Singapore is not expected to go into a recession, but should the economy turn negative, the Government stands ready to respond, Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang told Parliament yesterday.
"Depending on the nature and severity of the downturn, the Government is prepared to consider introducing a range of contingency measures, which could include broad-based as well as sector-specific measures," he said, without giving details of specific steps.
The economy is expected to grow between 1 per cent and 2 per cent this year, but there is widespread concern on the ground over rising unemployment and a weak global economic outlook.
A total of 15 MPs had filed 16 questions about the weak economic indicators of recent months for yesterday's one-day sitting, and some asked what was being done to help workers and create new jobs amid challenging conditions.
Mr Lim pointed to some bright spots of growth in the economy, citing tourism, information and communications, education, health and social services.
Two other ministers, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, told the House that government agencies will help job seekers and workers pick up the right skills to take on new jobs that are being created in these and other growth sectors.
Mr Iswaran noted that the Economic Development Board expects investment commitments to create 20,000 to 22,000 jobs this year, compared with 16,800 last year and 18,600 in 2014, and ongoing efforts will help support the creation of sustainable jobs in both new and existing industries.
"Many of these jobs, and others in sectors like education and healthcare, are suitable not just for new entrants... but also for mature workers seeking a new career," he said.
Mr Lim Swee Say announced plans by his ministry to transform the National Jobs Bank that has helped local job seekers access more jobs. A new "online marketplace" will serve as a round-the- clock job fair, matching job seekers to openings. It will also help structure careers for the unemployed and workers in sunset industries.
The Manpower Ministry is also increasing the number of Professional Conversion Programmes, which help mid-career workers switch jobs, from 22 at the beginning of this year to more than 50 by year end.
Its minister urged businesses and workers to focus on productivity gains through innovation as "that is the most sustainable way for us to sustain our growth in the long term without becoming overly dependent on foreign manpower".
He also stressed the need to ensure that the current low growth of 1 per cent to 2 per cent is but a transition, not the new normal. "Our future norm should be 2 per cent to 3 per cent of quality growth."