300 PMETs will get help to switch to jobs in growing biomedical sector

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing (in pink shirt), Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran and Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo at Becton Dickinson's Asia-Pacific headquarters. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - More help will be given to local mid-career job seekers to move into new roles in Singapore's growing biomedical science sector, which has remained a bright spot amid the recession-hit economy.

A new 18-month professional conversion programme was rolled out on Wednesday (Aug 26) for those in professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) roles to prepare them for good-paying jobs such as biotechnologists, production engineers, or process development engineers.

Some 300 PMETs are expected to benefit over the next year from the programme, an initiative of Workforce Singapore (WSG) and the Economic Development Board (EDB). The applicants must be Singaporeans or permanent residents.

The programme will also develop manpower in the areas of biologics and pharmaceuticals manufacturing, as well as in cell and gene therapy specialisations.

But even as Singapore looks to building up a skilled workforce in the biomedical science industry, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said an Wednesday (Aug 26) that Singapore is also working on other fronts to make the country an attractive location for investments in this sector.

Speaking to the media during a visit to the Asia-Pacific headquarters of American medical technology firm Becton Dickinson, Mr Chan said the Republic will not compete with others based on the cost of its labour and land, nor the size of its domestic market.

Instead, it will do so on other fronts which have become more important amid this pandemic, he said.

This includes, for example, the nation's ability to provide consistent and coherent long-term policies that provide predictability to investors , its emphasis on standards and skills, its geographical and digital connectivity, and its global outlook.

"Singapore adopts a proactive, forward-leaning posture, and we will enable all enterprises here to keep their promises to the rest of the global supply chain," he said. "We will not nationalise any of this for our own purposes, neither will we impose export restriction for our own benefit, but to the detriment of the global supply chain."

Asked how Singapore will balance this commitment with the needs of its population, such as in terms of securing vaccine doses, Mr Chan said the two are not mutually exclusive.

"In fact, the more we are able to attract investments to serve the global markets, the greater the opportunities to secure access to all these critical medicines and vaccines and so forth for our own population," he said.

A vaccine co-developed by Singapore researchers is now undergoing human trials here. The Lunar-Cov19 vaccine is one of 31 vaccine candidates globally which have received approval for trials on humans. Some 142 other vaccine candidates are still at a pre-clinical stage.

Mr Chan said that firms which have invested in manufacturing plants here produce more than what is needed to serve the Singapore population of between five to six million people.

He added: "They serve hundreds of millions, if not one to two billion people, in the Asian market. And because of that, it allows us to achieve scale and critical mass, which in turn leads to good jobs for people, and a more secure supply chain for people."

On vaccines, for example, the demand for doses from Singapore is but a small fraction of the entire demand in the region, said Mr Chan. "But our demand as part of the aggregate demand gives us weight in the global supply chain system. It gives us the ability to leverage our capabilities to secure those things," he added.

Smoother entry into biomedical sciences
The biomedical science sub-sector continues to be a bright spot in the Singapore economy, even though output in biomedical manufacturing can be volatile from month to month.

Data out on Wednesday showed that biomedical manufacturing output shrank 24.8 per cent in July compared with the same period last year, for a second straight month of decline.

But Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who also visited the Becton Dickinson premises in Jurong, noted during the event that the sector employs around 25,000 workers and continues to hire.

The new professional conversion programme will help to meet this increased manpower demand, Mrs Teo said.
WSG and EDB worked with industry stakeholders, as well as Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic, to develop the Professional Conversion Programme for Advanced Biopharmaceuticals Manufacturing Professionals and Executives.

Trainees will undergo full-time training, which comprises three months of classroom training at either one of the two polytechnics, and 15 months of structured on-the-job training attachment with host companies.

The new scheme replaces the former Attach-and-Train programme for biologics manufacturing, which was launched in November 2018 and has helped 185 people enter the biomedical science sector. Applicants must have at least an engineering or science-related Nitec or Higher Nitec diploma or degree.

Compared with the earlier programme, the new initiative will see an expansion in the scope of the skills covered under the programme beyond biologics manufacturing to include specialisations in pharmaceuticals manufacturing and cell and gene therapy specialisation.

Depending on job vacancies and work attachment performance, trainees may be offered full-time positions at the end of the programme. They will receive a training allowance for the duration of the programme.

During Wednesday's event, Mrs Teo urged job seekers to be more open-minded to leverage available career opportunities.

She said that 50 companies in this sector have joined the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, offering close to 400 job, traineeship, attachment and training opportunities. But about 75 per cent of these 400 jobs remained unfilled.

Mrs Teo cited 51-year-old Jayden Chong, who had switched from a career in the audio-visual industry to one in the biomedical sciences to spend more time with his three children, as his previous job required him to travel often.

Now an electric and automation technician at British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Mrs Teo said Mr Chong had joined the company as a trainee through the former attach-and-train programme.

"He enjoys his new role, and aims to continue deepening his knowledge in his field and impacting others through his work," she said. "He also leverages his prior expertise in audio-visual system solutions to help set up digital meeting rooms to improve productivity."

Ms Julia Ng, group director of the enterprise development group in WSG, said the new programme will catalyse the matching of Singaporeans to high-growth jobs in the biomedical science sector amid the pandemic.

"Together with EDB and our industry partners, we will help them cut through the uncertainties in the new normal by spotlighting sectors with growth potential and accelerating their advancement into these jobs."

EDB senior vice-president of healthcare Goh Wan Yee said the expanded scope of the training programme will equip Singaporeans with the skills required to capture opportunities in this area.

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