How We Can Adapt to Digital Disruption (NDP 2021 Special)

Updated: Sep 15

As we continue to navigate the disruptions brought by COVID-19, Singapore is expected to move along an upwards trajectory thanks to opportunities brought about by Industry 4.0 and digital innovation. It’s no longer a luxury of choice for companies or individuals to be oriented towards the digital space. Read on to understand how you can better equip yourselves in this era of digital disruption.




As we anticipate the customary (albeit postponed and socially distanced) National Day Parade (NDP 2021) celebration, it’s always humbling to ground ourselves with the values that have guided our journey in the past 56 years.



The Nation is Built Through Its People


Our late founding father of modern Singapore — first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew — understood if we relied solely on trade and manufacturing, our economic growth would be stunted. With his foresight, Lee Kuan Yew recognised that in the long run, developing Singapore’s human resources was the way to go.


We went from a trading port to an era of labour-intensive factories, and now an economy focused on skills and knowledge. Key sectors currently include manufacturing, health sciences and environmental and water technology. Our citizens received quality education with an emphasis on engineering and science, nudging them towards meeting our skilled labour needs.


Government organisations were also established to lead and nurture science and research efforts. In the past three decades, six masterplans have been devised — each mapping out five-year paths Singapore would take for research and development (R&D) — to build a conducive environment that enables research.



Singapore’s Approach Towards Development


Our focus on science and technology (S&T), R&D and innovation strengthened our position as a country with a highly skilled workforce and a knowledge-based economy. Relying largely on research and innovation to create urban solutions has also served as ways for us to live sustainably and compensate for our limited resources.


On top of embracing innovation, our business-friendly environment further encourages global companies to channel resources here. They can tap into our skilled workforce and networks, making Singapore a strategic choice for them to sink their roots, with many setting up regional Asia-Pacific (APAC) headquarters here.


From having close to nothing as we gained independence, we’ve developed and changed rapidly to become what we are today. The dreams our founders had for Singapore became reality with elaborate planning and foresight. But most importantly, it came to fruition with the willingness to adapt and make changes.


Singapore's advancement over the years due to planning and foresight
Adapting and embracing change is crucial, no matter what

What is a Knowledge-based Economy

Following the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) definition, a “knowledge-based economy” is increasingly dependent on knowledge, information and high skill. All this information should also be accessible to both businesses and the public.

In essence, there is a greater need for high-skilled human capital.


In 1998, then deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan shared the same idea in a speech. Mr Tan mentioned we should have an “enthusiasm for change”. Most notably, he also said: “We must have the mindset that the job we are engaged in will not be permanent but will change every few years, and we must prepare for this by having and continuously upgrading a broad-based foundation of knowledge and skills.”


The best way to prepare against change, it seems,

is to make changes through upskilling.


As time passed this only became more true and important. This is because of the global digital disruption to workforces in the past decade.


Ushering in the Industrial Revolution 4.0 has changed how we operate and work at an unprecedented rate. Modifying business models, retaining competitive edges and filling employees’ skill gaps are but some challenges brought about by digital disruption. Technological advances have also rendered some industries increasingly obsolete.


With COVID-19 now in the picture, the impact of disruption is further magnified. Companies switched to remote work abruptly in light of safe management measures set for workplaces. As more people worked from home, many service providers adjusted by shifting online too. Unfortunately, businesses were not equally well-equipped to match the pace of digital transformation, and their success varied. Less tech-savvy brick-and-mortar stores were hurt the most, as they lacked both a digital presence and the know-how to establish one.


Personally, I’m familiar with this as well. In July 2020, I was let go from my part-time job as a waiter because business dwindled significantly post-circuit breaker, especially slow to pick up due to its feeble social media presence.


The takeaway becomes clearer as we see the toll disruption takes on us.


Change comes unexpectedly; either try adapting to it,

or risk losing what you’ve established.


In Prime Minister Lee’s Labour Day speech in 2020, he brought up how certain industries will be permanently disrupted in the wake of the pandemic.


Issues and problems faced by businesses and employers due to COVID-19
Businesses are hurting in the aftermath of COVID-19's rise

The head of government also said “some jobs will simply disappear”, using online shopping as an example of digital disruption. Employees in displaced jobs can only move into new sectors through re-skilling.


Upgrading your skills and knowledge prepares you for various circumstances ahead of time. This helps your skillset remain relevant and competitive amidst Industrial Revolution 4.0. Most importantly, you’ll stand a better chance at clinching a job.


Our Job Market’s Future


With re-skilling fresh on our minds, it’s important to know where Singapore’s headed. This gives you a better understanding of the needs and demands our country will have, to tackle digital transformation well.