The Straits Times says

Helping workers to help themselves

Jobs are weighing heavily on the minds of Singaporeans as sluggish economic conditions affect the current performance of businesses and various disruptions threaten future prospects. These cast a growing shadow of unemployment, structural unemployment and underemployment over many economies and keep a big question in the spotlight: How will jobs of the future be created? In the United States, some economists insist that government spending can create jobs by applying the dubious accounting logic that "if the government is in deficit, then the private sector must be in surplus". Others argue that the government must simply get out of the way so businesses can generate profits and create more jobs.

Singapore's answer to the question is unambiguous: the Government creates the right conditions for employers and workers alike to thrive and it helps stakeholders to seize opportunities. It's the role of an enabler-in-chief, as described by observers, and not a guarantor of jobs. Hence the strategic focus of the Committee on the Future Economy is on building a strong core of competitive Singapore-based enterprises because "they create good jobs, attract investments and expand networks". To help achieve this, a structured approach is being taken via Industry Transformation Maps - covering 23 industries that span 80 per cent of the economy - and a range of enterprise programmes funded by the state.

The good jobs will be there if each industry can achieve its potential by innovating, internationalising and becoming highly competitive. But to snag such jobs as these evolve, Singaporeans will have to arm themselves with the right skills. Once again, there is no shortage of state-funded programmes to provide assistance: Professional Conversion, Attach and Train, Career Support, Place and Train, and Work Trial. However, picking the right path and taking advantage of schemes might not come easily to individuals, especially when they carry many responsibilities, feel uncertain about job fit, lack confidence in their abilities, or cannot read future trends. Some, like the long-term unemployed, might require not just counselling but also "peer support, mentoring and coaching", as a unionist noted.

Across the different sectors, from professionals to the rank and file and from young newbies to retrenched seniors, much work lies ahead to uplift one and all, over many years. Many will struggle to make the transition to new roles. Some might regard job support as an entitlement that should continue indefinitely. Others might hold unrealistic expectations about careers despite the changes afoot. All, however, will have to get used to adapting to the relentless changes that are unfolding and look set to continue. Workers will need help to cope. Those who stand ready to help themselves should get the greatest help.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'Helping workers to help themselves'. Print Edition | Subscribe