SINGAPORE (Mar 8): The conventional wisdom that the higher skilled is more employable no longer holds water, says DBS economist Irvin Seah.

In January, Seah released a report in January detailing the issue, calling professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) a “newly vulnerable” group of Singaporeans.

“We need to watch this very, very closely because it is not one-off. This is an emerging trend that has been worsening for the past 10 years. You can see it climbing and it is not right,” he says.

Indeed, the average office worker in Singapore has managed to keep up with significant changes in the workplace over the past few decades, as a result of new and disruptive technologies.

But the current evolution is proving to be more challenging for some, with educated, white-collar workers finding it increasingly difficult to keep their jobs.

Compared with their lower-skilled counterparts, PMETs are forming a growing proportion of retrenchments — from 36.6% in 2008 to 61.2% just in the last quarter.

The way Faizal Yahya, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies, sees it, this trend impacts even professionals such as lawyers and doctors.

“If I can file my own court cases or affidavit, I don’t really need a lawyer. Now you can even take a picture of an injury or ailment, get a diagnosis online and take a prescription from the doctor to the pharmacy without even seeing the doctor in person” he says. Conversely, “it is very hard to outsource your plumber”.

How are we to help ensure that upcoming generations of workers are not quite so easily displaced by advances in technology or other changes?

Find out more in The Edge Singapore Issue 872 (week of March 11), available at newsstands now.

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