PMET employment growth has become fairer, more balanced: Lim Swee Say

From 2014 to 2016, the employment of local  professionals, managers, executives and technicians grew by 105,000.
From 2014 to 2016, the employment of local professionals, managers, executives and technicians grew by 105,000.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

SINGAPORE - Singapore's approach of treating fair employers differently from those with unfair hiring practices has boosted the number of local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) here over the past three years, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say on Friday (Sept 29).

From 2014 to 2016, the employment of local PMETs grew by 105,000, which was more than six times the growth in employment of Employment Pass (EP) holders of 17,000, he said.

Including S Pass holders, the number of foreign PMETs working here grew by 36,000 over that period.

This means local residents made up three-quarters of overall PMET employment growth in those years, a reversal from the trend in 2011 to 2013, when the combined growth of EP and S Pass holders was higher than that of local PMETs, said Mr Lim.

He was speaking at an award dinner by the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore, where he held up the finance sector as a major contributor to economic growth and job creation - with a healthy local share of PMET jobs.

More than eight in 10 of PMET positions in the sector are filled by locals, Mr Lim said.

Among the Singapore arms of global banks, locals can make up as many as 90 per cent of PMET workers.

And for their regional and global arms that could have been situated elsewhere, but are located in Singapore, locals make up about 65 per cent of the PMETs employed, he said.

Mr Lim said the Manpower Ministry (MOM) strives to strike a balance between being pro-business and pro-worker in the face of Singapore's demographic trends and slowing local workforce growth.

"Economic growth without local employment growth will lead to social tension and increased social divide. Likewise, local employment growth without economic growth will lead to economic stagnation and decline," he said.

This is why the ministry has placed about 300 companies which unfairly favour foreigners in their hiring practices on its watchlist under the Fair Consideration Framework, and subjects their EP applications to closer scrutiny, while processing the applications of fair companies normally, he said.

The framework was introduced in 2014 and enhanced in 2016. The EP qualifying criteria was also raised three times in the past five years, most recently earlier this year.

Looking ahead, there are three areas for improvement, he said, addressing about 450 banking and finance professionals at the event at Raffles City Convention Centre.

Firstly, beyond creating more jobs, the quality of job growth must be improved by embracing technology so that Singapore remains competitive.

Employment growth of less than 10,000 last year is too low; the target is growth of 25,000 to 40,000 a year, he said, adding that technology can create good jobs while making work easier, safer and smarter for all workers.

Already, the fintech community here has grown quite rapidly, with more than 20 global financial institutions setting up research centres here, creating innovative solutions using data analytics, artificial intelligence and design thinking.

Secondly, workers must be trained so that they can maximise their potential, said Mr Lim.

National initiatives such as SkillsFuture and Adapt and Grow as well as efforts by the National Trades Union Congress, can help people be more employable.

The major consumer banks here have committed to retrain 3,500 existing employees over the next two years, to minimise redundancy caused by technological changes, he said.

He also urged businesses to create opportunities for inexperienced people to pick up new skills and pursue new careers, especially young people and mid-career jobseekers affected by restructuring in other sectors.

He also urged employers to look out for mature workers and vulnerable workers such as those with disabilities or earning low wages, as well as to make work arrangements more flexible and family-friendly for mothers and caregivers.

"As we transform our future economy to be more innovative, let us make sure that our future workforce will not be less, but instead more inclusive, across all sectors," he said.

Thirdly, the Singaporean core must grow not just in number but in capabilities.

Mr Lim encouraged companies to nurture more "glocal" talents - locals with global experience. They can groomed for top managment roles as well as be equipped with world-class skills which will be in demand, such as in cyber-security, data analytics, digital services, artificial intelligence and running smart factories.

He highlighted UOB's group chief financial officer Lee Wai Fai and China Reinsurance Group's Asia-Pacific chief executive Richard Lim as two examples of people who have built up their experience working with international businesses.Banks such as DBS, Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank also have programmes to train staff for regional or global leadership roles.

Local workers can do their part in learning continuously. "Leave your comfort zone and take on new challenges. Broaden your horizons and exposure. Take up regional postings, get to know Asia better and build up your networks," he said.

The government, employers and workers will have to cooperate to raise the bar and keep Singapore's workforce competitive, Mr Lim added.

He recalled how in the 1980s, the National Day Parade worker contingent would carry display cards reading "#1 Workforce in the World".

"Maybe some years from now, the day will come when we have a marching contingent of glocal talents at one of our National Day Parades, carying display cards that say 'We are still number 1'.

"Then we would have truly arrived as having one of the best workforces in the global economy of the future."