Preparing today’s workforce for tomorrow

James McKew, Asia-Pacific Regional Director for Universal Robots, says the stage is now being set for greater human-robot collaboration.
By: | September 5, 2019

Singapore is often touted as a leader in technological progress, offering an environment conducive to innovation and digital transformation.

However, it is not spared from the challenges of digital disruption, especially those affecting its workforce. According to Cisco and Oxford Economics, Singapore faces the greatest mismatch between jobs and skills in the region, with an estimated one-fifth of its full-time equivalent workforce facing job displacement by 2028.

Singapore currently leads Southeast Asia in automation adoption, at 658 robots per 10,000 employees, well-ahead of Asia’s average of 75.

As the country continues pursuing growth and development amidst rising global competition, it must place greater focus on training its workforce for Industry 4.0, to avoid large-scale employment disruption in the near future.

Proactive government initiatives

Recognising these challenges, Singapore’s government is committed to future-proofing its workforce through high-quality, industry-relevant training.

In the state budget address for 2019, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced greater support for worker upskilling though a range of SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and Workforce Singapore (WSG) initiatives.

For example, since July 1, 2019, companies have been saving up to 70% of their training expenses (capped at SG$10,000) through a SSG subsidy under the Productivity Solutions Grant. This complements such existing initiatives as advanced manufacturing courses offered by the Institutes of Higher Learning under the SkillsFuture series. Covering topics across the Industrial Internet of Things, additive manufacturing and robotics and automation at basic, intermediate and advanced levels, these courses are tailored to the specific proficiency levels and career needs of each enrollee.

Singaporeans are also eligible to enroll in the recently launched SkillsFuture Festival 2019, a six-week programme offering more than 350 innovative and experiential learning experiences from 250 industry, education and community partners. Its goal is to inspire the community to develop a passion for learning and to pursue skills mastery.

Support from automation experts

Companies can also find support from such automation experts as Universal Robots, which specialises in collaborative robots, or “cobots”, one of the fastest-growing segments in the robotics industry.

Cost-effective, flexible and easily programmable, cobots lower automation barriers and help level the manufacturing playing field for businesses of all sizes. Unlike traditional industrial robots, cobots are equipped with in-built safety features that allow them to be deployed alongside human workers without safety guards, subject to risk assessments.

These compact and lightweight robotic arms can be easily integrated into the production line and be redeployed across functions without requiring an extensive overhaul of the factory layout. User-friendly 3D-visualisation technology means even untrained operators can easily program cobots as well.

Such resources as the Universal Robots Academy offer free online webinars and modules on cobot programing. Available in eight languages and easily accessible to all users, regardless of robotics experience or background, the programme has thus far enrolled more than 63,000 people from over 130 countries. Robotics courses available in Singapore include the Universal Robots Collaborative Robotics Course, which aims to prepare the workforce for new and higher value jobs spurred by automation.

Looking ahead to Industry 5.0

A step ahead of Industry 4.0, Universal Robots envisions an “Industry 5.0” future where highly skilled workers and robots work in tandem to create individualised products, services and experiences. The difference is that while Industry 4.0 places advanced technologies at the centre of production, Industry 5.0 will prioritise the human touch in manufacturing.

As market demands and consumer expectations gravitate from mass production to personalisation and customisation, human-robot collaborations will be necessary to apply distinctive human touches whilst meeting high standards of output quality and productivity. By converging the speed, productivity and consistency of robots with the creativity and craftsmanship of workers, Industry 5.0 brings the best of both worlds into the future of manufacturing.

As technological advances continue redefining the way we work, it is imperative that workforce upskilling and training initiatives across public and private sectors adapt accordingly.

This will ensure workforces remain highly competitive in Industry 4.0 and beyond.


About the author

James McKew is Asia-Pacific Regional Director for Universal Robots. Based in Singapore. he leads the multi-cultural team across Asia-Pacific, overseeing the offices in China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and India.