Act early to retrain workers and equip them for future jobs: SM Tharman

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking at a fireside chat with OCBC Bank group CEO Samuel Tsien, on Oct 16, 2020. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Don't leave retraining workers to the last minute, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Friday (Oct 16), calling on employers to take the lead in equipping their staff for future jobs.

He said both employers and workers must embrace changes in the job market, so as not to end up in a situation where inequalities widen when some who cannot cope drop out of the workforce.

"To ensure a good fit, you don't wait until the last minute," said Mr Tharman during a fireside chat with OCBC Bank group chief executive Samuel Tsien, in which they discussed the topic of job matching and reskilling workers. "You've got to act early, while they still have a job, to start preparing them."

And for workers who have lost their jobs, training should be customised, Mr Tharman said, adding that this can be made possible with a good knowledge of the person's background and the new job.

Effective training would be to customise it to the individual, rather than think in generic terms or hope that individuals can somehow just fit an existing requirement, he said.

If people are sufficiently prepared, they will be able to move fairly swiftly into new roles even if they have lost their jobs, without significant loss in wages or personal productivity, Mr Tharman added.

The fireside chat was organised by the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF), and took place after Mr Tharman visited OCBC to learn more about the bank's efforts in upskilling its staff.

On Friday, the National Jobs Council announced that IBF, along with the Singapore Business Federation and NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute, had been appointed its job development partners.

These three organisations have been tasked to work with firms to create new job and traineeship opportunities, and help Singaporeans take on these roles.

Every six months, IBF will study hiring opportunities and potential job losses in the financial services sector.

Using this information, it will work with financial institutions to reskill employees and develop new training programmes. It will also hold more targeted career fairs, and get senior financial services practitioners on board as adjunct career coaches.

During Friday's dialogue, Mr Tsien said OCBC studied the changes overtaking its industry, and identified areas in which it was not fully prepared for the future. "We found out that there were quite a few gaps, particularly in the areas of technology, data, and digitalisation."

As a result, the bank invested $20 million in a new structured training programme for staff, in order to prepare them for jobs of the future, he said.

Mr Tsien, who is also vice-chairman of the IBF council, added that the organisation will encourage employers to also look at skills when hiring, rather than focusing only on experience in a particular role.

"You can then expand your search into people who have these skills," he said. "This will also facilitate people to move from one role to another role."

Both he and Mr Tharman stressed the importance of partnership, especially in terms of having financial services practitioners serve as adjunct trainers.

"It really makes a difference when you have practitioners involved, complementing the full-time trainers," Mr Tharman said. "That combination - working pre-emptively with firms to create new jobs and anticipate some redundancies, customising training to the individual, and bringing in practitioners - will basically lead to, I think, a much higher level of quality in the way we are matching people to new needs."

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