Budget 2016 - Shaping our future together: Supporting our workers

Budget 2016: Helping workers get back in the game

The latest Budget includes initiatives to help laid-off workers get back in the game by growing their skills and helping them to find new jobs.
The latest Budget includes initiatives to help laid-off workers get back in the game by growing their skills and helping them to find new jobs. PHOTO: REUTERS

Initiatives like Adapt and Grow rolled out to help people learn and relearn

Singaporeans are more anxious about their job security than ever amid softening economic conditions and the ongoing restructuring of the economy.

And more workers are likely to find themselves laid off.

To tackle these concerns head on, the latest Budget includes a set of initiatives to help such workers get back in the game by growing their skills and helping them to find new jobs.

"Like firms, our people too are facing cyclical and structural changes," Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat noted.

"I appreciate that it is not easy for those who are retrenched to learn new skills and find new jobs. But if we remain adaptable, learn, unlearn and relearn quickly, we can stay relevant and seek new careers."

One measure he announced was a new Adapt and Grow initiative. Though details are scant so far, Mr Heng said one prong will involve the expansion of government wage support schemes to encourage firms to hire locals who may face greater difficulty in finding jobs.

This will benefit more workers who may be affected by retrenchments or business restructuring, he said.

  • 4,000

    Number of PMETs to be given help to adapt and grow their skills

STAYING RELEVANT

I appreciate that it is not easy for those who are retrenched to learn new skills and find new jobs. But if we remain adaptable, learn, unlearn and relearn quickly, we can stay relevant and seek new careers.

MR HENG SWEE KEAT, on the need to upgrade workers' skills.

 

For mid-career job seekers, including retrenched professionals, the Government will step up its existing professional conversion programmes.

New programmes will be launched in sectors such as design, and information and communications technology .

Labour economist Randolph Tan is all in favour of such programmes, calling them "forward- looking" as they build capacity up from the individual level.

However, he has some qualms about wage support.

The newly minted Nominated MP, an SIM University associate professor, said: "I have become increasingly concerned about what I see as the widening coverage, duration and cost of wage support.

"The longer they are in force, the greater the tendency for their incremental impact to weaken, due to factors such as the smaller numbers of workers that are in the target group."

However, he noted that the framers of the Budget are aware of the shortcomings of excessive wage support, hence the clear steps towards tapering it.

Assoc Prof Tan added that the professional conversion programmes will take time.

"On the bright side, groundwork on this has already commenced, with the focus on skills and productivity, so the new Bud- get essentially crystallises the vision further, where each individual has a valuable place as long as he or she is willing to get plugged into this regime of upgrading," he said.

The Government will also enhance efforts to help match such job seekers with jobs at small and medium-sized enterprises, Mr Heng said.

"We expect to more than double the current outreach for PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) from 2,000 to over 4,000," he added.

The Ministry of Manpower will commit an additional $35 million a year from the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund and Skills Development Fund to support these initiatives.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said: "Based on the retrenchment figures for 2015, with a majority of 71 per cent being PMETs, and seeing that in the first half of 2016 more layoffs affected them, it is a positive move to support and assist PMEs to stay employed and employable."

Adapt and Grow complements the SkillsFuture programme, launched in November 2014, to encourage people to deepen their skills or pick up new ones throughout their lives.

SkillsFuture is "our long-term game plan", Mr Heng said, adding that the Government "must continue to expand and deepen" the programme.

Analysts said these initiatives will help Singaporeans get ready for the major structural shifts that will change the economy in time to come. They added that government help provides a good foundation for workers.

However, Mr Sebastien Hampartzoumian, PageGroup's senior managing director, Singapore and India, said they must "stay open-minded and flexible" about change.

Standard Chartered Bank economist Jeff Ng added: "On cyclical issues, Finance Minister Heng said the Budget aims to match retrenched workers with new jobs and careers.

"Given that growth will remain modest near-term, with a tight labour force, if implemented properly the initiatives can help address some of the cyclical challenges."

Mr Heng stressed that firms have to restructure so that workers have better prospects.

He explained that across selected industries such as precision engineering, and food and beverage, "firms with higher productivity tend to pay higher wages".

"It is important for our firms to raise productivity, or else our workers would remain in low value-added jobs with weak prospects. We must aim for a virtuous cycle of higher skills, higher productivity and higher wages."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'Helping workers get back in the game'. Print Edition | Subscribe