DPM Heng Swee Keat at the 19th World Human Resource Congress

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 14 May 2024

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the 19th World Human Resource Congress on 14 May 2024.

Anthony Ariganello,
President of the World Federation of People Management Associations 

D N Prasad
President of the Singapore Human Resource Institute 

Ms Low Peck Kem
President of the Asia Pacific Federation of Human Resource Management 

Ladies and gentlemen

A very good morning, I am delighted to join you for the 19th World Human Resource Congress. Singapore hosted the 11th edition of this HR Congress in 2006, and we are very happy to welcome back leading HR professionals from across the world 18 years on. Much has changed in Singapore since then. Marina Bay Sands, where we are today, was not even built then! So I invite everyone, especially our foreign friends to find time outside of this Congress to explore and discover Singapore.

As HR professionals, you are in the business of supporting people and organisations through change, so that they can thrive and maximise their potential. Change is the only constant in life. And over the past decade, the pace of change has accelerated. At the global level, we have shifted from an open and collaborative international system, to a more fragmented and competitive one. At the country level, many societies are grappling with discontent and divisions that are often rooted in social and economic inequalities. And at the individual level, the average worker is faced with rapid technological changes in the workplace, which brings the pressures of frequent upskilling and reskilling. 

So your Congress theme – People, Possibilities, Paradoxes: Scripting the Frontier of Work – is timely. The changes I just mentioned open new possibilities for work, workers, and workplaces. At the same time, these changes will also bring about new paradoxes that we need to grapple with. And as HR professionals, you are at the forefront of helping your people navigate these possibilities and paradoxes, so that they, and the organisations you serve, can thrive.

Possibilities and Paradoxes

First, the nature of work is being reshaped by scientific and technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics. These create new possibilities for businesses to streamline operations and enhance productivity, and for workers to take on more meaningful, skill-rich jobs that can command higher wages. However, such transformation could challenge the meaning of work, as we know it. For example, human interactions are core to high-touch jobs especially in areas of education and social work. So the introduction of automation or digitalisation, while meant as an augmentation, can be unsettling for workers. It is therefore crucial to help workers adapt and continue to derive meaning as the nature of their work transforms. 

The second area of new possibilities is in the workplace. When cities and workplaces had to be shut down during COVID-19, remote work became a necessity, and we pivoted to video conferencing and other virtual interaction tools. Today, remote work is more widely accepted, and has enabled greater flexible working arrangements.

However, technology that enables new connections in the workplace, can also leave us feeling more disconnected and isolated. A survey found that over a third of those working remotely said that the virtual set up made them feel lonely. The blurring of work and personal hours during remote work can also increase stress, if workers find it hard to disconnect or draw boundaries. We thus need to harness the upsides of progressive working norms, while facilitating interactions, connections, and learning within the workplace.

Finally, as our workforce becomes more aged as a result of demographic trends, working lives will grow longer, enabled by better health and technological augmentation like exoskeletons or automation. Paradoxically, the trend is towards shorter multiple careers across a longer working life. Career paths will be more bumpy, as workers will need to reskill and upskill, and possibly transition to new careers. It is thus important that we equip our workforce to be resilient and agile, so that they can seize new opportunities throughout their working lives. 

Scripting the Next Bound

I have spoken about the possibilities and paradoxes that confront work, workers, and workplaces. So what does it mean in terms of addressing the most important “P” in today’s theme – People? 

As HR professionals, how can you script the frontiers of work to help people and organisations thrive? We must prepare for three key elements: First, the future of jobs and skills. Second, the future of talent management. Third, the future of HR. 

Future of jobs and skills 

First, on the future of jobs and skills. With technology transforming industries and workplaces, the future of jobs will be characterised by the need for training and upskilling throughout one’s career. This can induce stress and anxiety among companies and workers, as the risks of being left behind are real. 

We can help to ease these concerns by mapping how jobs and skills are expected to evolve, so that companies and workers are better placed to prepare and respond. This is best done as a collaborative effort between companies, workers, government agencies and trade associations, and unions, which bring different perspectives, but share in the goal of preparing better for the future. Such is the approach we have taken in Singapore through our 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). The ITMs are a key prong of our work under the Future Economy Council. They bring different players within each industry together to map out the key challenges that the industry will face, and how to address them holistically. This enables them to leverage one another’s strengths to transform each industry to be future-ready, sustainable, and offering high-quality jobs for workers. We have also launched 17 Jobs Transformation Maps (JTMs), which complement the ITMs by providing detailed insights on the impact of technology and automation on jobs in each sector so that employers and workers can take necessary steps to prepare for jobs of the future.

With this broad direction set, we encourage every worker to take charge of their own career, and chart their own learning journey. We must therefore create the conditions for workers to embrace lifelong learning, and take charge of their career health. The Singapore government is partnering the National Trade Union Congress, companies, labour market intermediaries and training providers to enable this. The career health initiative builds upon our national SkillsFuture movement, where every Singaporean receives SkillsFuture Credits that can be used to attend training and learn new skills. Middle-aged workers receive additional support as they may need to pivot to new careers later in life. We recently introduced the SkillsFuture Level-Up Programme to provide an additional $4,000 in SkillsFuture Credit when Singaporeans turn 40. Our universities and polytechnics offer a range of full time and part time courses to mid-career employees seeking to upskill or reskill. 

