Future Jobs, Skills and Training
Madam Speaker, this Budget comes at a time when a myriad of challenges are confronting Singapore.
Globally, there are uncertainties, consolidation and key developments. This is fuelled by:
(i) oil prices,
(ii) USA’s political and economic agenda;
(iii) the future direction of the European Union;
(iv) the Brexit journey and
(v) Asia’s growth strategy (in particular China).
The developments in each will have effects (whether direct or collateral) on economic conditions across the globe and on Singapore.
Locally, Budget 2017 and beyond will have to achieve a balance to address the short-term and long-term needs and challenges of the economy and our working populace.
For a start, I am glad the overall Budget has a slight surplus to cater to any uncertainties and exigencies in this financial year and which may impact Singapore and for which we need to respond to.
From a manpower perspective, there are several challenges for us, I dare say not exhaustive, with the first being rising structural forces/unemployment.
We saw a record 19,000 layoffs in 2016 since 2009.
What has been a worrying trend is that the layoffs especially affect Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) and the slower rate of re-entry into the workforce for this category of workers, especially those who are older in age.
This is largely due to what I have previously mooted/identified as the three mis-matches of Skills, Expectations and Jobs.
There is also the phenomenon of what I call the ‘slow-burn’ or ‘churn’ in several sectors (fortunately not across the board yet) of our local economy such as in the oil and gas; offshore and marine; foreign financial institutions; and retail because of global uncertainties; re-strategisation; consolidation; re-calibration; and advent of digitisation, robotisation, mechanisation and the Internet of Things.
By the same token, we face the longer term challenge and need of sustaining inclusive quality growth bearing in mind we have an ageing workforce, relatively flat productivity the past five years and a much slower employment growth in the years ahead.
Credit: MOF and ST
Having heard the Budget and its initiatives fleshed out, I am glad that the government has considered and adopted several of the key recommendations by the Labour Movement.
However, all said and done, I submit that the execution and implementation or what I call the “follow-through” of each of the initiatives and programme is most crucial.
In response to Budget 2017’s plans and programmes, I have five suggestions and recommendations in the area of Future Jobs, Future Skills and Future Training with a particular focus on the plight of Professionals, Managers and Executives as they are most vulnerable and sandwiched during these times of uncertainty and structural challenges.
(i) Future Jobs – Realistic Industry Transformation Maps
I am glad we are rolling out Industry Transformation Maps for 23 industry clusters and sectors. In the course of working out the blueprint, each sector and industry has painted an optimistic future of the new jobs and the jobs growth in each sector.
ICT sector and Healthcare sectors have highlighted there will be 30,000 jobs each.
We also need 3,000 precision engineers, 1,000 rail engineers and 22,000 data scientists and robot coordinators in the manufacturing sector by 2024. There is also a need for 4,000 early childhood educators.
All these sectoral manpower plans paint an extremely optimistic picture of the jobs market. I am not sure if there are duplication in the numbers as there may be overlaps such as between ICT and Financial Sector when we talk of data science, analytics or cybersecurity.
To the person unemployed or retrenched, all these figures mean little to him or her if he or she can’t find a job in any of these sectors.
It is therefore imperative to paint a realistic picture of the jobs market by identifying and sharing where the jobs really are, which companies are hiring and when are they doing so, also, what skills and experience are required of these job openings and what training must we embark on to prepare ourselves for these future jobs.
It is therefore vital for the tripartite partners to work together with the IHLs, industry partners and stakeholders as well as research and consultancy companies to better sense, synthesise and provide a clear signal so as to not just place the current unemployed into current jobs but the future unemployed into future jobs.
To this end, the labour movement has started looking into Future Jobs, Skills and Training and getting help and support from our extensive labour movement network, tripartite partners and various stakeholder and partners.
(ii) Future Jobs – Internationalisation and Assimilation Back into Singapore
Even as we drive internationalisation and encourage Singapore companies and Singaporeans to venture abroad and be regional and global, it is important that we provide sufficient support and assistance to those who have spent overseas stints to assimilate and find jobs back in Singapore when they return.
My biggest worry is how are these Singaporeans who have gone abroad, able to adjust and adapt when they return back to Singapore in the future.
I say this because I have met PMEs at NTUC’s U PME Centre including classmates of mine who have returned to Singapore after spending some eight to 16 years abroad.
Many have returned due to family commitments such as because of elderly parents or children’s education or to really come back home.
One such example is a PME in his 50s who has been working for a European MNC in the Oil & Gas sector for 20 years in the area of Project Management. He was retrenched and was out of job for a year before finally landing a job as a project manager based in Saudi Arabia.
