SINGAPORE - There is no need to worry about robots and machines replacing humans or if people can learn to beat computers.
Instead, the way forward for tomorrow's workers is to double down on human strengths, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong.
For instance, robots and computers will never be able to think creatively, have face-to-face conversations, brainstorm and challenge one another or come up with solutions as a team, he added.
Spontaneous, "social learning" is also something machines will never be able to do, he said.
Mr Wong was speaking on Friday (Sept 25) at a dialogue on the future of jobs and skills for Singaporeans.
Joining him on the panel were the five mayors: Ms Low Yen Ling (South West District), Ms Denise Phua (Central Singapore District), Mr Desmond Choo (North East District), Mr Alex Yam (North West District) and Mr Fahmi Aliman (South East District).
Said Mr Wong: "People start thinking, what should I do to be better today? Should I learn more programming, coding, IT? I think all of these are important skill sets.
"We need to better understand technology, so that we can work well with machines... but we do not have to learn how to be better computers to beat the computer.
"The way forward is for us to double down on our human strengths... It's not to be taken for granted that human soft skills are natural and innate, and that everyone can do it well. We need to practice and get better at it."
Ms Phua said not all future skills have to be tech-related, and that there are emerging sectors such as eldercare and disability care that are not necessarily "tech-heavy".
"Most of us feel like the jobs of the future, everything, has to do with technology and that's why the main words we hear today are 'data analytics' and 'cyber security'," she said.
But there are other jobs, such as in healthcare, that will focus on care models or the process of caring for patients, with technology being used more for communication purposes, Ms Phua added.
Mr Choo touched on how fresh graduates and young job seekers should be ready to adapt to change. He said: "Changes are quite rapid. But the silver lining that we have seen is that workers who are prepared to make changes and adapt, are willing to get re-trained, they generally do find that getting a job is much easier."
For example, a engineering graduate would have a number of transferable skills, and he can take a six-month course that builds on what was learnt in school and after that, pivot to another job, he added.
The dialogue session was held after a memorandum of understanding was signed between Ms Low, SkillsFuture Singapore chief executive Ong Tze Ch'in, and Employment and Employability Institute chief executive Gilbert Tan.
Ms Low was representing the five Community Development Councils (CDCs).
The three-year agreement will run until August 2023, and aims to provide Singaporeans with information on SkillsFuture programmes, and how they can tap various resources for their career planning and upgrading needs.
The SkillsFuture Advice initiative was launched in 2017 and more than 110,000 people have attended over 4,300 SkillsFuture Advice workshops since then.
On Friday, the agencies said SkillsFuture @ CDC 2020 - a virtual event offering career workshops and a guide to resources for skills training - will be extended.
It was initially conceived as a week-long event running from Aug 10 to Aug 16. In that time, it attracted more than 257,000 participants, and is now extended until July next year instead of ending this month as earlier planned.
The event is organised by the five CDCs, and highlights include workshops to help residents better understand the job market and skill trends amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and live chats with experts across various industries.
Ms Low said: "The extension of SkillsFuture Advice comes at a time when Singaporeans need exceptional support in employability. Our priority is to expedite job search opportunities and ramp up programmes and initiatives to meet the growing demand for upskilling and reskilling."
Mr Ong added: "In this challenging period, we want to reach out to as many Singaporeans as possible, to let them know what they can do to reskill and upskill themselves, and remain employable."
More people are being allowed to return to the office next Monday, but employers are not rushing to have them back.
A range of companies - from banks to start-ups - told The Straits Times that their workers will only be eased back into the office, given that work-from-home remains the default mode amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Firms are now used to telecommuting, a trend that Institute for Human Resource Professionals chief executive Mayank Parekh said is here to stay.
He cited a survey by software company EngageRocket during the circuit breaker period, in which more than 80 per cent of respondents said they saw themselves working from home more than half the time.
"Concerns over productivity and performance are diminishing, with more than 70 per cent of respondents reporting that they took the same or less time to achieve the same level of productivity as pre-Covid-19," he added.
