At the food court at Changi Airport Terminal Two, customers choose their food and drinks from a self-order kiosk, swipe their credit card then collect their food.
The move has boosted the food court’s efficiency, as the number of cashiers needed at the stalls has been slashed from eight to just one, said Select Group, the Singapore-based operator which put the machines up in the food court.
Similarly, precision engineering firm Feinmetall Singapore invested $6 million to build a new digital manufacturing facility which will double the company’s revenues over the next four years. It has installed new equipment such a computer system which gives real-time information over the production process, resulting in more efficient supply chain management.
These are examples of companies which have harnessed technology to boost their productivity.
With manpower growth slowing, companies, especially SMEs, will need to up their game to keep up with the competition. This in turn will boost productivity in the economy, says Singapore Management University economist Prof Hoon Hian Teck.
“Given that Singapore has largely closed the technological gap, the source of growth must come from raising the productivity performance of the SME sector,” he adds. “Many young and small firms are likely to fail, but among those that survive they will deliver the fastest pace of growth.”
These efforts to equip companies and workers with the capabilities and skills necessary for the new digital economy will be guided by the Government’s Industry Transformation Maps. Prof Hoon also noted that this will be crucial in enabling companies to turbo charge their productivity drive while staying lean.
In addition, there are schemes such as the Capability Development Grant, Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme as well as the Automation Support Package to support firms’ drive to increase productivity.
When Mr Edmund Lim was retrenched from his $5,000 a month sales job last year, he thought the ground had collapsed under him. As a father of two young children, the 43 year-old earned the bulk of the family’s income.
Eventually, on the advice of some friends, he took up a course in logistics management and found a job with a local logistics company as an operations executive.
“I earn less than before but the hope is that I can continue to move up. It’s a growing industry,” said Mr Lim.
For the local workforce, the challenge is less of a lack of jobs – there are thousands to be filled in growing sectors like IT, logistics, precision engineering, education and healthcare – but a lack of relevant skills. Many who have been laid off may lack the specialised skills required for these roles as industries evolve. Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), whose jobs are often more susceptible to business-cycle downturns, have been among the hardest hit.
To this end, in 2014, the Government launched a national movement called SkillsFuture to encourage all Singaporeans to develop deep skills and build capabilities throughout life.
Drawing on the available credits and heavy subsidies, individuals can opt to pick up new skills such as programming, foreign languages and even photography. The Earn and Learn Programme for instance places fresh poly and ITE graduates with companies to work and gain experience in a structured training programme.
“We will help Singaporeans learn at every age. … We must each develop through life, adapting to changes in the job market and the new opportunities that will come up. But whichever the field we are in or the job that we do, we must, as Singaporeans, aim to develop expertise and flair in what we do,” Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in a 2015 May Day speech.
At the same time, as workers adapt to the needs of the future economy, economic restructuring will lead to better job opportunities, better wages, and better careers.
Take Ms Rebecca Tang, a business development executive, as an example. She is currently enrolled in a programming course that teaches her software skills such the Python language, HTML and Photoshop.
“Of course, I’m not sure if I will end up with a job in app development but you never know right? One thing’s for sure, I’m sure these skills will be useful in other careers, given how digital is such a big part of the economy,” said the 29 year-old, who goes for night lessons twice a week.