Hopes and fears 2021 - Singapore report

The views of over 2,000 workers in Singapore

Singapore workers want more digital skills, more inclusivity and more flexibility

One of the largest global surveys of workers reveal that the Singapore workforce have divergent views about the future of jobs, with some concerning undercurrents. The ability to emerge stronger from the past year has depended on how well teams worked together, how we showed support for our people and our communities, how our workforce has successfully improved digital skills as a direct result of the pandemic, and how our talent felt about their daily experience. This hasn’t changed. Even as we look to return to some sense of normalcy in the near future, the way people work, the skills they require, and the expectations they have for their employers have forever changed. An increasing spotlight on building diverse and inclusive teams is also observed, with the ultimate goal of encouraging different perspectives that can result in a more sustainable and effective business.

All in all, it’s time for business leaders to reimagine how, where and why we all work, create policies and plans on how to best support their people in this new world, and recognise the larger role they play in society.

What Singapore workers are saying

Singapore workers more concerned about job security than their global counterparts

With the pandemic’s disruption contributing to people’s anxiety about the future, 50% of Singapore workers think their job would likely be obsolete within five years - a more pessimistic view compared to 39% globally. With the acceleration of digitalisation, businesses are constantly evolving, and roles and career paths are being redefined. 63% believe traditional employment won't be around in the future, and that we’ll sell our skills on a short-term basis to those who need them.

  • 65% are worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk
  • 64% think few people will have stable, long-term employment in the future
  • 63% feel that their government should act to protect jobs, with that feeling being most acute among 25-34 year olds (67%)
  • 50% think it’s likely that their job will be obsolete within five years

Q. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?


  • Focus on building trust with your people and helping them transform and thrive through upskilling.
  • Understand the skills needed in the future as there is a strong business case for reskilling people to take up new roles within the organisation.
  • Lean on corporate culture - one that is supportive and encourages an adaptive workforce - and tie the digital agenda to the reasons why people are at the organisation in the first place. Use the trust you’ve earned to then help your people adapt quickly and confidently to anticipated changes.

Workers want to reskill and upskill

In one of the pandemic’s positive surprises, slightly over half of Singapore workers claim they successfully improved their digital skills. A large majority are also ready to learn new skills or completely re-train in order to remain employable in the future. However, leaders need to create more inclusive opportunities to upskill as we see the digital divide widening, with those who most need digital skills are still the least likely to get them.

  • 51% of workers successfully improved their digital skills during the pandemic
  • 81% are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain
  • 79% see training as a matter of personal responsibility
  • 80% are confident they can adapt to new technologies entering their workplace
  • 83% say they’re getting at least some opportunities from their employers to improve digital skills
  • Younger people are twice as likely as older people to get opportunities to improve skills
  • 52% of respondents are focused on building entrepreneurial skills with an interest in setting up their own business

Q. Is your current employer giving you the opportunity to improve your digital skills outside your normal duties? (Chart shows respondents who say their employer provides “many opportunities”, sorted by highest educational level achieved)


As part of your digital workforce strategy:

  • Assess current and future business needs. Relook at your target operating model, learning and talent planning, employee experience and work environment.
  • Leverage technology to navigate the future of work and map the skills you need against your workforce, making inclusion a priority and using culture as the bedrock of your upskilling efforts.
  • Consciously check your ways of working and unconscious bias to ensure certain demographic groups (eg: age, gender, racial and ethnic backgrounds etc) are not disadvantaged.
  • Deliver the right learning experience by focusing on targeted personal transformation journeys when deploying upskilling initiatives and continuously measure return on investment.

Workplace discrimination is prevalent

Workers report that age (29%), social class (19%), race and/or ethnicity (17%) and their caring responsibilities (17%) are the top reasons that they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace. As we progress forward as a society, there’s a real need to open up genuine, fully inclusive conversations about how to build more diverse and purpose-led workplaces. Diverse and inclusive teams lead to different perspectives, creative thinking and open collaboration – ultimately building a more sustainable and effective business.

