Jobs for the longer term needed after the dust settles

The move to create close to 100,000 jobs, traineeships and skills training places under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package will help many local job seekers this year.

In looking at how much relief the scheme - announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his speech on the Fortitude Budget on Tuesday - will bring, it may be useful to consider how many people are likely to be looking for jobs.

Some economists had predicted anywhere from 45,600 to 200,000 job losses this year before the latest raft of support measures - including more wage subsidies under the Jobs Support Scheme - was announced, though the bulk of those affected would be foreigners.

Another group of job seekers are not captured in retrenchment statistics, such as those whose firms employ below 25 workers. "Some of these smaller employers such as mom-and-pop shops may be the worst affected," said OCBC Bank chief economist Selena Ling.

There could also be workers who feel forced by their bosses to resign - what some call "disguised retrenchments".

The third group comprises those already unemployed, meaning they are out of a job but are actively looking for one and want to work. In March, an estimated 76,400 Singaporeans and permanent residents were unemployed.

Finally, fresh graduates will be joining in the job hunt.

A rough estimate of a graduating cohort of full-time students would be about 16,000 from the six autonomous universities, 23,000 from the polytechnics and 13,000 from the Institute of Technical Education, although some would want to further their education, especially given the weak job market, or have to serve national service.

It would seem that although the nearly 100,000 places in the new scheme would not cover all of those who need jobs, a substantial number can expect help. Those on traineeships and training courses will at least receive some income in the form of allowances.

Mr Heng said in an interview with CNA yesterday that the figure takes into account a range of projections of expected job losses together with the number of new entrants to the labour market each year.

"I believe that for now, that will be sufficient. But if there is a need for us to do even more, we have the resources to do that," he said.

In looking at how much relief the new SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package will bring, it may be useful to consider how many people are likely to be looking for jobs. These include unemployed residents as well as fresh graduates from universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

It is up to those who tap the new schemes to make the most of the situation. The job or traineeship may not have been a first choice for employment but it could be a chance to learn a new hard or soft skill, and to prove to prospective future employers how adaptable one can be.

Putting such a high target of close to 100,000 new opportunities out there will galvanise more companies and individuals to act, said Institute for Human Resource Professionals chief executive Mayank Parekh.

"Everyone will be a little more involved, to say 'what can I do to help'," he said.

However, it is worth noting that not all the jobs being created under the new initiative are permanent ones. Some are temporary jobs such as health declaration assistants and transport ambassadors. And the 21,000 SGUnited Traineeships and 30,000 SGUnited Skills training places last up to 12 months.

After the dust settles, jobs will need to be created for the medium to long term.

That is where the new National Jobs Council headed by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will have an important role to play.

Mr Heng announced the setting up of the new council on Tuesday, saying it would focus on "creating jobs and building deep skills", and that its efforts would be integrated with the work of the Future Economy Council on the overall upgrading of the economy.

This would help Singaporeans determine where they should focus their efforts in learning and reskilling for the future.

Mr Parekh said companies could also use this time to relook their business models, and the Government could examine if people are being trained in the right areas.

DBS senior economist Irvin Seah said that already there had been major structural shifts in the last three years affecting the economy and jobs, some of which have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amid the upheaval, perhaps one silver lining is the opportunity now for Singapore and Singaporeans to prepare for what lies ahead.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2020, with the headline Jobs for the longer term needed after the dust settles. Subscribe