Parliament: Supporting vulnerable workers and upgrading skills key to growing an inclusive economy, says DPM Heng Swee Keat

DPM Heng Swee Keat said the Government has been deliberate in channelling extra support to vulnerable groups, and helping them access opportunities and stay in good jobs.
DPM Heng Swee Keat said the Government has been deliberate in channelling extra support to vulnerable groups, and helping them access opportunities and stay in good jobs.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Singapore aims to grow not just a vibrant, innovative economy, but also an inclusive one in which growth uplifts all Singaporeans, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Oct 5).

It will be achieved in two ways, he added, in a ministerial statement in Parliament.

One, by providing holistic support to uplift vulnerable workers, and two, by ensuring workers have skills to stay relevant.

Lower-income workers have been particularly hard hit by Covid-19, he noted.

"Many of these workers face a twin challenge, as they are also in sectors that will be affected by longer-term structural changes in the economy, such as retail or F&B (food and beverage). Some are also in the gig economy."

With middle-income and middle-age workers, they not only have heavy family responsibilities and commitments, but also face the challenges of a rapidly evolving labour market, said Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance.

"For all these workers, there is even more urgency to upskill and transition into jobs with good long-term prospects."

He acknowledged that improving the job market for Singapore's more vulnerable workers is a relentless effort.

"Beyond incentives, we need to shift culture and employer mindsets. But if we focus on the strengths of our workers and adopt flexibility in job design, we can customise creative solutions for different groups of workers."

For instance, some workers find it hard to travel far for work, he noted. At the same time, some shops in the heartland struggle to find workers.

But by putting such job openings on platforms such as social services offices, community centres, the MyCareersFuture portal, and SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres, the matching of workers with businesses can be facilitated, he said.

 
 
 

He added that Minister of State for Trade and Industry as well as Culture, Community and Youth Low Yen Ling will look into how Singapore can better help displaced mature professionals.

Ms Low, who is also the chairman of the committee of mayors, will also explore how Singapore can make better use of micro-jobs to bring job opportunities closer to the heartland.

More details will be announced later, Mr Heng said.

The Deputy Prime Minister further said the Government has been deliberate in channelling extra support to vulnerable groups, and helping them access opportunities and stay in good jobs.

For instance, mature and older workers are eligible for higher wage support in career conversion programmes, and higher course fee subsidies. 

Lower-income workers also receive extra support for skills upgrading via the Workfare Skills Support scheme, which was implemented in July.

The progressive wage model (PWM), a ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels, is also an important labour policy innovation, he said.

The PWM is more than a sector-based minimum wage, he added. It is a four-in-one framework: a proper career ladder, skills upgrading ladder, productivity improvement ladder and wage enhancement ladder.

"These four upgrading ladders are mutually reinforcing," he said, allowing for the transformation of jobs that are traditionally less attractive to locals.

 
 
 

Mr Heng reiterated the Government's commitment to expanding the PWM to more sectors while ensuring that businesses in the sectors can absorb the change.

Companies that voluntarily pay progressive wages and provide advancement pathways for lower-income workers will also be recognised with a PWM Mark, he added.

"We may still be battling the downturn, but will be actively looking to identify the next few sectors where we can use this four-in-one framework, to redesign jobs and raise skills levels, and expand PWM to benefit more groups of lower-wage workers."

In doing so, the future growth of the foreign workforce in these sectors will also slow down, he said.

While the move will raise business costs and add to the difficulties faced by firms, Covid-19 has highlighted why it is critical for businesses to be more manpower-lean, productive and have jobs that are attractive to locals to ensure their long-term survival, he added.

"We will have to explore solutions, and the Government will provide support for the transition."

INVESTING BIG IN IMPROVING WORKERS' SKILLS

In the face of stiffer global competition and deep technological changes as well as skills going obsolete faster, Singapore needs to continually reskill its workforce and help them to upgrade their skills.

The Government is investing significantly for this to be done for every worker at every age, said the DPM.

This year, it has set aside about $3 billion for the SGUnited Jobs and Skills package to provide immediate employment and training support for workers, he noted.

 
 
 

This is on top of the near-$5 billion set aside over three years for longer-term structural measures to help workers upgrade their skills and access new job opportunities.

He urged all businesses to make full use of the schemes to develop workers, noting that skills upgrading is most effective when the training is relevant to the company's needs, and job seekers have certainty in the value of the training.

"As part of this whole-of-society movement to build skills, companies too need better skills," said Mr Heng. This includes skills to develop their workers, and redesign skills-based jobs to move beyond paper-based qualifications.

Together with labour, the Government will continue its work through the Industry Transformation Maps to drive these changes in each firm and sector, he added.

Individuals too have a key part to play, by taking charge of their own learning, he said.

Even as Singapore levels up the skills of every worker, it will also need to bring in global talent to complement the home-grown talent.

 
 

"By building on complementary strengths, we can build cutting-edge capabilities in our workforce and our firms, and plug into global networks. This will ultimately benefit all Singaporean workers," said Mr Heng.

To achieve this synergy, he pledged that the Government would continue to update foreign workforce policies carefully, such as Employment Pass and S Pass rules.

Meanwhile, he urged Singaporeans to join in the effort.

"Let us all play our part in building a strong, skilled workforce together.

"Singaporeans, growing up in a multicultural society, have an edge in building relationships with people around the world, especially in a more fragmented post-Covid landscape. So let us build on this strength."

Read highlights of DPM Heng Swee Keat's ministerial statement Singapore's strategies to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 crisis.