Budget debate

Get the right skills, match with right jobs

Office workers crossing the road at Robinson Road in the Central Business District on March 24, 2016.
Office workers crossing the road at Robinson Road in the Central Business District on March 24, 2016. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In his speech yesterday wrapping up the Budget debate, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat responded to concerns raised by 53 MPs over the past three days. He touched on what businesses and workers need to do, as well as social support measures and the need for a progressive yet sustainable tax system.

The key to tackling people's job worries in the current economic slowdown is to create the right jobs, arm workers with the right skills and then match them rightly, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday in Parliament.

This approach will also help Singaporeans get good jobs and stay employable, he added in his wrap-up speech of the Budget debate.

"I understand the anxieties of Singaporeans - it is not just jobs, it is about our families. We cannot take for granted there will be good jobs and incomes in the future," he said.

The Government, however, has in place schemes to transform industries that will help develop new companies and train workers in new skills for employment.

But to produce high-value jobs that match Singaporeans' aspirations, companies need to be competitive and productive, he said.

This is where the new Industry Transformation Programme plays an important role, especially in spurring the creation of jobs that require new skills.

Citing precision engineering firm Feinmetall, he said it is reaping the benefits of innovating and redesigning jobs, and improving the skills of its workers.

The company had sent a young employee, Mr Winson Ng, 26, for training in Germany and he came up with a way to automate a process in semiconductor wafer testing.

His innovation helped increase productivity by four times and reduced training time for the process from nine months to one week.

The shortened training allowed staff to be redeployed to higher value-added jobs in the firm.

Mr Heng said: "Employers play a very, very critical role in enabling the development of their people, not just in upgrading their firms.

"I hope all firms will invest in their people, young and old, and start a virtuous cycle of higher skills, higher productivity, higher wages which can then be reinvested to develop the firm further."

To help develop the right skills in workers to do these jobs, the minister pointed to the SkillsFuture programme, which will deepen people's efforts in lifelong learning.

He said more will be done to help job seekers find the right match.

The new Adapt and Grow programme, for instance, will give support to more Singaporeans to reskill and gain employment.

More details on it will be given by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say during the upcoming debate on his ministry's plans and programmes.

The TechSkills Accelerator for the information and communications technology sector will also take skills and job matching efforts further, especially as new industries and new types of jobs emerge.

Mr Heng stressed that it is critical to "sustain the long-term vitality of our labour market".

He also said the Government will study MPs' ideas on ways to improve the labour market, such as auctioning the right to hire foreign manpower and giving Singaporeans retrenchment benefits.

But it needs to be cautious in how it intervenes in the labour market, Mr Heng said, agreeing with Nominated MP Randolph Tan.

"We cannot simply copy one bit from one country and then another piece from another, and hope to make sense of it," said Mr Heng.

"There has to be a clear philosophy and a clear sense that the various measures must cohere to be effective over the long term. Most importantly, we must not undermine the sense of independence and efficacy, and the spirit of self-reliance and resilience in our people."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline 'Get the right skills, match with right jobs'. Print Edition | Subscribe