Need for local workers to be trained to fill gaps in manpower as foreign worker policies tightened

Gig workers also need more support with issues such as retirement adequacy and training so they can transition out of gig work if they wish. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Local workers need to be trained to fill the gaps in manpower, especially since foreign worker policies are being tightened, as announced in the recent Budget, panellists said at a roundtable discussion organised by The Straits Times and UOB.

Gig workers, whose numbers have grown amid a boom in e-commerce and delivery platforms during the pandemic, also need more support with issues such as retirement adequacy and training so they can transition out of gig work if they wish, said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Desmond Choo at the discussion on Monday (Feb 21).

The Budget unveiled a slew of measures last Friday that raised the minimum qualifying salaries for Employment Pass and S Pass holders from September, while lowering the quota of foreign workers who can be hired in the construction and process sectors.

Mr Choo said the message is that while Singapore is open to foreign talent, it is also looking for quality and complementarity.

This is critical in ensuring young people and mid-career workers get access to good jobs, and the shift in salary criteria for foreign talent is "an important signal" that companies can give younger workers a "fair shot in life" at careers that they may be interested in, whether in technology or finance.

In addition, this also sends a message to mid-career professionals, managers and executives.

"I think they have been quite squeezed for some time," noted Mr Choo.

"We want to make sure that they are not priced off the market, that eventually they will get the message that when we bring in companies and create jobs, ultimately, we want to make sure that Singaporeans do get their lion's share of good jobs."

But there will also be an adjustment period for Singaporeans to get ready to fill the gaps left by these manpower policies, Mr Choo added.

Mid-career workers can pivot by taking up training and attachment programmes, he said.

"I think, by and large, our Singaporean workers do want to be able to make career switches, but they will need to have some adjustment time. I think that will allow them to have that balance."

Meanwhile, there also needs to be more focus and help for gig workers, who face structural problems, he said.

"This job provides a good discretionary income - reasonable for quite a lot of people. But it has inherent risk that the workers themselves are underwriting in full most of the time," Mr Choo said.

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For one thing, platform workers such as delivery riders and couriers may have invested in motorcycles, for instance, and structured their lives around gig work and cannot simply leave when employment terms change.

Those who want to stay on in gig work need to get skills training, as do those who intend to transition out to other jobs, he said.

"Something we (also) need to look into is retirement adequacy for these workers because, I think, it is a can being kicked down the road," Mr Choo said.

"Discretionary income will be affected if employers and employees both pay for it. But we need to take care of their retirement and housing needs."

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