Naweera Sidik - Aug 17, 2018

Is Skills Mastery a Thing of the Past?

Three leaders weigh in on the role that skills mastery plays in the future workplace and how we can prepare for it.

It is a familiar refrain repeated to countless generations of youth. If we wanted to have a happy-ever-after, all we needed to do was to study hard, get a good job, and we would be all set.

But I have realised that things are no longer the same. The narrative about job stability and a certain future has changed. New questions are being raised about the future.

One such question that has been surfacing lately is whether skills mastery is still relevant, considering how fast jobs have changed in the last 10 years alone.

That was the topic tackled on 4 July 2018 at WeWork Beach Centre, when we kicked off the SkillsFuture Festival Executive Series @ WeWork with an Opening Panel discussion. On the panel were:

  • Ms Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West District and Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Manpower;
  • Mr Turochas “T” Fuad, Managing Director of WeWork Southeast Asia;  and
  • Ms Ong Chin Yin, Head of People at Grab.

The session, attended by more than 70 corporate executives, business owners, and authors of business publications, was moderated by Terence Quek, CEO and Master Trainer of Emergenetics Asia Pacific.

The Future of Work –  How Does it Look Like?
Having worked with both the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Ministry of Education (MOE) to help determine the landscape of jobs demand, Mayor Low Yen Ling was the first to share her views on what the future of work would look like. A fourth revolution is upon us, she said, but unlike the first three industry revolutions, the pace of change is going at a much faster rate. Every sector is not only being disrupted, it is being “Grabbed!”, making a tongue-in-cheek reference to Grab, one of the most successful start-ups to disrupt the ride-hailing industry.

The platform business has levelled the business field, and in a good way too for consumers. Giants no longer hold all the cards.

If anything, this shows how important adaptability is to manoeuvre the future landscape, which Ms Ong Chin Yin described as “highly ambiguous”. Chin Yin saw that work is no longer the traditional ladder that one climbs, but more of a jungle gym where one moves laterally and vertically.

So, is Skills Mastery Still Important?
A large percentage of people thought so. Emergenetics Asia Pacific conducted a quick online poll from 19 June to 2 July, from a crowd of 124 individuals to ascertain their views. The results showed that 73% of respondents found Skills Mastery more important in the future workplace than it is today.

23% didn’t think it would be more or less important, while 4% found Skills Mastery to be less important, citing reasons such as the ambiguity of future needs and thus, future work.

While most people think that skills mastery is important for the future, what exact skill is important? And how do we approach skill mastery in light of an ambiguous future?

Mayor Low shared that she believed in the ‘T-approach’ – going deep in skills, but not forgetting to diversify our skillset to other areas of development. Chin Yin opined that one needs to be selective about the skills chosen to go deep in, and also take on broad skills that can be applied across any situation and sector. Mr Turochas “T” Fuad emphasised his belief in investing in people skills, seeing that collaboration is the way forward in work.

Yes, we still need to master skills, but we need to master skills of the future.

Skills of the Future
Interestingly, from the poll, many of the skills cited to be important in the future enterprise, were largely soft skills that revolved around critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal relationships.

The three leaders concurred.  Turochas remarked that human connection is one of the more important skills to master. Technology will always be there, and it will always evolve, but human-to-human interaction remains a fundamental skill for business. Mayor Low believed suggested that skills such as adaptability, resilience, empathy and conflict resolution would be important to master as one grows into the future, while Chin Yin shared that agility and a learning mindset would be critical to future growth, and to remain competitive.

It quickly dawned upon the audience that it was time to buckle down on our “softer” skills.

Preparing for Future Work
With all this information, I started to wonder if we, as a nation, are indeed prepared for the future enterprise. As a natural worrywart, I began to think back on the last time I had looked into developing my personal communication skills. (The answer was embarrassing.)

Yet the three speakers were more positive. “Anything can be learnt” seemed to be the echoing message – and learning has to begin with ME.

Mayor Low encouraged each person to find ways to better understand him or herself, either through profiling (I thought immediately about the Emergenetics Profile) or to truly seek out what puts “a sparkle in your eye.” Turochas dared us to dream, and Chin Yin urged us to travel far and wide, and to “walk in another person’s shoe”.

In all honesty, it doesn’t sound too hard to start. 

Mastering Together
But one thing from the session struck a resonating chord. As we pursue our individual growth paths, we must not forget those who are underprivileged and underrepresented – the ones that could use a little bit of help.

I was inspired by how Grab helped the spouses and children of drivers in Indonesia and the Philippines, by empowering them with skills and know-how to grow their income for their families. This helped to protect the family’s income and break the poverty cycle. Grab didn’t have to do this, but they understood the importance of the ecosystem.

Less about Self, More about Community
While the past was about individuals clamouring to be on top of the ladder; the future is about teams helping each other move through the jungle gym.

It seems that the future is still in people.

This article was originally published on the SkillsFuture Festival Executive Series @ WeWork


About the Speakers

Low Yen Ling_Mayor of South West District_Emergenetics Asia PacificMs Low Yen Ling
Mayor of South West District
Senior Parliamentary Secretary,
Ministry for Education and Ministry for Manpower


Ms Low Yen Ling is the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower and has been Mayor for the South West District since May 2014. Prior to being elected as Member of Parliament in 2011 and re-elected in 2015, she worked in financial institutions and a start-up venture, spent a decade with the Singapore Economic Development Board, and held several other appointments. Over the years, Ms Low has advanced many causes including bilingualism, assistance for the underprivileged, and skills-building for older Singaporeans, women and young graduates.


Turochas T Fuad_WeWork_Emergenetics Asia PacificMr Turochas “T” Fuad
Managing Director, WeWork Southeast Asia


As Managing Director of Southeast Asia for WeWork, T oversees the company’s expansion in the region. Before joining WeWork, T founded Spacemob in early 2016 and quickly grew the company to multiple locations in Singapore and Indonesia. In August 2017, WeWork acquired Spacemob. Prior to founding Spacemob in early 2016, T founded and sold two startups: WUF Networks and Travelmob. T also held senior roles in Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific for Yahoo! and Skype, respectively.


Ong Chin Yin_Grab_Emergenetics Asia PacificMs Ong Chin Yin
Head of People, Grab


As Head of People at Grab, Chin Yin is responsible for building a positive and personalised place to do purposeful work, learn and grow. Prior to Grab, Chin Yin was in Sales & Marketing and Human Resources roles in both FMCG and Hi-Tech industries. She graduated from the National University of Singapore with an Honours degree in Psychology. She is passionate about humanitarian causes and has volunteered at the Human Development Foundation in Bangkok and Habitat for Humanity.



Terence Quek_Emergenetics Asia PacificTerence Quek, PBM
CEO & Master Trainer, Emergenetics Asia Pacific


Completing 13 years of service with the Singapore Navy, Terence co-founded strategic communications consultancy Caelan & Sage, leading it to a merger to form Emergenetics Caelan & Sage.  He heads up the Asia Pacific Headquarter for Emergenetics International, a global people and organization development company that leverages the science of Emergenetics to realise individual and team potential and drive results. 

Written by Naweera Sidik