The Government announced on Wednesday that more staff would be allowed to return to workplaces as Singapore cautiously reopens the economy amid the pandemic.
But employers have to ensure safe management measures at the workplace and have flexible working hours, as well as staggered reporting times, among other things.
Graphic designer Jerome Koh, 30, said that he has not been informed by his bosses on whether he needs to return to the office but would like to be given a choice in the matter. "I have got used to working from home, and while I miss my colleagues, there are some days I feel more productive in the quiet of my home," he said.
The nature of the work, however, is a factor in whether staying at home remains an option.
OE Manufacturing managing director James Wong said that "almost all" of his staff have returned to work, because of the need to operate heavy machinery.
Ms Jacqueline Ye, co-founder of Delegate, a firm which helps people planning events to source venues and vendors such as food caterers, said it has "adjusted to working remotely pretty easily".
Still, she hopes to bring staff back to the office to build team spirit and cultivate a sense of belonging.
"We are looking to slowly ease our team back into working from the office, starting next month," she said.
"We will stagger our teams and have only three or four people at the office at any one time."
United Overseas Bank (UOB) group human resources head Dean Tong said that about half of the bank staff have returned to work in offices and branches. UOB is "testing scenarios in which more of our people will be able to work remotely", Mr Tong said.
OCBC Bank group corporate security head Francisco John Celio said: "The bank does not have a targeted percentage ratio of how many staff should work in the office."
He added: "We will continue to take a phased approach to have more on-site staff to support the increase in economic activities safely."
DBS Bank has been moving "small pockets of employees in critical banking functions back to the office" since the first phase of Singapore's reopening kicked off, a bank spokesman said.
It expects more employees to return to the office gradually over the next few months, the spokesman added.
Currently, about 70 per cent of its local workforce work from home, down from the 80 per cent during the circuit breaker period.
Standard Chartered Bank said that teams across the institution are progressively starting to stagger work hours, among other measures. "We will not hesitate to step up the measures where necessary," it said in a statement, adding that those working in the office comprised about 25 per cent of staff.
Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said members should adhere to appropriate safe management measures, while Singapore Manufacturing Federation president Douglas Foo called on everyone to proceed with caution.
TEL AVIV - The Israeli government sharply tightened lockdown restrictions for the next two weeks in an effort to rein in a coronavirus outbreak that's spun out of control.
Just last week, the government imposed its second lockdown since the pandemic began.
With daily new infections surging dramatically, the government voted early on Thursday (Sept 24) to clamp down further during a season of major Jewish holidays by almost totally idling the private sector, allowing only essential employees to work.
Gatherings for worship and mass protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also be severely curtailed.
A decision is expected later in the day with regard to the possible curbing of operations at Ben-Gurion International Airport, the Ynet news website said.
The tightening, which goes into effect on Friday, was opposed by Finance Minister Israel Katz and the country's coronavirus czar, Dr Ronni Gamzu, who argued that it would cause unnecessary harm to an already battered economy.
"It was possible to advance steps to curtail the disease without dealing a mortal blow to factories and businesses in the private sector that don't receive the public and adhere strictly to Health Ministry regulations," Mr Katz said in a statement, adding his position was supported by Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron.
In a marathon debate of proposals overnight, Mr Netanyahu said the economy will be able to withstand the blow, Ynet reported.
A rushed reopening of schools, laxly enforced social distancing and mask wearing, and political infighting over how to address the disease's resurgence have converged in a health fiasco that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
More than 200,000 people have been infected in the country of nine million and over 1,300 have died.
A record of nearly 7,000 new cases was reported on Tuesday.
The economy is also paying the price of policy blunders.
Unemployment remained stubbornly around 20 per cent, according to Israeli Employment Service data, even after the first lockdown was lifted in May.
Approximately 110,000 more people have joined the jobless rolls since the new lockdown went into effect on Friday, the Times of Israel reported.
