The Straits Times
Published on Feb 13, 2013

PMET job not the only path to success


THE debate on the Population White Paper has largely revolved around overcrowding, infrastructure and the influx of foreigners. I am troubled by the projection that two-thirds of citizens will be professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) by 2030, and that we will increase our reliance on foreign workers to take up lower-skilled jobs.

Many Singaporeans think that some types of work are beneath them. The pay in these jobs is so low that it is difficult for workers to eke out a decent livelihood. Yet many of these jobs are in essential services like health care, construction and cleaning.

Depending on foreign workers to fill these roles can only be a temporary solution that is not sustainable.

The strong Singaporean core we are building must be self-reliant. Singaporeans must be able to make a decent living from work that matches their aptitude and ability. All work done must be valued fairly, and this must be reflected not only in wages, but also in the removal of the perceived social stigma.

Costs will go up, but the result is a more resilient Singaporean core that is rooted in reality.

The Government must help all Singaporeans achieve their dreams and aspirations, and understand that a PMET job is not the only way to get there.

In many cases, it is not even the best way.

The assertion that foreign workers serve as a buffer for economic uncertainty is also flawed. In an economic downturn, many PMET jobs in banking, finance and manufacturing are at greater risk than those in essential services like health care and cleaning.

If these jobs continue to be shunned by residents, and if remuneration continues to be artificially suppressed by a reliance on cheap foreign labour, Singapore may find itself in an unsustainable situation.

Weaning ourselves off cheap foreign labour will not be a quick and easy process, but it is a necessary step towards a sustainable population and dynamic Singapore.

Aaron Lee Kwang Yang