Technology seems to have put our world on fast-forward, and the rate of digital change is only set to get more dizzying.
As AI progresses, AI-based applications will increase exponentially in diverse sectors in the next five years. Quantum computing – now only just emerging – will be harnessed to solve complex problems across industries by 2030. From next-level automation to nanomaterials, the sheer speed of innovation might make you wonder: how can you keep up?
The only answer to that, of course, is: learn fast, and learn constantly. Today, the half-life of professional skills is five years or less. That means your current skillset will only be half as valuable five years from now – making a mindset of constant growth crucial to success.
“It’s almost the wrong question to ask, ‘What skills do I need to be ready for the workplace?’, because the requirements will change a year in,” said Mr Tan Kok Yam, Chief Executive of SkillsFuture Singapore, at Young NTUC’s LIT DISCOvery 2022. In a keynote panel on ‘Biting the Digital Future Bullet’, he pointed out that the question is now: “How do I continue to learn and upskill?”
This year’s LIT DISCOvery saw an exciting array of tech leaders coming together to share their insights and experiences on this question. What mindset do you need to thrive in a digital future, and how can you learn to learn fast? Here’s a recap of five key secrets to success, as told by our panellists.
Fail fast, learn fast
If you feel daunted by your lack of knowledge, you’re not alone. In Salesforce’s latest Global Digital Skills Index, just 40% of Gen Zs and millennials in Singapore feel qualified for the digital skills required in today’s workplaces. Overall, confidence was low for most Singapore respondents, with 71% believing they were not equipped for the future.
The secret is channelling this low confidence into a drive to learn. “It’s okay not to know,” assures Ms Lee Hui Li, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore. “What we say at Microsoft is: you don’t need to know it all; you just have to learn it all. That’s our learning mindset here – you fail fast but you learn fast.”
Even as a tech giant, Microsoft has faced its fair share of challenges with digital transformation. “We’ve undergone our own journey from on-premise technologies to cloud-based services,” Ms Lee remarks. To help its people weather waves of change, Microsoft sets aside learning days where employees can explore skills unrelated to their roles. “Don’t be afraid to try new things,” she urges, “and if you fail, just fail fast.”
Let go of fixed ideas
85% of the jobs we will do in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. Being prepared for the future is no longer about having a 10-year plan – it’s about having a growth mindset that embraces flexibility over fixed ideas.
Mr Seah Kian Peng, Group Chief Executive Officer of NTUC Enterprise Co-operative Limited, drew on FairPrice’s digital business to illustrate this. With the rise of e-commerce, grocery shopping has evolved at lightning speed in the last five years, calling on FairPrice to experiment with different digital models very rapidly.
“We started operating our digital business from small stores, then expanded to the bigger hypermarkets. We then launched Click & Collect for customers to order online and pick up in-store,” he shares. These days, FairPrice also utilises a central fulfilment centre with an automated warehouse system. Not far in the future, the company plans to use highly automated ‘dark stores’ to handle online orders.
This tireless iteration is only possible with a growth mindset – one that doesn’t fear room for improvement. “It’s about just getting the plane up in the air,” Mr Seah says, “and continuing to change, improvise, and adapt on the fly.”
Go broad but dive deep
In our fast-evolving skills landscape, one hot debate is the value of being a generalist or a specialist. As AI progressively takes on highly specialised tasks like market research analysis, more and more thought leaders today believe the future belongs to generalists.
Whereas a specialist has deep expertise in just one industry, a generalist has broad knowledge across industries and can improvise well in all-new situations. Somewhere in between lies the expert generalist – an increasingly popular concept in which a person develops in-depth knowledge in several areas.
Mr Tan Kok Yam, Chief Executive of SkillsFuture Singapore, highlights how specialising no longer guarantees success for youths today. “You might plan to become a software engineer or a lawyer, but your value doesn’t just lie in one domain. Go broader,” he advises.
He points out that with the countless sectors with ‘-tech’ affixed today – medtech, agritech, healthtech, and more – youths need the ability to stack different skillsets. “Match your domain knowledge with a bit of tech knowledge, a bit of user knowledge – then you can stand out.”
Have the humility to rely on others
Does being a generalist mean that you have to know everything? Not at all. In a future driven by data, the best insights will come from teams who can break down silos and leverage all available information to innovate. On a personal level, we need the courage to acknowledge our weak points, coupled with the patience to learn from others.
“It all starts with having the humility to know that we cannot possibly know everything. We need to depend on people to know more,” emphasizes Mr Tan. “So collaboration with others from another domain is important.”
This can be as simple as taking the initiative to reach out with questions, or keeping an open mind to conflicting perspectives. “To be able to build informal networks, get things done as a group, and bring people of different expertise together – these will give you an edge,” he says.
Beat the scarcity mindset
It’s a common refrain that strikes fear into many Singaporeans today – the robots are stealing our jobs. Yet according to the World Economic Forum, technology will create 12 million more jobs than it displaces by 2025. A misplaced fear of technological change can lead us to focus on keeping out innovators – distracting us from the real quest of learning from them.
Ms Tan Su Lin, Chief of Staff and Head of People at Carousell, knows this scarcity mindset all too well. Prior to joining Carousell, she spent decades working in a relatively more traditional media company. In the keynote panel ‘Tech Invasion: Will You Take the Red Pill or Blue Pill?’, she reflects: “When digital hit the media world, we were not quite prepared. In the ‘old’ world, there’s a sense of scarcity – it felt like somebody had to lose for another to win.”
When she crossed over to the tech world, she found a completely different mindset. “It’s been amazing to see this belief that people can win together, and that it’s all about what we can share and learn from one another,” she says. “I felt – and still feel – a lot of optimism and hope for what technology can bring.”
LIT DISCOvery 2022 is an annual career symposium organised by Young NTUC. Themed ‘Immersing Youths in a World of Technology’, this year’s programme featured keynote panels and exploration activities to help youths discover the technology trends shaping the future workplace. Visit our website for the online playbacks of what went down in our Repeat lineup.