The Bank of Israel has forecast a worst-case scenario of a 7 per cent economic contraction this year, and Mr Yaron again urged the government this week to finally pass a budget to help kickstart the economy after the crisis ends.
Ministers backed away from a politically fraught proposal to bar worshippers from synagogues on one of the most sacred days on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, and debate was heated over whether to outright ban the protests, which have had been shielded from orders against mass gatherings, Channel 12 reported.
Mr Netanyahu has argued, without proof, that the protests have been a major vector of the virus spread.
During the debate of the proposals, ministers from a rival party accused him of trying to engineer a hermetic lockdown to shut the demonstrations down, Ynet reported.
While the protest movement has focused largely on Mr Netanyahu's fitness to serve while under indictment for corruption, it was grassroots despair over the economic situation that served as tinder.
Only 27 per cent of Israelis recently surveyed by the Israel Democracy Institute now trust the Prime Minister to lead the effort against Covid-19, down from a high of 57.5 per cent in early April, when Israel's assertive response to the early months of the outbreak was being lauded at home and abroad.
SAN RAMON, CALIFORNIA - Chevron has asked its global employees to remove Tencent Holdings' WeChat from their work phones, making it one of the first US companies to heed the Trump administration's executive order banning the Chinese social app on alleged national security risks.
The American oil giant identified WeChat as a "non-compliant application" in a staff e-mail, asking those who installed the app on their work handsets to delete it within days - or they will be disconnected from the company's network, according to the memo viewed by Bloomberg News.
"Due to a recent Executive Order banning the use of WeChat, Chevron is requiring that you remove the application from your mobile device," said the memo, which also identifies the operating system and model of each employee's phone.
"If no action is taken, prior to Sept 27, 2020, your access to the Chevron system will be removed."
A Chevron representative declined to comment and a Tencent spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
WeChat has emerged as a top target in President Donald Trump's crackdown on China ahead of the November elections. Tensions between Washington and Beijing are escalating as his administration wages a campaign that has also ensnared ByteDance and its short-video service TikTok.
WeChat was supposed to disappear from US app stores on Sunday under Mr Trump's executive order, but a San Francisco judge over the weekend issued a preliminary injunction to halt the order, saying it is against free-speech rights.
WeChat has 19 million regular users in the United States and more than a billion worldwide. The app is a gateway to many of Tencent's most lucrative businesses, including games and digital payments, and it is also a heavily used marketing and communications tool for American businesses reaching out to their Chinese counterparts or consumer audience.
SINGAPORE: A man seen in a video clip of a purported fight at Sengkang was charged in court on Thursday (Sep 24) with causing grievous hurt to another man.
Lee Sai Hua, 45, was given one charge of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to Mr Heah Swee Heng. He allegedly kicked him, punched him, stamped on him and slapped his head, causing him to fracture his facial bone.
The incident occurred at about 3.30pm at the void deck of Block 182A, Rivervale Crescent on Tuesday (Sep 22).
Lee was remanded at IMH for psychiatric observation and will return to court on Oct 8.
The police said in an earlier statement that they were alerted to the fight at about 3.45pm, but the suspect had fled the scene before they arrived.
The injured victim was taken conscious to Sengkang General Hospital, and the suspect was identified and arrested within four hours, the police said. The victim is currently in stable condition and undergoing treatment.
If found guilty of voluntarily causing grievous hurt, Lee faces jail of up to 10 years and a fine or caning.
SINGAPORE: A 25-year-old man made use of the COVID-19 outbreak to cheat various victims of cash for masks and other items.
He also cheated a church friend who loaned him S$11,000 in total for his daily needs, believing he would return the money. In total, the sum involved across all the cheating charges amounted to more than S$31,000.
Marc Tay Yi Jie, 25, was sentenced on Thursday (Sep 24) to 30 months' jail for nine counts of cheating, with another 18 charges taken into consideration.
The court heard that Tay, who is jobless, was disowned by his parents in 2017 after being convicted and sentenced to jail for various offences. In 2018, he reoffended again and returned to jail.
