Safety net and skills upgrading go hand in hand

Skills upgrading is indeed a better long-term solution to structural unemployment (Upgrading skills a better safety net than redundancy insurance, by Mr Jeffrey Law Lee Beng; Forum Online, May 12).

I disagree, however, that unemployment insurance or some alternative form of safety net will create nonchalant workers.

Safety nets and upgrading go hand-in-hand to protect Singaporean workers and prepare them for the changing economy.

In the current climate of rapid disruption, Singaporeans cannot expect the same job security they enjoyed in the past.

As technological life cycles get shorter and new innovations restructure the economy regularly, structural unemployment may become an increasingly common phenomenon. Workers will need to be constantly retrained to meet new industry demand.

Retraining is, however, not an instantaneous matter.

In the process, an opportunity cost is incurred - by investing their time to retrain rather than work, workers may not be able to generate sufficient income to support their families.

They may, thus, be discouraged from retraining in favour of finding another job; this will lead to many workers being left behind as the Singapore economy climbs the value chain.

Unemployment insurance, if executed correctly, could in principle ameliorate this problem.

By allowing all workers in Singapore to pool their risk together by contributing to a common fund, sufficient payout could be raised to help unemployed workers tide over the period that they are undergoing retraining, at least.

This will take a significant strain off their savings and encourage more workers to retrain.

As much as Singapore should focus on retraining as the primary strategy to overcome rising unemployment, workers must receive adequate support in the short run to convince them to participate in these schemes.

Short-term safety nets and long-term reskilling, therefore, go hand in hand to protect Singaporean workers and empower them to face the uncertainties of the 21st century economy.

Ng Qi Siang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'Safety net and skills upgrading go hand in hand'. Print Edition | Subscribe