance set up Singapore Pools to combat the spillover crime impact of problem gambling. It said then that “it is necessary to recognise the existence of gambling and to place it on a legal footing so that those who by nature are inclined towards betting can do so without breaking the law. At the same time, part of the amounts paid as stake moneys can be utilised for the benefit of the citizens of the Republic.”

There is clearly a monetary upside for the two organisations, although they are owned/controlled by the G and disburse their profits to charitable causes. We haven’t heard a word from MSF or the companies on what the expected increase in revenue is, or what cost savings might look like using the new technology.

Singapore Pools contributes about $2 billion annually to the G in the form of taxes and duties, and for the funding of good causes.

The Totalisator Board (Tote Board) is a Statutory Board of the Ministry of Finance which has Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club as agents (fully owned and proprietary). The Tote Board ran a deficit of $360 million in its last financial year after making donations of $578 million. The year before it had a surplus of $139 million after $541 million in donations. The year before that the number was even healthier – a surplus of $418 million after donations of $397 million.

http://www.toteboard.gov.sg/publications/annual-reports
Source: http://www.toteboard.gov.sg/publications/annual-reports

 

Follow the money. Tracking income and market trends through the finances of these three entities shuold give the G (and the public) a clearer picture of how people are behaving and reacting to the growing market of online betting, or whether it is putting a dent in illegal activities.

At the very least, we will know if we have more money in the charity pool and for the G to spend.

 

Featured image Bet by Flickr user Lionel Roubeyrie. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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by Daniel Yap

RESILIENCE is overrated. The real winners in today’s challenging global economy are not those who are resilient.

Sure, having resilience is better than collapsing into a quivering heap at the first sign of adversity. But can’t we do better than merely bracing ourselves against the many shocks and shifts in the global economy?

“Resilience” is a word that describes things that last, but doesn’t distinguish between things that last because they endure change, and those things that last because they grow from change.

Economist and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term “anti-fragile” (in a book of the same title) to describe the things that actually benefit from chaos or disorder, instead of merely surviving them.

Before this, there was no specific word to describe things that want to be exposed to shocks and volatility.

What does the anti-fragile Singaporean worker look like?

How well will he or she survive today’s uncertain economic climate of plateauing growth and discouraging labour reports? Will they survive and prosper (taking the country along with them)?

Or will they wither?

 

The phoenix or the hydra

Mr Taleb gave the example of the phoenix and the hydra: the phoenix is resilient because every time it dies, it is reborn in the same form. The hydra, on the other hand, is gleefully waiting for someone to strike it down – cut off one of its heads, and two grow in its place.

Although neither of these creatures will be destroyed by conflict, the hydra comes out more powerful after a battle with a foe. It looks forward to adversity.

On the other hand, there is the fragile – the antithesis of the anti-fragile. In mythology, this is Damocles, waiting for the sword to fall on and kill him. Maybe not now or not even soon, but eventually.

A fragile worker is someone who knows only how to work as a salaryman in a given industry or group of industries. Their only fear is losing their paychecks.

One day, when technology advances, or if war breaks out, or one of 100 unlikely or unprecedented events happen to bring about change or disruption, he will find himself in ruin.

 

The ponding of Singapore

Are you prepared for your job to disappear? I can’t say when (or whether it will be in your lifetime), but what you are doing now for work will eventually become redundant. You may not even see it coming.

It’s like ponding. A few years ago, it was an event that happened “once every 50 years”.

Until it happened every year.

Such “black swan” events are unprecedented and unexpected and the only thing we can guarantee about black swan events are that they will happen eventually. When they do, everything changes.

Every time we rely on the past to secure our future, we expose ourselves to the fallacy that our current experience is complete.

But as fund managers like to warn us: Past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

To become anti-fragile, we must first shed the assumptive mindset that the worst is over, and that the patterns of the past will remain.

Think of the worst recession. Think of the longest period that you have been out of a job. Then prepare for something worse.

We need to stop fearing the negative or the unknown and simply assume that it will always come for us. But it won’t kill us.

 

Redundancy is anti-fragility

The best preparation for the Next Big Shock (after an open mind) is redundancy. In this respect, anti-fragility looks like resilience. Buffers are built in to ensure that the initial shock doesn’t destroy you.

