Game-changers can make or break cities

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ALL CITIES aspire to provide equitable, inclusive and liveable environments for their people. They aim to be resilient and adaptable, in the face of uncertainty and rapid change.

An increasingly volatile global economy has compounded the situation. Contagion effects can be felt from events that may at first seem distant and far away, as was seen during the 2008-2009 global financial and economic crisis.

In such an environment of rapid change, prudence dictates that cities should be on the lookout for game-changers - such as the opening up of the northern shipping routes, the shale gas revolution, and technological changes such as big data analytics and the digital economy - each of which could fundamentally change a city's destiny by creating either a big new challenge or an enormous opportunity.

One game-changer could very well be technology, as advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and so on could lead to the hollowing out of middle-skilled jobs, with machines replacing human labour.

For instance, leading global mining and metals company Rio Tinto bought 150 driverless trucks in 2011. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Online dispute resolution software provided by companies such as Cybersettle and SmartSettle are already used by eBay and Paypal to resolve 90 per cent of 60 million business-consumer disputes every year.

Technology is also changing the nature of work. For example, with the widespread use of smartphones and tablets, and more people working in "knowledge-based" industries, work is growing less desk-bound. As a result, live-work arrangements will change.

With increasing life expectancy around the world, as a result of better and more accessible medical care and improving diet, more people will need and will want to work longer.

Conflated with changes in industry itself because of technological change, in future, people will probably have more than one career in their lifetimes. This in turn will require a radical change in the education system so that instead of preparing the individual for one job in his (or her) lifetime, it is able to train and re-train him (or her) for perhaps several completely different jobs during his (or her) active working life.

How can cities continue to provide good jobs that cater for the wide spectrum of skills while meeting the aspirations of their people? In particular, how will cities provide new middle-skilled jobs to replace those that have vanished, or that will disappear as technology changes? What are the new growth sectors and new jobs that cities need to retrain their workforce for?

Source: Straits Times, 6 Jun 2014