  • 62% of workers say they’ve faced discrimination at work, which led to them missing out on career advancement or training
  • 29% were passed over because of their age — with older workers more likely to be affected
  • 17% report missing out on opportunities as a result of ethnicity
  • 15% of workers have experienced discrimination on the grounds of gender, with women 5% more likely to report gender discrimination as compared to men
  • 19% report discrimination on the basis of social class or background

Q. Have you ever felt you have been overlooked for career advancement or inclusion in training due to the following? (Select all that apply)


Transparency, though uncomfortable, grounds everything, and shining light on where we can improve makes tough challenges impossible to ignore. For example, according to the Women in Work Index 2021, women’s jobs are being significantly impacted by COVID-19. Women are losing their jobs at a faster rate than men because of how COVID-19 has amplified the unequal burden of unpaid care and domestic work carried by women. The longer this higher care burden on women lasts, the more likely women are to leave the labour market permanently - reversing the progress made towards gender equality.

  • Examine every aspect of your inclusion agenda, your workforce, policies and processes to help to understand root causes and barriers.
  • Use this to generate ideas about credible, new interventions to build a more inclusive culture and upskilling plan that drives accountability across your organisation.
  • Embed the expectation of that behavior into your metrics and rewards, speak about them often and then model them as a leadership team.
  • Assess your progress toward deliberate social inclusion efforts.

People want their work to make a difference

2020 was a trying year for so many reasons, and as people dealt with the ramifications of a global pandemic, a sliding economy and racial unrest, workers started to demand more from the corporate world. Business leaders are now pressed to weigh in and help solve our most pressing societal issues. This is not just about attracting younger talent; it is relevant for the entire workforce regardless of age.

  • 75% of Singapore respondents say they want to work for an organisation that will make a positive contribution to society
  • If forced to choose, 62% say they’d choose to maximise income while 38% say they’d choose a job that makes a difference over more money
  • 63% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 would choose to maximise their income

Q. Thinking about your career to date and your future career, which of the following factors is most important to you?


In today’s world, social good and profitability are increasingly intertwined. Salary increment and career advancement are no longer enough. Leading with purpose has never been more critical.

  • Align social corporate responsibility with your business strategy model - now a vital avenue for achieving growth as any other business investment.
  • Reconsider the purpose of your organisation and re-evaluate corporate obligations to the government, the environment and a broader set of stakeholders.
  • Intentionally embed purpose and social inclusion in three main aspects of the organisation: leadership and management practices, communications and talent strategies.

Remote working is here to stay

The pandemic has shown that working remotely at scale is achievable, and the survey concludes that for many employees, it is desirable on a sustained basis. With that in mind, most companies are already planning to maintain at least some virtual work or flextime. Other than workplace design changes for a conducive work environment, a structured journey in which job roles and accountability, governance and decision making, people capabilities and networks etc. are collaboratively redefined would also be required to improve productivity and efficiency.

  • Only 4% of those who can work remotely want to go back to a traditional commute and work environment full time
  • 83% of respondents who can work remotely say they prefer a mix of in-person and remote working
  • 13% would be happy to not return to an office at all and work entirely remotely
  • 58% think tech breakthroughs will transform the way people work over the next three to five years
  • 45% of workers would agree to let their employer use technology to monitor their performance at work, including sensors and wearable devices, with 32% against it

Q. In the future, what would your ideal work environment look like?


Companies need to reflect on what will be the refreshed purpose of the physical office.

  • Specify who needs to be in the office and what they can expect to accomplish while there.
  • Reimagine the ideal work environment, optimise your hybrid workplace and foster an inclusive culture where employees can work seamlessly in blended teams.
  • Accelerate investments in tools to fully support virtual collaboration and creativity.
  • Evolve workforce safety protocols to build confidence among employees who return to work on site.
  • Resource scheduling flexibility, target operating model refinement, manager training, and leading a more virtual workforce are some specific actions to help employees perform effectively in any environment.
  • Building a culture of trust and transparency in a dispersed and virtual team, and what it would mean to update the employee experience.
  • Be on the active lookout to ensure that your flexibility policies are not advantaging or disadvantaging a certain group, which can exacerbate workplace discrimination.

"While the world of work is disrupted like never before, there is an opportunity to design a new normal and emerge stronger. As we are all acclimatising to new ways of working, we can consider bold decisions about how and where we work."

Martijn SchoutenWorkforce Transformation Leader, South East Asia Consulting, PwC Singapore

Contact us

Martijn Schouten

Martijn Schouten

Workforce Transformation Leader, South East Asia Consulting, PwC Singapore

Tel: +65 9667 4961

Parul Munshi

Parul Munshi

Partner, Workforce Transformation, South East Asia Consulting, PwC Singapore

Tel: +65 9660 5011

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