Understanding how business works, training, reading up on current affairs, following industry trends, building networks, and learning new skills outside of your job scope may seem like redundant activities.

But redundancy is the key to survivability.

Some people (foolishly) think that these efforts are a waste of time – that it is inefficient to put in effort to build a broad skill set in an economy of specialised labour.

Why chase a broad base of skills when you can chase the next step in your narrow career ladder (that offers more pay)?

The answer is that people who put all their eggs in one basket are risking a lot. This may be a fine strategy if you can afford to lose the game (if you have a trust fund, for example, or other kinds of “F you” money), but most of us don’t have this kind of a backstop in our working life.

This also applies to our assumptions about retirement. Yes, you may have investments and savings that will allow you to retire at age 62, but remember that they are based on today’s assumptions about inflation and returns.

Are you ready to change if that event happens in your lifetime and the world as you know it is gone?

 

Live and learn

So once you have survived the initial shock of disruption, you, the anti-fragile Singaporean worker, need to grow a new, second head.

“It is much better to do things you cannot explain than explain things you cannot do.” – Nassim Taleb

If you’ve internalised everything so far, you’re on your way to becoming better with every adversity. You’ll already know that adversity builds character and therefore won’t be hesitant to shout “bring it on!” or try in vain to shield yourself from trouble.

You will know what to do when you get a truckload of lemons, because you are hungry. Stay hungry, embrace the unknown, eschew helicopter parenting. Be suspicious of comfort because comfort makes us weak, like muscles that don’t ache from exercise.

Remember – the anti-fragile worker doesn’t have to be the best at his work, but in the long run, he is the best kind of worker. He is always relevant and always reinventing himself.

When hard knocks come, he doesn’t break – he gets stronger, and so does everything he is a part of.

 

This article is part of a series to build a resilient workforce in partnership with MOM.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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PSB's new city campus at Marina Square, which will host more than 6,000 students.
PSB's new city campus at Marina Square, which will host more than 6,000 students.

by Daniel Yap

DEGREES from private education institutions (PEIs) are inferior to those conferred by “local” universities. At least that’s what a recent Graduate Employability Survey commissioned by the Council for Private Education (CPE) seemed to suggest: PEI grads had lower employment numbers and lower median salaries compared to NTU, NUS and SMU grads.

But the survey has provoked protests and probing questions. What the survey didn’t take into account and didn’t mention is as important as what it headlined.

For example, no other figures were announced, meaning that there was very little context. CPE said that it did have a breakdown of figures for the nine schools it surveyed, but would leave it up to the schools to announce them. Will they ever see the light of day?

Even if those numbers eventually get published, what remains missing is the very simple question of how prospective students should approach the decision to further their studies.

Is it just for the attraction of a higher salary? Is it to simply have that cert on the wall so that you don’t lose face? Or did you really want to learn something and challenge yourself? Or embark on a career that contributes to society?

Then maybe median graduate salary is not the best measure (it is certainly not the only one). Not all PEI students are holding a fresh A-level certificate or diploma, and not everyone is doing it for a fatter pay package. About half of the students at PSB Academy, for example, are studying part-time while working. CPE’s survey only covered full-time students.

PSB Academy was not one of the institutions covered by the CPE survey, which was released last week.

Its own graduate and employment survey last year found that about nine in 10 students found employment within six months of graduation, while six in 10 students enjoyed pay increments and/or improved prospects in their careers.

“Students need to be equipped with industry-ready skill-sets to thrive in our future economy,” said Marcus Loh, who is Vice President, Corporate Communications at the PSB Academy. He also said that the reputation of the institution and university, depth and relevance of the course and “practical, not just theoretical experience” that they can transfer to their jobs are key criteria for deciding whether and where to pursue a degree.

Mr Ravi Mehndiratta, who is Assistant Director of Sales & Front Office Operations at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) in Singaporesaid that industry recognition, robust curriculum, programme management and faculty are the most important factors when considering private education. The school also values industrial attachments for real-world learning.

In other words, if you don’t know exactly what you will be learning, and how it will develop your skills, then there’s a high chance you will not be benefiting fully from your course.

