S'pore job market shows signs for optimism in 2021 but some sectors will remain in doldrums: NTUC chief

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng and Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap join assistant news editor Toh Yong Chuan to discuss what the future holds for Singapore's job market.

SINGAPORE - The job market has shown signs for optimism in 2021, although some sectors will remain in the doldrums, labour chief Ng Chee Meng said on Monday (Dec 21).

The aviation and aerospace sectors, engineering clusters which support those sectors, as well as hospitality and tourism, are likely to stay muted, he said, noting that these are areas in "survival and sustainability modes".

But others like healthcare, biotech, logistics should trend positively overall, he said, while acknowledging that the local and global health situation will be a big factor in determining how the economy recovers from its low base in 2020.

"Generally, most workers, most businesses will see the uptick," Mr Ng said at a Straits Times webinar on job losses and opportunities in 2021. ST assistant news editor Toh Yong Chuan hosted the event.

The National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) strategy for workers is to make them future-proof by keeping up with technology developments and adapting to the new skills required in the current landscape, he said.

"So whether you are in a challenged sector or in a growth sector, I would say, have a growth mindset regardless," Mr Ng said when he urged workers to seek out training opportunities to expand their skill sets to adapt to 2021 and beyond.

Echoing this view, Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Robert Yap said: "If (workers are) open-minded, they adopt lifelong learning, willing to skill and reskill, I think there is no problem in Singaporeans finding jobs."

He said that robots do not necessarily replace human workers, but rather make jobs "more sexy" and more productive, and this translates into possibly better pay for workers.

Increased productivity means companies can better sustain their businesses which in turn leads to more jobs as well, Mr Yap said.

Both Mr Ng and Mr Yap also stressed that while workers need to constantly improve themselves, employers too must embrace transformation, in terms of evolving both their work processes as well as work environments.

Mr Yap said that SNEF has been looking at how to transform workplaces so that they are age-friendly, so that older workers remain relevant and companies can also take in older workers who are willing to be retrained.

Addressing a question on how Singaporeans can fill vacancies left by departing foreigners - non-locals accounted for the vast majority of Singapore's employment contraction over the first three quarters of 2020 - Mr Ng emphasised the importance of education and skills training.


Labour chief Ng Chee Meng speaking at the ST Reset 2021 webinar on Dec 21, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

"We must continue to innovate SkillsFuture on the personal level to also the enterprise level, riding on initiatives and innovations like the NTUC's company training committees to merge different interests so that businesses and workers are aligned.

"Moving in tandem, in this way, I think would give us the best chance to succeed beyond 2021," he said.

But Mr Ng pointed out that while policy planning is focused on Singaporeans' interest, it would be "toxic to our overall well-being" if it were to reject foreigners.

"With 3.7 million Singaporeans running a $400 billion, $500 billion economy, we simply do not have enough Singaporeans," he added.

Agreeing, Mr Yap said that if Singapore wants to continue attracting the best global companies here, it needs to keep its talent policy open.

"Otherwise, it's going to be very difficult for us to continue to attract (them) because talent is actually global in a sense," said the SNEF chief.

He also noted that it is important for Singapore to continue upgrading the skills of its people and foster the growth of more large Singapore companies.

"If you have more strong Singapore companies that are global, I think that the Singaporean core becomes a little stronger even at the higher end against all the other multinational companies," Mr Yap said.