I know some who have been back for more than a year and still have not found any jobs despite lowering salary expectations. Some have resorted to doing freelance work or short–term contract positions.
This is an area we need to pay particular attention to and I hope the enhancements to Adapt and Grow and the many SkillsFuture initiatives to be announced will address this problem.
(iii) Future Skills – Digitisation and In-demand Skills
All the talk on Digitisation, The Digital Divide and Disruption is good but what does it mean to the layman or worker? What does he need to do to stay ready, relevant and resilient?
I therefore suggest we come up with a Digital Disruption awareness/development programme for all workers, all Singaporeans similar to the Best-WISE training we had in the 80s and 90s where we had to bring all Singaporeans and workers ahead in terms of literacy and numeracy.
The Future Jobs in Demand and Future Skills in Demand component can be built into this programme to ensure all Singaporeans stay able, adaptable and agile.
This programme can be spearheaded by the Labour Movement’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) and NTUC Learning Hub and supported via government funding.
(iv) Future Training – Top-Up SkillsFuture Credits Every Three to Five Years & Usage for Hiring of Career Coach
The SkillsFuture Credit utilisation has been promising and off to a good start. I have met workers who have shared how they have benefitted immensely from picking up new skills via tapping on their SkillsFuture Credits.
With the rapidly volatile business environment and job obsolescence, workers globally are now concerned that their skills are losing relevance or what I call the “Fear of Skills Erosion”.
To address this, I suggest for the government to provide SkillsFuture Credit top-ups of $500 in intervals of every three to five years so as to encourage Singaporeans to take personal responsibility in their continuing education and training, embrace a spirit of lifelong learning and stay ready, relevant and resilient.
The credits can go a long way to not just skills acquisition but should also include engaging professional career coach services.
(v) Future Training – Flexibility and Responsiveness / Skills & Job Adjacency
The budget has announced proposed enhancements to Adapt and Grow funding including the “Attach and Learn” programme which I welcome and look forward to hear more on during the Manpower COS.
However, I hope as we execute the various funding, we must bear in mind the need to be flexible, responsive (in terms of speed to market) and also cater to all segments of the workforce from low wage workers to PMEs.
With about 70 per cent of those laid off last year being PMETs, I submit that we need to pay particular attention to this group and especially those who are long-term unemployed and mature PMEs.
I am glad that the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP for short), now supports re-deployment of PMEs within the company.
However, one particular observation I have with the PCP is that when PMEs move into a new sector or totally new job, he/she enters at the entry point of that new sector or job.
I find this is sometimes unsatisfactory considering many mature PMEs have accumulated one to as much as three decades of work experience and that their other innate skills are not taken cognizance of.
At our U PME Centre, we observed many PMEs would prefer to stay within their industries where possible or at the most move across into any industry but utilising their set of skills and experience.
There is strong inertia from many PMEs to explore new industries due to the high opportunity cost.
It is with this mind that I hope the government can look into helping PMEs transit into second careers more seamlessly by exploring the adjacency of jobs and the adjacency of skills so that these PMEs can move into, move across or move up into new roles which capitalise on their acquired skills and knowledge so that they can even enter mid-career and be given credits for their experience.
The public sector has successfully done this for certain job types and I suggest we replicate this for other sectors and companies.
Madam Speaker in Chinese.
(i)未来工作 – 可实施的产业转型蓝图
第一，我们的首要任务是确定机遇何在; 哪些公司正在招聘, 这些职位又需要什么技能、经验或培训，好让我们更好地帮助我国工友为这些未来工作做好准备。为此，劳资政须与高等院校，行业伙伴、利益相关者以及研究或咨询公司进行更紧密地合作, 搜集所需的资料, 从而帮助目前失业的工友顺利入职，也协助将被淘汰的工友们,为未来工作做好准备。
(ii) 未来工作 – 推动国际化的同时，确保工友能够重新回归我国工作队伍
(iii) 未来工作 – 科技化与必备技能
(iv) 未来培训 – 每三到五年补充技能创前程培训补助金额，并扩展其用途
(v)未来培训 – 保持灵活性及敏捷性、发展相关技能与工作
The challenge for Singapore in 2017 and beyond is how we are able to navigate the occasional gusty winds and flooding downpours.
Although we have weathered a variety of economic calamities the past decade alone, it does not mean we will automatically survive. The challenge that confronts us this decade will be somewhat different and diverse.
The ‘killer app’ is how we can, as one country and one people stay not just ready, relevant and resilient but have the necessary agility, ability and adaptability to navigate and ride on the ebb and flow.
We have always been on a treadmill, only difference is the speed at which the treadmill is now moving as compared to years ago.
With that, I support the motion.