If you have a diploma from a good polytechnic course, then you have to look for further education that really upgrades your skills and knowledge, not one that, at great expense, simply upgrades your “last attained educational level”. You may end up wasting time and money, as two years in your industry may be more relevant and valuable, as long as your employer values your skills (and not merely your paper qualification).

As employers are forced to reckon with productivity challenges, the future seems to lie with skills-based learning, which is an area that PEIs can add value in. One good example is the professional development pathway offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Modular, skills-based frameworks like these allow students to get a focused education on industry skills that they can choose depending on their personal development needs (and the needs of their employers).

Prospective students would enrol in an ACCA accredited school such as LSBF in Singapore and take the certificates or papers they need (and are qualified for). These would be recognised by other educational institutions and employers. Could similar frameworks be developed for other professions and be updated frequently enough to match technological change?

Prospective students need more data and they need better data. Judging what CPE’s “better employment outcomes” really means needs deeper metrics than mere salary levels and employment figures, especially in the move towards recognising skills.

Sometimes, employers, the biases they hold and the red tape they have to deal with, are as much a part of the problem to a lack of recognition for skills-based learning as students and educational institutions are, so employment-side metrics will never be sufficient.

But until we can sort out how best to measure how well students have learnt skills, it is ultimately up to the learner to prove that he or she possesses them – industry-specific skills that make a candidate a productive part of a team, as well as soft skills like negotiating with and convincing employers to give you a job or a bigger pay check.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters

3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago

4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success

5. 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market

6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career

7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?

 

Featured image courtesy of PSB Academy. PSB’s new city campus at Marina Square will host more than 6,000 students.

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by Daniel Yap

A WORD to the G: don’t expect me to trust you when your left hand and right hand are doing completely opposite things, and when a third appendage is privately maintaining the status quo.

I’m talking about the G’s consultation-free decision to legalise online gambling for Singapore Pools and Turf Club, taken in a larger context. I’m not supportive of online gambling, but I can acknowledge that there may be reasons why it may be useful, such as:

a) secretly collecting data on habitual gamblers so you can round them up for counselling later,

b) collecting more money through taxes, and

c) collecting more money from addicts (to fund counselling for their addictions and to support their broken families through the welfare state).

But apart from the lack of consultation and the liberation of vice, what bothers me most is that, on the other hand, the G has decided that we should ban more tobacco/smoking products like shisha, smokeless cigarettes and e-cigarettes (and is planning to ban menthols and clove cigarettes too).

This stuff already nets the G a billion dollars a year in taxes – why not allow it for the love of money as well? (We just ran a report about how contraband ciggies are costing the G a $203 million loss in revenue – read it here.)

After all, smokeless tobacco products have been shown to be less harmful than combusted tobacco, while online gambling is clearly not any less harmful than in-person gambling.

And the G just threw away the entire “gateway” argument – if online gambling is not a gateway, then vaping isn’t a gateway, and soft drugs aren’t a gateway, and online porn isn’t a gateway…

Or perhaps the G doesn’t care about gateways any more.

There’s a point of sale display ban on cigarettes coming up as well, which is the exact opposite of how legal online gambling puts the vice within oh-so-easy reach of addicts and any kid who knows how to fake/steal/exploit an adult’s ID online (which is more than half of kids these days).

Since we don’t care about protecting our citizens from vices (it’s a valid point of view), or believe that it will pay off in the long run, why not liberalise the sex trade as well?

Allow online booking and delivery (yay, UberSex!) of sex services and tobacco products! Innovative, right?

So here, we have one vice liberalising (gambling), one vice getting a massive clampdown (smoking), and one vice maintaining the status quo (sex trade). What on earth is going on? If Singapore has aspirations to become Vice City, then please don’t hold back. If we want to be squeaky clean, then put the squeeze on all vices equally.

Don’t leave us with this hypocritical bull that makes everyone upset and confused because people might feel a pressing need to escape this warped reality the G has created – by gambling online.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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by Daniel Yap

AFTER the angst about how little the Football Association Of Singapore (FAS) spent on domestic grassroots leagues last year, TMG pores over the published accounts from 2009 to track the main spending trends. Are claims of under-or over-spending valid? How have things changed over the years?

FAS Finances

 

Featured image from FAS website.

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