Help employers see value in retraining workers: WEF panel

Singapore is working to prevent a situation of massive job loss and disruption.
Singapore is working to prevent a situation of massive job loss and disruption.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More needs to be done to drive home the idea that retraining and equipping workers with new skills is an investment, rather than a cost to employers, Mr Alain Dehaze, chief executive of human resources firm The Adecco Group, said on Thursday (Jan 28).

One way to do so would be to put in place differentiated tax treatments for companies that lay off their workers, as compared with those that choose to retrain their workers, he proposed at a panel on retraining workers at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos Agenda 2021, a series of virtual sessions to discuss global issues.

As governments pull back on financial support for businesses more than a year after the outbreak of Covid-19, special care has to be taken to mitigate the impact on jobs, said panellists at the event, themed "A crucial year to rebuild trust".

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said this is an issue that the Singapore Government is keeping a close eye on.

"It is quite clear that it won't be possible to save every job, (and) the transformations will continue. But we must all try our level best to save every worker," she said.

Mrs Teo added that workers at the lower end of the income spectrum are the most at risk. "The long tail of support that will be needed for this group of workers is something that we must keep in mind," she said.

Singapore is working to prevent a situation of massive job loss and disruption by putting in new measures that will incentivise hiring in sectors that still have the capacity to do so, even as it plans to phase out the broad-based Jobs Support Scheme, which gives employers wage offsets.

International Labour Organisation director-general Guy Ryder also said countries worldwide still have a long way to go when it comes to working out what effective systems for lifelong learning will look like, particularly how they are going to be financed.

"We have to really work out what the distinctive responsibilities of the state, of private enterprise and the individual are, and these have to be complementary," he said.

Mrs Teo agreed that it is not possible to rely solely on employers and workers to take charge of retraining efforts.

"(Employers) tend to have a plug-and-play approach, where they hire workers previously trained by a competitor, rather than train the workers in their own companies," said Mrs Teo. Meanwhile, relying on workers to upgrade themselves "runs the risk that the training that they pick up will be outside of their prospective employers' needs".

The Singapore Government bridges these through schemes such as the professional conversion programme, which helps people to change careers or jobs through training schemes that are tailored to different job roles, she said.

India's Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan said the pandemic has also presented opportunities for the workforce. For instance, it has hastened the pace of digitalisation in India, with digital financial transactions increasing multiple times.

This presents new jobs and skills opportunities in technology, including data analytics, big data and processing, for the country's workforce, he said.

More than 1,500 business, government and civil society leaders from more than 70 countries are taking part in the week-long discussions, which will feed into May's WEF special annual meeting scheduled to be held in Singapore.

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