SINGAPORE - Most Singaporeans expect to spend most of their adult lives working, several times the number of years spent in formal education.
It is therefore important that working people have rewarding ways to move forward in their careers, just as students have multiple pathways to advance in education, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Tuesday (April 16).
Career mobility is the main thrust of the ministry's Adapt and Grow programmes, which aim to give people the opportunity to improve in their careers, whatever their starting points and at different stages of their lives, through their own efforts and the support of employers and the Government, she said at her ministry's annual workplan seminar.
"Most (Singaporeans) want the opportunity to learn, to grow. No one wants to stay in the same spot forever... This desire for career mobility is very similar to the desire for social mobility," she told about 1,000 staff from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and its statutory boards, as well as union leaders.
Going forward, beyond helping displaced workers, MOM will also focus on people in jobs who want to progress, as well as employers who can proactively adjust their workforce to prepare for challenges ahead, Mrs Teo told reporters at the event.
"We expect that people may find that there are opportunities opening up that have nothing to do with their current jobs, or their current employers or their current industries, and how we can help them to access these new opportunities will become increasingly prominent," she said.
In her speech at Orchid Country Club, Mrs Teo highlighted how this affects three groups of workers.
First, for the growing group of seniors, career mobility means being able to keep working if they want to and build up more retirement savings, but with the option of less intensive work and help if they need to take on new job roles.
In this vein, the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers will make recommendations on raising the retirement and re-employment ages, and look at Central Provident Fund contribution rates for older workers, said Mrs Teo.
Some workers, including professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are also affected by technological change.
Mrs Teo said that jobs are still being created, though job requirements have probably changed, and schemes like the professional conversion programmes (PCPs) can help workers adapt to new jobs and growth sectors.
Last year, about two-thirds of PCP participants received higher wages after acquiring new skills, she said.
She highlighted former freelance business consultant, Mr Chan Kum Yew, 60, who moved into the infocomm technology sector through a PCP last year. Before that, he did not have the relevant work experience.
"Mr Chan shows us that embracing technology can be rewarding and it is not just young people who can walk the tech journey successfully or extend their career mobility," said Mrs Teo.
Finally, there are some workers who are neither senior, jobless, or at risk of losing their jobs, but their jobs may not have improved much over the years. For them, companies can use technology or other means to enhance job quality so that they can upgrade their skills and advance in their careers.
Mrs Teo also called on employers to be open to hiring workers who may not be a perfect fit from day one but have the right attitude, to continually transform their business and invest in training, and to reward and recognise the effort of staff.
Although the challenges of geopolitics, the ageing population and technological disruption remain, there are reasons for optimism, she said.
The labour market is generally healthy, with employment for locals growing steadily in the last few years and fewer retrenchments.
Support for people who risk being displaced or are already unemployed will be strengthened, said Mrs Teo.
"But we must also not miss the opportunity that technology brings, which is the potential to help us grow our economy without needing a lot more people, and possibly fewer. In fact, our challenge is not the quantity of jobs, but the quality of jobs," she said.
"There are good prospects for our workers to do better jobs and earn higher wages. This is provided they have the opportunity to learn new skills and also take it upon themselves to adapt."