Future of talent management

I spoke about the importance of equipping workers for the future of jobs and skills. This raises a more strategic question for companies, which is – how do we engage and nurture talent, so that they are connected, thriving, and contributing their best? 

We know that the expectations and aspirations of workers are evolving. Post-pandemic, workers are seeking greater purpose and engagement at the workplace and beyond. Many workers also face increasing caregiving needs – both to take care of their young children, and their aging parents. 

To keep pace with these changing needs and remain attractive to talent, companies will need to incorporate progressive employment practices into their workplace norms. These include flexible work arrangements such as staggered hours and part time work, as well as remote work options, to help workers balance their different responsibilities. Companies also need to be more proactive in supporting specific segments such as seniors, and tending to the well-being of their workers. 

Besides building supportive workplace norms, another aspect of talent management is to design pathways for employees to realise their full potential and enjoy meaningful careers. This is something that Singapore takes seriously as part of human capital development. Our workforce is cosmopolitan. So as we continue to attract top global talent to Singapore, we must equally invest in growing our local timbre, and build a strong talent ecosystem. Many companies are already doing this, through structured job rotations to help their talent build a suite of experiences to prepare them for leadership roles. This is complemented by initiatives like the Global Business Leaders Programme and the upcoming Overseas Markets Immersion Programme, which enables promising talent to hone their skills and build up their networks through overseas postings and mentorship. This is in addition to the many scholarships that we offer, such as the Singapore Industry Scholarships.

Future of HR 

Finally, let me bring the issues back to our HR professionals present today. The transformation efforts that I spoke about will require a strong HR sector to realise. Over the years, HR has moved beyond the functional work of recruiting and assigning people to roles, to becoming the crucial bridge between business leaders and workers, to support the success of organisations. HR leaders therefore must expand your scope of influence and accountability to embed HR into the business – through supporting workforce and workplace transformation. 

Workforce transformation entails identifying critical future skills, developing strategies to close the skills gaps in the current workforce, then executing these strategies and bringing workers along the journey. HR professionals can tap on the ecosystem of support for companies to redesign jobs and upskill their workforce. In Singapore, for example, the Singapore Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) has been designated as the national Jobs Redesign Centre of Excellence to support companies. We also have government programmes such as the Career Conversion Programme to support companies which are investing to reskill workers for new roles with good longer-term prospects. Another example that has worked well for us are tripartite Company Training Committees (CTCs). These are set up in companies by our unions under the National Trade Union Congress, to plan and execute training programmes together with the companies.

HR is also crucial for workplace transformation, by helping the rest of the organisation build up their HR abilities and adopt new practices to navigate workplace needs for tomorrow. I earlier mentioned flexible work arrangements, support for seniors and mental health and well-being. There are programmes to help HR with implementation such as the Part-Time Re-employment Grant (PTRG) to support senior workers, and the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Health and Well-Being, for initiatives and policies to support their workers’ mental well-being.

To drive workforce and workplace transformation, HR will need to help establish the right structures, systems, and processes. Driving structural changes requires a range of tools – from vision, to metrics, to programmes – to drive alignment and ensure shared outcomes. Crucially, the key is to bring everyone in the organisation along, and optimise the deployment of skills and talent to support business growth. 

With the evolving strategic role of HR, HR professionals themselves therefore need to build up new skillsets in areas like data analytics, talent management in a tech-driven world, and understanding the evolving needs of the future workforce. Professional HR certification is an important avenue to build capability. Across the world, professional HR bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) and the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) in Singapore have seen an increase in membership, especially in the recent years. Such certification helps companies identify good HR professionals who can help them adhere to legal requirements and implement HR practices that enhance business outcomes.I encourage all our HR professionals to obtain HR certification, be part of a HR support community, and continue to learn from peers and thought leaders in the industry. Conferences like today’s are also useful for you to learn from global thought leaders, and to build new networks and connections. I hope that you will keep in touch even after the conference and continue to leverage these networks to learn within the community and broaden your perspectives.  


So let me conclude, rapid change in work, workplaces and our workforce have presented us with new possibilities and paradoxes. With the right support and planning, we can help our people and organisations cope and thrive in a world of rapid changes and frequent disruptions. By preparing ourselves for the future of jobs and skills; keeping pace with the way we manage talent; and upskilling ourselves as HR professionals, the HR community can play a critical role in supporting organisations and workers. HR professionals have come a long way in supporting businesses through the pandemic and economic turbulences in recent years, and I continue to see great potential for you to play a vital and strategic role at the organisational leadership table, and as the bridge between businesses and workers. I hope you will continue to share best practices, learn from one another, and support one another in this meaningful journey. 

Thank you very much.