Who is being educated for the future economy?

by Brad Bowyer

The World Economic Forum Global Jobs Report 2018 opens with the following statement in its key findings:

“As technological breakthroughs rapidly shift the frontier between the work tasks performed by humans and those performed by machines and algorithms, global labour markets are undergoing major transformations. These transformations, if managed wisely, could lead to a new age of good work, good jobs and improved quality of life for all, but if managed poorly, pose the risk of widening skills gaps, greater inequality and broader polarization.”

It then goes on to describe how information technology (IT) in various forms is at the centre of the transformation and the future of the global economy.

This has been crystallising for over a decade now and is laid out clearly in this 147-page document which includes many surveys and recommendations on preparing the future workforce.

The world knows it is the future so how is Singapore preparing for this?

IT education availability?

Well, the citizens know, because in several mainstream news reports over the last 18 months we heard again and again how the IT related courses at our various institutions were in high demand and vastly oversubscribed, between 6 and 10 times depending on year and report you read. Yet, the number of available places is still in the low thousands.

We also know the government likes to add in foreign students into the mix (up to 30% of some cohorts), which it often pays for, so not all these limited places are taken by locals even though they want to learn these subjects.

With such foreknowledge and high demand this begs the question, why have we not increased the number of places available in line with local demand and focused on a Singaporean first policy for such a key sector following global trends and the clear need for the future economy?

In my father’s time as head of the Singapore Polytechnic Computer Centre in the 80s, he said the provision of educational places used to be driven by industry demand. When you look at our IT related industry there are over 200,000 jobs in the sector and growing approx. 10% annually according to the stats. These same stats also note that only a little over 90,000, or approx. 45% of those are held by Singaporeans.

If that same yardstick is used and fewer foreigners are employed, then there are plenty of IT jobs for our local grads plus the goal surely is not to fill existing demand but to build the workforce for future demand which will see much higher need both locally and globally in this sector.

SkillsFuture?

Separately from preparing the new workforce in the existing one we see over the age of 45 the workforce participation rate drops off dramatically from around 88% at 45 to less than 45% by the age of 65 in almost a linear decline. This is where we can clearly see the greatest impact of the future economy transformation in action but what are we doing about it?

We are told this area is being addressed by “SKILLSfuture” to retrain workers for this restructuring.

However, when you look beyond the hype of the over 25,000 courses offered under SKILLSfuture only 50 or so are IT related and 6 months or more in duration, which you would reasonably expect to require to get enough knowledge to actually perform in them, and they all cost in the tens of thousands of dollars and not the paltry $500 dollars provided.

The bulk is a short course and not much more than time filling hobby or general interest type ones, certainly not courses you would think are required for a transformative career change.

We hear a lot about SMART cities and adopting technology but what about SMART education policy for our citizens to go along with it?

So what are they planning for?

Because we are told we have visionary leaders who say they must think for the long term in their planning and not just pander to popular demand, you have to ask why the clear lack of IT education provision for the citizens?

What long term future of Singapore do they have in mind that does not require us to be prepared for this future economy or are they planning to replace all of us with foreigners in years to come so don’t see the need?

If that is not their plan, then given the facts it seems Singaporeans are in no way being prepared for the future economy even though that is plainly what is required.

So, we must ask in this regard is our government looking to the future and managing this workforce transformation wisely or poorly? I certainly don’t think they would score an A grade from the World Economic Forum on this one, do you?

Is this just another arm of Educational Apartheid in action which will allow access to the future economy for only the chosen which naturally leads on to the Economic Eugenics program because those left out can no longer participate and thus afford to live here?

Maybe its time we elected a government that wants to prepare all of us for the future and not just its chosen ones as the evidence suggests.

This was first published on Brad Bowyer’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.