Support for vulnerable workers, reskilling seen as key to inclusivity

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat acknowledged that improving the job market for more vulnerable workers is a relentless effort, requiring a shift in culture and employer mindsets beyond incentives.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat acknowledged that improving the job market for more vulnerable workers is a relentless effort, requiring a shift in culture and employer mindsets beyond incentives.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

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 yesterday.

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, ensuring workers have skills to stay relevant.

Lower-income workers have been hit particularly hard by Covid-19, he noted. They 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 the food and beverage sector, he added.

With middle-income and middle-age workers, they not only have heavy family responsibilities, 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.

There is even greater urgency for them to gain new skills and transition into jobs with good, long-term prospects.

He acknowledged that improving the job market for the more vulnerable workers is a relentless effort, requiring a shift in culture and employer mindsets beyond incentives.

But creative solutions for different groups of workers can be customised if Singapore adopts flexibility in job design, he said.

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.

By putting such job openings on platforms such as social services offices and community 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.

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

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, Mr Heng 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, reiterating the Government's commitment to expand PWM to more sectors while ensuring businesses in the sectors can absorb the change.

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

 
 

In the face of stiffer global competition and deep technological changes, as well as skills becoming obsolete faster, Singapore needs to continually reskill its workforce, Mr Heng said.

The Government is investing significantly for this to be done for every worker at every age, he added.

But 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."

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

Meanwhile, Mr Heng urged Singaporeans to join in the effort.

"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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2020, with the headline 'Support for vulnerable workers, reskilling seen as key to inclusivity'. Subscribe