The Coming Jobs War


“What everyone in the world wants is a good job,” wrote the Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton in his book titled The Coming Jobs War. I recall this read from my years in Junior College – Clifton wrote of the inevitable ‘war’ waged between countries to create the most fulfilling and relevant jobs for people to commit to in their lives. According to Gallup’s World Poll, 3 out of 7 billion people want a good job and there are only 1.2 billion jobs to go around. The short-fall of 1.8 billion jobs is at the heart of the emerging war – the challenge is one faced not only by governments but by entire nations, for the responsibility to create and fill up new jobs lies in the hands of all whose survival is dependent on the nation’s economic development.

The reality painted by Clifton was one where old jobs continually disappear while new ones emerge gradually with entrepreneurship. In light of this ever-changing landscape, the importance of flexibility and lifelong learning is amplified, putting things into perspective for me since the Junior College days.

On Flexibility

At the recent Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) admissions exercise, there was a short essay-writing component where candidates chose a question out of three given options to write about in 30 minutes. One of which quoted PM Lee saying, “We will put more weight on job performance and relevant skills, rather than starting qualifications,” in the National Day Rally Speech of 2014. The issue at hand, then, was the pros and cons of having university degree programmes and how we might judge workers based on qualifications rather than on-the-job performance.

Perhaps, for too long, our system of meritocracy has embedded a form of inflexibility in our association of capability to qualification, overlooking the intangible aspects of job performance shaped by our work attitudes. The discipline, accountability, respect and verve with which we perform our jobs can rarely be captured in a qualification or certification of any sort. Yet, these are the defining characteristics of truly capable workers who do a good job – those with intrinsic motivation to do what they do, who feel deeply fulfilled by their jobs and who are more likely to ride on the waves of greater job satisfaction when given affirmation.

The recent SIT essay-writing exercise, in this time of transitioning into the workforce, was a good reminder for our flexibility in work attitude to supersede our preoccupation with qualifications.

On Lifelong Learning

In a Medical Symposium earlier last year, I had the privilege of listening to Singapore’s ‘wandering saint’, Dr. Tan Lai Yong, share his experiences in China and views on healthcare/social work. A brief statement about his wife who, then, applied to go back to University for further studies as the oldest student in her course was one of the most memorable statements for me from his presentation.

The rigid idea of what must happen at every phase of one’s life as a “successful Singaporean” seems to me, to be perpetuating the stigma against lifelong learning. The institutions and policies set in place will be futile without our gradual mindset change. I prefer to think that with the uncertainty of the future and the possibility of my change of heart in my career aspirations, there is always the option of relearning knowledge or of picking up new skills.

Five months on from our ‘A’ Level examinations, this has been a transition to independence and making sense of young adulthood. Following the results release, this month in our rite of passage is one characterized by university and scholarship applications, as well as interviews – thought it was a timely reminder to put the reality of our job market in sight and to remind us of the intangibles that will truly matter on top of our decisions at this point.

May the short-term rush to make decisions not distract us from how these choices define our long-term attitudes. Then, may we emerge victors in the coming jobs war.


5 thoughts on “The Coming Jobs War

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