When he was released from prison in April 2018, Tay found himself without a home and lacking financial support. He stayed at a halfway house for a few months before obtaining support from a church friend, who transferred him money for Tay's daily lodging, meals and transport.
Along with the money he borrowed from other friends, Tay stayed in backpackers' inns, dormitories and hostels.
From March this year, during the COVID-19 outbreak, Tay began to conduct e-commerce scams to fund his needs. He listed items for sale on Carousell and Facebook Marketplace, such as hand sanitisers, thermometers, masks and NTUC vouchers.
However, he did not have the items, and would take either deposits or full payments from customers without delivering the goods.
One victim transferred him a S$400 deposit for 300 bottles of hand sanitiser, 66 boxes of surgical masks and 19 thermometers.
Tay also cheated his church friend, a 61-year-old man. He had approached the man, Mr Ho, for help in end-2018 after his release from prison, and lied to him that he had jobs at big companies but was denied his salaries.
Tay said he could use his salaries to help repay Mr Ho's loans, and asked Mr Ho to lend him money first.
Believing that Tay was gainfully employed and could repay the loans, Mr Ho loaned at least S$11,000 to Tay between December 2018 and August 2019, transferring the sums daily to Tay.
To date, Tay has returned only about S$1,000 to Mr Ho.
Tay also cheated two men into renting him camera equipment worth about S$17,000 in total, before selling away most of it for his own gain.
The prosecutor asked for at least 33 months' jail, saying that majority of the offences sought to capitalise on the public's fears over the COVID-19 situation.
There was an increase in e-commerce scams by 116.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, said the prosecutor.
COVID-19-related items such as surgical face masks were among the top five items commonly scammed during this period.
Tay also has previous convictions in 2017 and 2018, including trespass, theft and attempted housebreaking.
For each charge of cheating, Tay could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.
NEW YORK - Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Tuesday (Sept 22) declared a new public health emergency and extended a face mask mandate into November to fight a coronavirus flareup in his state, as the number of people who have died across the United States since the pandemic began passed 200,000.
The Johns Hopkins University, which has been collecting US and global coronavirus data since the beginning of the outbreak, reported the new death toll of 200,768 and 6,895,685 confirmed cases as of the end of Tuesday.
In-person social gatherings have led to cases in Wisconsin skyrocketing among people aged 18 to 24, Evers said, as he pleaded with students who returned to colleges for the fall semester to stay out of bars and wear masks.
"We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus," the governor said in a statement announcing his decision.
The mask mandate, part of a second public health emergency the Democratic governor declared in late July, was due to expire on Monday.
A conservative group is contesting the order in court, arguing Evers violated state law by using emergency powers more than once.
Wisconsin has experienced one of the highest percentage increases of coronavirus cases nationwide over the past two weeks, and has the second-highest rate of positive coronavirus tests in the nation at 17 per cent, according to a Reuters tally.
The spike landed Wisconsin back on Chicago's quarantine travel list, which requires people coming from the state to the city's north to self-quarantine for 14 days.
"Unfortunately Wisconsin is currently in very poor control when it comes to Covid," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said during an afternoon news conference.
She said people travelling to and from Wisconsin for work are exempt from the order.
The United States continues to have world's highest number of Covid-19 deaths.
On a weekly average, it is losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally, down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.
In New York City, a global epicentre of the pandemic in the spring, health officials on Tuesday identified a new cluster of Covid-19 cases in the borough of Brooklyn, and noted a marked uptick in infections there and in some other neighbourhoods.
'SOBERING' AND 'STUNNING'
During the early months of the pandemic, many experts expected the maximum number of deaths in the United States from the pandemic to be around 200,000.
"The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering and in some respects stunning," Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, told CNN.
Thousands of tiny US flags covered part of the National Mall in the nation's capital on Tuesday to commemorate the lives lost.
Speaking in front of the flags, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Americans to embrace science.
"This was preventable - not all of it, but much of it," said Pelosi, a Democrat.
