Tan See Leng at the 53rd St. Gallen Symposium

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng delivered a striking message to an international audience on May 2, noting that those who embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and technology will displace those who don’t, The Straits Times reports.

Speaking at the 53rd St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland, Dr Tan emphasised Singapore’s commitment to investing $1 billion over the next five years into a national AI strategy.

The goal is clear: to foster industry development and ensure individuals are equipped with the essential skills. Dr Tan highlighted the significance of Singapore’s workforce, labelling it the nation’s “singular resource.”

He stressed the importance of providing equal opportunities across all levels of the workforce and emphasised the government’s efforts to level the playing field.

He noted, “Of course, no one can guarantee that everyone can come up with an equal outcome, but at least for starters, we level the playing field for everyone.”

Collaborative efforts with companies are underway to establish AI centres of excellence, ensuring individuals are proficient in this domain. Institutes of higher learning, including universities, polytechnics, and the Institute of Technical Education, offer courses designed to enhance students’ AI capabilities.

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In addition, Dr Tan outlined Singapore’s proactive approach to addressing manpower constraints by investing substantially in its people and welcoming foreign talent.

Initiatives such as subsidising education from early childhood to postgraduate levels and launching the Overseas Networks and Expertise Pass aim to attract top talent.

Mr Peter Voser, who chairs the Swiss engineering group ABB and is also chairman of the Singapore port operator PSA, echoed Dr Tan’s sentiments, emphasising the importance of companies investing in technology development and employee training.

If you give money into the R&D (research and development) to develop the project, look at your HR (human resources) side exactly the same way – you give R&D money to develop your people,” he said.

With an ageing population in Europe, Mr Voser highlighted the potential of automation to mitigate workforce challenges, provided that skills training aligns with technological advancements.

Mr Voser debunked the myth that automation and robotics will replace jobs, emphasising the need for different skills rather than job displacement.

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According to him, “Automation and robotics will not replace people. There will just be different ones with different skills.”

He cited PSA’s efforts in building the automated Tuas Port, where workers have been re-trained for new roles in the control room instead of the port.

According to him, research indicating that countries with high robotic density experience lower unemployment rates further supports his argument.

To achieve this, he noted, “It needs leadership to get all of this done. And if the leader doesn’t walk the talk and choose the right leadership, unfortunately, this will not happen.”

The symposium concluded with a call for leadership in navigating the evolving landscape of technology and human resources.

Audience member Mr Praghav Arora questioned the perpetual innovation cycle, prompting reflections on its ultimate impact and the need for a clear end goal.

He asked, “Are we just heading blindly towards a race where our neighbour innovates and so do we? What’s the end goal of innovation?”

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Dr Tan responded that innovation has long-term benefits for future generations. He said:

You will make it that much easier for (the people who come after you) to… build even better so that the next generation and the successive generations that come after us will benefit.” /TISG

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