Correspondent's Take

Singapore Budget 2017: Good news for PMEs, older workers and job seekers

The annual Budget speech is always about the big picture.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat presented Singapore's plan to grow the economy and share the fruits of this growth in his Budget speech yesterday.

However, if ordinary workers are asked what the Budget means for them, they will most likely see the smaller picture - the personal perspectives on how specific schemes affect them.

At this level, several schemes in the Budget will bring some cheer to workers. For example, professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) who switch careers can look forward to more government help. They will be able to get more support in career conversion programmes.

Employers will also be given more incentives to hire retrenched PMEs, especially older ones.

SPH Brightcove Video
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat made his first major policy speech since recovering from a stroke. Journalist Bridget Tan shares some of the perks in store for Singaporeans in the coming financial year, along with some not-so-great news.

Mr Heng did not elaborate on these enhancements.

The Ministry of Manpower is expected to announce details when the ministry's budget is debated in Parliament in the next two weeks.

But even without the specifics, Mr Heng's assurances of help to PMEs are most welcome. These workers are expected to bear the brunt of retrenchment when the economy slows.

Older workers also have something to look forward to in the Budget. Employers will get wage subsidies if they voluntarily rehire older workers above the re-employment age of 67, as well as those workers who would have already turned 65 before the re-employment age is raised in July this year.

Such wage subsidies give older workers a better shot at staying employed.

While several Budget measures bring cheer to workers, others may appear unorthodox at first glance. One such scheme is the new "Attach and Train" programme, in which workers can join companies for training attachments. The firms do not have to hire them.

The scheme is unusual in that job seekers and employers are more familiar with the traditional "Place and Train" scheme, where workers are trained after they have been hired for jobs.

Workers would naturally prefer a "Place and Train" scheme over the "attach and train" alternative, given the certainty of employment. But with the slowing economy, fewer companies will be willing to hire.

With training separated from hiring, workers will still have a shot at landing training spots, even if the companies training them are not hiring. In this sense, the scheme is not a bad alternative for workers looking to try their hand in a new sector.

Another unusual programme is the SkillsFuture Leadership Development Scheme. Under the scheme, some 800 high-fliers who can help their employers expand overseas will get government subsidies in training as well as overseas stints over the next three years.

It is unclear just how much in the way of government funds these workers will receive, as the $100 million earmarked for them also includes another programme to help Singaporeans gain overseas experience.

SkillsFuture is the Government's umbrella programme to help Singaporeans gain skills to boost their employability. Most Singaporeans associate the scheme with the $500 they got last year for training courses.

Some may baulk at the small number of high-fliers receiving proportionately more government funding than the majority of the workforce, but there is another way of looking at it: It is the SkillsFuture programme going upmarket.

For SkillsFuture to remain relevant to workers, a one-size-fits-all programme will not work.

It has to go upmarket - maybe even at the risk of being decried as elitist - to be able to help more carefully targeted workers maximise their potential.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline Singapore Budget 2017: Good news for PMEs, older workers and job seekers. Subscribe