Continuous learning is the future of work – Just look at Singapore

For those among you interested in the relevance of continuous learning, a position also put forward by a number of liberal politicians in Belgium, such as Alexander De Croo, you may want to read the following TED article by Barbara Oakley on the solutions Singapore has put forward and the impact they have had on the country.

Key challenges for the future of work

We’re being confronted with a number of key challenges in our workplace: automation impacts jobs, which change, which require evolving skills … the workplace has become a place of continuous evolution in which the current workers have a had time to keep up.

No where is this challenge as apparent as in Western Europe. The average age of the population is increasing, and some countries are being confronted more and more with skills obsolescence of their workers, both white and blue collar. Countries, such as Belgium, used to fall back on early retirement but given the cost to society this is becoming less and less an option. It is not just a burden on society, it is a real burden on the people being pushed into early retirement as well. They feel like they no longer contribute which of course impacts their quality of life.

Now what

The question then becomes … now what. Singapore has an answer, which may well hold a key to the solution: they refer to it as second skilling, which Barbara Oakley defines as:

developing your skills for a new job while you’re still working.

I suggest you take a look at this article before reading on.

What have I learned

Second skilling appears to be a real path to a solution for some of the issues Western European countries are being faced with. It is especially relevant for countries like Belgium because, as Oakley indicates:

This works in Singapore because the country values “tripartism,” a meeting of minds among government, unions and employers. “Tripartism is not new — it’s been in existence for a long time under the international labor organization framework,” Tay says. “But I think Singapore has its own unique blend. We’re one of the few countries that has employers, government and unions conversing in the same room.

Like Singapore Belgium hosts a structural discussion between government, employers and syndicates.


Additionally, we have a number of systems in place which would allow us to easily implement such a solution which finances our future: Belgium already has mechanisms to ensure right use of tax advantages or direct subsidy streams. Right use aims at ensuring correct use of advantages given by the government, while maintaining the right of the user to make her or his choices about what to spend the credit on.

Sources of financing should be discussed, but could be a combination of current and future employer funding at a tax advantage and direct government subsidies.

Sodexo’s relevance

Ultimately, this idea impacts quality of life. This is where Sodexo could play a role, both in creating a transparant and open meeting place for skills training and skills need and managing the underlying financial flows, ensuring correct blending of tax advantaged funding by employers and subsidies.


Singapore, and some of our more insightful liberal politicians are on to something: in order to ensure a sustainable society we need to look for solutions which will allow people to remain in the workforce longer. The best way to ensure that is to create a path to doing what they like or ideally even love … and second skilling may well be one of the more promising paths.

Full disclosure: Alexander is my former boss as vice-prime minister and minister for development aid, digital agenda, post and telecommunications of the Kingdom of Belgium. That said, I would not have worked for him had I not believe in some of his key ideas. This is one of them. Also a shout-out to Laurent Hublet, one of the people that contributed in no small way to the development of this liberal agenda.