Good training system can benefit both workers and firms: Minister Josephine Teo

Jobs-skills mismatch will widen as economy transforms, but it can be seen as opportunity: Josephine Teo

A demonstration of a robot deployed for stock inventory checking at the Decathlon Singapore Lab.
A demonstration of a robot deployed for stock inventory checking at the Decathlon Singapore Lab. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

The gap between jobs and skills will widen as businesses transform in the digital economy, but Singapore must see this as an opportunity, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

"If we are transforming our economy at a fast enough rate, then the jobs (and) skills mismatch must actually enlarge. We must see that as an opportunity," she added.

Mrs Teo was speaking at the launch of a Workforce Singapore (WSG) programme that helps workers in the retail industry to take on jobs in the digital economy, held at the Decathlon Singapore Lab in Kallang.

She raised the possibility in a Facebook post in October that the skills gap here is widening because both employment and unemployment inched up in the third quarter, based on flash data. The finalised figures yesterday painted a similar mixed picture.

"The story for Singapore must be that businesses do want to innovate, and when businesses innovate, job requirements will change," Mrs Teo said.

The innovation story becomes possible if Singapore has a good system in place to help people acquire the skills that will make them effective in their redesigned jobs, she added.

More innovative companies like Decathlon, a French sporting goods retailer, will find themselves hamstrung for talent if Singapore does not have a good training framework in place, she said.

"If they cannot be as innovative as they would like to be, then they cannot grow as big as they would like," she added, pointing out that workers may also lose out as a result.

A good training system benefits not just the businesses, but the workers as well, said Mrs Teo, adding: "It all fits together."

She urged firms in a Facebook post yesterday to press on with business transformation and to invest in skills training for workers.

"We will continue to help employers and workers in your transformation and employment journey through our suite of support schemes," she said.

On the same theme, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said: "We will need to continue to accelerate our efforts, in collaboration with (the Government and employers)... to overcome the structural mismatches which are causing the current unemployment."

Referring to the labour figures for the third quarter released yesterday, he added: "The rise in unemployment and retrenchment figures, coupled with a rise in employment, suggests that structural challenges such as skills and jobs mismatches continue to be the main cause of unemployment in Singapore."

Total employment, excluding foreign domestic workers (FDWs), grew by a revised 21,700 between July and September, a big jump from the preceding quarter.

Meanwhile, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 2.3 per cent, up from 2.2 per cent in the April to June quarter.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said the push for digitalisation has created a demand in jobs in the service sector, particularly professional services and information and communication services.

Hiring in the community, social and personal services sector has also grown as Singapore's population ages, he added.

Those who want to take on jobs in these sectors will need to be trained in these areas to fill the gaps in the economy, Mr Song said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2019, with the headline Good training system can benefit both workers and firms: Minister Josephine Teo. Subscribe