The Fourth Industrial Revolution – For all or for some?

Personal takeaways from the World Economic Forum on ASEAN

For the most part, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is seen as an exciting pivotal moment in the evolution of work and commerce. It seems like almost every other day, a new technological disruption takes place, and we see reports extolling the benefits of a new advancement. But with progress comes the inevitable need to shift. What happens to those who are left behind? What can large companies and governments do together? How do civil society organisations and social enterprises help to make this shift less jarring for the everyday global citizen?
These were some of the questions raised at this year’s World Economic Forum on ASEAN, held in Ha Noi last September. I had the privilege of representing Halogen Foundation Singapore at the Forum, invited as a member of the Singapore Global Shapers Community, and brought across the youth-centric messaging to the high level delegates present and seeking to learn more.
The Forum does a good job of reporting the happenings, but I’d like to focus on five personal takeaways, and specifically in the context of youth development and building for the future.


1. Technology and its Impact on Jobs

A common theme centered upon what the job market looked like for ASEAN in the midst of its cautiously enthusiastic adoption of technology and disruption. In summary, governments and the youth are optimistic – bullish even – about the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on their futures. The survey released by WEF at the session revealed that 51.7% of youth in ASEAN think that technology will increase the number of jobs, and the speeches delivered by heads of state motioned for a closer collaboration within the region in areas such as skills education and free movement of data to embrace the ongoing disruption.
What is really interesting to me is the disparity of optimism among the youth depending on the countries they are from. While the average percentage of youth across ASEAN who think jobs will increase as a result of technology is 51.7%, this is largely due to countries like the Philippines and Indonesia(60.3% and 54.0% respectively). Singapore youth are more pessimistic: Only 31.2% of them think so. This further reinforces how education really moves the needle – both in terms of expectancy for the future as well as preparedness. In Singapore, which has a youth populace that has higher education levels, the hypothesis by WEF researchers is that youth recognise more threats than opportunities. This results in us having two paths ahead, not unlike the ‘glass half full or empty’ mentality: Do we expect to be displaced as an inevitability, or do we work harder towards preparedness? Unfortunately for a country, this cannot be forced, and is an individual mindset shift that must happen among the young.

2. Outperforming Economies

I’m not an economist by any measure, but the nature of market forces and how humans and behaviours affect outcomes in a very real (and sometimes disproportionate) way interests me greatly. This interest was stimulated at a closed breakfast session hosted by