Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024
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TL;DR – Disrupt or be disrupted.

I found myself at a dialogue session with Minister Desmond Lee and union leaders from the Building and Facilities Management (BFM) Cluster last Friday evening, when the KTV session that I had been looking forward to ended up getting postponed (I even picked out my outfit the night before!!!)

I mean, it’s not the best plan for a Friday night, but oh wells, just go lor since one of the writers couldn’t make it. I’ve never been to one anyway.


Minister Desmond Lee is the Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) and he’s also the Second Minister in the Ministry of National Development (MND). The dialogue session was held at NTUC’s OTCi Information Resource Centre (surprisingly cosy!) and the session was about how we can better operationalise the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) under the built environment sector.

Err okay, sounds boring to me already… yawns

Why would I need to know about the ITMs? I have a job, albeit mundane, that earns me enough to shop online and go for brunch every other week, and it allows me to travel at least twice a year. This is so not applicable to me – those were my thoughts before the session. But it turned out to be a wake-up call that I should stop living in my own bubble.

Here are some takeaway from Minister Lee’s sharing,

“In this day and age, disruption comes fast and furious. We can keep doing the things that we do, but someone will come along and take away our lunch.”

“Disrupt or be disrupted.”

“… Stay ahead of the competition. If you get involved in the ITMs, you manage disruption. You set the rules for the game for the industry. But if you get disrupted, someone come in and will set the rules for you and the rules may say you’ve got no role to take. That’s the end of your firm, that is the end of your workers in your firm, that’s the end of your skill sets. You get disintermediated, you get made redundant.”

“Either we set the rules for the game for the future, or the others will set it for us. That is the existential reason why we want to have the ability to earn a living for tomorrow. We want to be able to put food on our table and we want to be able to earn a living and hold ourselves high.”


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Woah that sounded like The Hunger Games to me.

I am Katniss Everdeen, a tribute from District 12 of Panem, an experienced hunter, highly skilled with a bow and arrow, as well as a knife. I’m good at what I am good at, but when the game makers decided to change the rules of the game one day and take away my bow and arrow, I’d have to pick up new skills and be quick to adapt to the changing environment in order to survive.

But if I am working in a huge and established company, I should be safe?

Nope. Digitalisation and disruption of every imaginable and not-so-imaginable kind are already happening. No industry is safe from disruption and change will be the only constant.

Print Media
Remember Singapore Press Holdings (SPH)’s restructuring exercise last October where as many as 130 employees were retrenched? This was coz SPH needed to better prepare for a “digitally driven future”.

More recently, SPH Magazines too had asked 13 employees to leave as they stopped print run to go fully digital.

Travel Agents

How many of us still book tour packages or go through travel agents? I mean, the real fun is in drawing up the plans ourselves and booking through the myriad of sites for everything, right? You can actually look up honest reviews on TripAdvisor, compare airline flight tickets on Expedia or get the best hotel deals out of Trivago and end up saving a lot more.

With the shift from hotels to homes, millennials are also flocking to Airbnb, so even less need to go through travel agents for hotel booking. The rising popularity of day tours and sites like Klook and KKday also change the travel game.

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Todate, at least 60 travel agencies have closed. And should the trend continue, the figure will surpass 200 by year-end. This implies that more people from the travel industry would find themselves out of jobs.

Autonomous vehicles
“If I cannot find a job, I’ll go and drive Grab / Uber lor” – If I can have a dollar every time I hear this, I’d be on my way to Seoul on business class tickets by now. While it has been an alternative career for some, this shouldn’t be a career quick fix.

When Grab and Uber gatecrashed the taxi industry, many saw it as a “disruption” to the traditional taxi industry. However, what was deemed as “disrupters” may soon find themselves disrupted too – when driverless cars hit the road.

Come the day when driverless mode becomes mainstream, it will certainly mean lost jobs for taxi drivers and bus captains. But of course, the emerging new technology would also open doors to new career opportunities for the transport industry. It is expected that up to 8,000 new public transport jobs will be created by 2030 under Industry Transformation Map (ITM).

Doctors, lawyers and accountants
Think these highly skilled professionals are safe from the rise of artificial intelligence technologies? You cannot be more wrong. Even professionals like doctors, lawyers, accountants, may lose their jobs to automation.

Robots performing surgeries that require additional precision isn’t new or rocket science anymore. Deloitte Insight report predicts that over 100,000 jobs in the legal sector have a high chance of being automated in the next 20 years, while a separate research has concluded that accountants have a 95% chance of losing their jobs as robots take over the number crunching and data analysis.

These are just some of the examples.

If you do a Google search, you can find scary predictions on how automation will lead to hundreds of millions of jobs lost.


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So back to the dialogue last Friday evening, Minister Lee also touched on this:

How can Singapore stay ahead and be energized?

Minister Lee shared how in the past, we would make predictions about “the next big industry” and then herd our younger generation to study and acquire skills to work in those industries. For instance, the IT and biomedical industries were once singled out as the “next big thing”.

But those days are past because the truth is Singaporeans are in many different industries and we have different skills and aspirations. So we need to work out ITMs for different industries to suit everyone and to excite everyone.

If we were to focus on one single “new industry”, we are just putting all the eggs in one basket and that is not going to benefit the majority of the people.

Therefore, the ITMs – involving the Government, the unions, institutes of higher learning (IHLs) and also businesses – are to help Singaporeans identify and acquire the skills needed for the industries’ transformation.


Yes, Minister Lee, I got your message loud and clear: Training, Training, Training.

Though not exactly a damsel in distress, but imagine a sorta distraught woman who oughta be singing her heart out at Teo Heng, coming out from the NTUC Building last Friday evening. For someone who used to only worry about not being able to cart out my favourite dress before it gets OOS, or not having enough leave to go for holidays, it had never occurred to me that I would ever lose a job – to robots. That sort of things only happens to other people, right?

But hey, disruption had never felt so real. I was so distraught.

By Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!