With barely six weeks left before the US election on Nov 3, Republican President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn has battered his standing among voters.
At a Swanton, Ohio, campaign rally on Monday, Trump touted his efforts in the health crisis.
"It affects virtually nobody. It's an amazing thing," Trump said of the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 6.9 million Americans.
"It affects ... elderly people with heart problems and other problems - if they have other problems that's what it really affects, that's it," he said, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Trump has frequently questioned scientific experts - including those in his own administration - on everything from the timing of a vaccine to reopening schools and businesses and the importance of face coverings to curb the virus' spread.
He has refused to support a national mask mandate and holds large political rallies where few wear them.
He has also admitted to playing down the danger of the coronavirus early on because he did not want to "create a panic."
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who leads Trump nationally in every major opinion poll, on Tuesday acknowledged the 200,000 milestone on Twitter and said it was "a staggering number that's hard to wrap your head around."
"There's a devastating human toll to this pandemic - and we can't forget that," wrote Biden, who often wears a mask and has said he would require masks nationwide.
The University of Washington's health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities will reach 378,000 by the end of the year, with the daily death toll potentially skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.
Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died from Covid-19, one of the highest rates among developed nations.
More than 70 per cent of those who died from the virus in the United States were over the age of 65, according to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention data.
WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Tuesday (Sept 22) that he said would ban the military, government contractors and federal grantees from some diversity training.
The lengthy order says it forbids "divisive concepts," including teaching that the United States is "fundamentally racist or sexist" or that any individual bears "responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex."
It says military members will not face any penalty for refusing to support or believe these concepts.
"Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don't, there's nothing in it for you!" Trump said on Twitter as the order was issued.
Psyche Williams-Forson, who chairs the American Studies department at the University of Maryland, said the order was clearly aimed at pleasing a segment of Trump's base, just weeks before the presidential election.
"It's a dog whistle. It's a way to ease the minds of people who do not want to confront the horror of their ancestry," said Williams-Forson, adding the order would likely result in a sharp reduction in diversity training across the federal government.
The order comes amid a broad re-examination of racism in the United States in recent months, after police killings of Black Americans including George Floyd, who died on May 25 in Minneapolis.
Many US companies have issued statements of solidarity with the Black community, promised to increase diversity among employees, and collectively pledged nearly US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) to advance racial justice and equity.
But Trump and conservative lawmakers have chafed at what they see as a major rewriting of American history and efforts by protesters to tear down US monuments.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton sparked a furor in July when he attacked the New York Times 1619 Project's effort to make slavery a focal point of American history, calling slavery a "necessary evil upon which the union was built."
The order followed Trump's creation of the 1776 Commission to promote what he calls "patriotic education".
He has hammered the theme during political rallies in recent weeks, often drawing cheers from mostly white audiences.
"By viewing every issue through the lens of race, they want to impose a new segregation, and we must not allow that to happen," Trump said at an event in Washington last week.
"The crusade against American history is toxic propaganda."
On Sept 4, the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a memo that preceded Tuesday's order, saying that federal agencies could no longer use taxpayer dollars to fund "un-American propaganda sessions" that provided instruction about critical race theory, white privilege or that "taught that the United States is an inherently racist or evil" country.
SINGAPORE - Charities will receive support to boost their digital capabilities, and strengthen regulatory compliance and transparency, with a number of initiatives to be rolled out later this year.
They include a new toolkit, to be rolled out in November, which is aimed at helping charities embrace digitalisation as support for their corporate and administrative functions.
Speaking on Wednesday (Sept 23) at the Charity Governance conference held virtually, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said the Charities GoDigital Kit is one of three initiatives to support charities in strengthening their capabilities amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Describing charities as the glue that holds Singapore together, Mr Tong said they play a key role in civil society, with much of the work they do benefiting the most vulnerable segments of the society.
"Much of your work is in fact critical to our national drive to build a more caring and inclusive Singapore," he told about 500 charity representatives and partners at the event.
