Helping staff upskill is firms' key responsibility: Tharman

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Businesses here can become forces for social transformation if they help employees learn new skills and develop meaningful careers, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

He told a conference: "The most important responsibility of businesses going forward is to skill, re-skill and upskill every single employee in a way that (not only) makes sense for the business, but also develops their potential in life.

"The most important way, in my opinion, in which businesses can have a social impact... is for (them) to take very seriously the need to develop every individual employee's skills and potential throughout their careers."

Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, was speaking to more than 400 guests at the opening of the Singapore Social Enterprise Conference, a two-day event organised by the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE).

His comments reflect the Government's ongoing push to encourage lifelong learning at a time when economic restructuring and technology are making many jobs redundant.

The nature of the workforce is also changing, with young people now "wanting to find work meaningful", while freelancers are becoming more common. This is a trend that social enterprises can use to their advantage, Mr Tharman noted.

HAVING A SOCIAL IMPACT

The most important way, in my opinion, in which businesses can have a social impact... is for (them) to take very seriously the need to develop every individual employee's skills and potential throughout their careers.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM

"There's a significant number of people who want to work part-time and there are some among this group of people who would like to do something socially meaningful with some of their time," he said.

"So the so-called 'freelancer economy' - the group of independents in the workforce - is not just about the 'Uber-isation' of different business sectors.

"They include a group of people who potentially can be tapped and would like to have meaning in their lives by doing something socially meaningful."

Edible Garden City co-founder Bjorn Low, who attended the conference, is an example. Formerly an employee at a digital marketing firm in London, he gave up his job to learn farming.

His company was founded four years ago to use urban farming as therapy and an employment opportunity for people with autism. It has developed around 50 food gardens in underused urban spaces in Singapore. "We are now developing a production site of 8,000 sq m and we hope to hire 20 beneficiaries at the place," he said.

There are 303 social enterprise members at raiSE, which has committed around $3.3 million in grants and helped to create 205 jobs, according to its recently released annual report.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Helping staff upskill is firms' key responsibility: Tharman'. Print Edition | Subscribe