Mr Tong also announced a revised Charity Transparency Framework, which will be published next month.
He said that transparency, as with accountability, is key in building trust with donors and stakeholders.
"The more well-governed a charity is, the more confidence a donor will have in that charity."
"This framework serves as a guide to help charities define their policy and approach to transparency... It will outline good disclosure practices, and help charities communicate better to their stakeholders," he added.
The framework was launched in 2015, with the revision announced last year.
In a statement, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said the framework has been re-designed to suit charities of different sizes. The revised framework will be published on the Charity Portal and the Charity Council website.
Mr Tong also announced that four more organisations will be helping to strengthen charities' regulatory compliance and effectiveness from Sept 23. These shared services partners will assist charities at low or no cost.
The four are the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, Law Society Pro Bono Services, the Institute of Internal Auditors Singapore, and Shared Services for Charities.
With the latest addition, there are now 11 such organisations which assist charities from accessing IT solutions, to recruiting talent and the filing of annual reports and financial statements.
The two-day conference, held virtually for the first time, is organised by the Securities Investors Association (Singapore) with support from the Charity Council.
Mr Tong said that the past few months have not been easy, and the charity sector has also been affected, but was heartened to know that many have adapted to Covid-19 requirements.
To aid digitalisation efforts, charities can tap the Voluntary Welfare Organisations-Charities Capability Fund.
In his speech, Mr Tong highlighted some charities that have benefited from going digital, noting that arts charity Ding Yi Music Company has been engaging audiences online through staging an online concert on Facebook.
He added that the ministry will continue to work with partners and provide resources to strengthen capabilities of charities and build a "more thriving and resilient" charity sector.
In his speech, Commissioner of Charities Ang Hak Seng said charities should not only look at increasing donations, but also spend time to improve productivity - with every dollar saved being a dollar more for beneficiaries.
"We also want you to deepen your professional core - I always say, do what you do best, outsource the rest," he said, adding that working with the shared services partners would allow charities to focus more on their activities and programmes.
Chairman of the Charity Council Gerard Ee said he understands that it might be tempting for charities to put achieving good governance and transparency at the back of their minds during this challenging period.
"However, it is more so during these times that charities need to increase the confidence in their donors, to share with them the good work that charities are doing, and to garner more support for your efforts to help beneficiaries."
He urged charities to not compromise good governance and high standards of ethical behaviour during this period, so that they can be sustainable and resilient.
All Covid-19 pre-departure test results for travellers from India entering Singapore must come from recognised labs which are internationally accredited or endorsed by the Indian government, said Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH).
Those without the required valid documents will not be allowed into the country.
Additionally, from today, all travellers - including Singapore citizens and permanent residents - with a recent travel history to India within the last 14 days before coming to Singapore will have to take a serology test. The test detects the presence of antibodies and can show if the person might have been infected.
Those who test positive will be exempted from taking the polymerase chain reaction swab test - which detects the presence of viral genetic material - before the end of their two-week stay-home notice (SHN) period.
The latest directive to produce valid pre-departure test results from recognised labs comes as faked test results are becoming increasingly common in India, with reports of agents and doctors taking bribes to produce them.
This requirement also follows a significant jump in imported cases from India, with the gradual easing of travel rules and loosening of the country's border restrictions.
In the five days from last Thursday to Monday, two-thirds of Singapore's imported cases, or 61 per cent of them, had visited India.
MOH said last Friday that there will be two levels of checks - one at the airport in India before boarding, and the other at the arrival immigration in Singapore.
"Travellers found without the required valid documents will be refused entry into Singapore. We will not hesitate to take action against those who present forged documents to seek entry into Singapore, including barring them from entry to Singapore in the future," warned the ministry.
This new and more stringent border restriction comes in addition to existing requirements - a two-week SHN period at dedicated SHN facilities and a further negative Covid-19 test before the end of the SHN period.
"This covers the full incubation period of Covid-19, and has been effective in preventing spread into our local community," MOH assured.