New scheme in the works to train retail, aerospace workers

They could be matched with employers to gain skills while waiting for job market to improve

The retail industry employed about 158,800 people here as of March. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

A scheme to help workers in the hard-hit retail and aerospace industries is in the works, where they could be matched with surrogate employers and trained while waiting for the job market to improve.

Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Robert Yap told The Straits Times that the group is in discussions with various partners on the programme, and aims to roll it out within 12 months after details are firmed up.

It would see workers being employed by companies for possibly six to 12 months under a structured curriculum so that they gain industry-relevant skills.

The Government would subsidise the salaries of the workers. Later on, they can be deployed to other firms.

The retail industry employed about 158,800 people here as of March, while the aerospace sector employs around 22,000. The sectors have been badly affected by travel restrictions and the circuit breaker measures to stem the spread of Covid-19.

To further boost transformation in the retail sector, SNEF is also pushing for a new national order management platform that would make it easier for different players - from retailers and mall landlords to e-commerce companies and last-mile delivery firms - to process orders seamlessly, rather than have multiple, small platforms.

The move would also make Singapore more competitive, said Mr Yap, who is also executive chairman of logistics group YCH.

He pointed out that though there are existing international e-commerce platforms, some small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) lack the digital marketing capabilities or the ability to negotiate with the platform owners to get good terms.

The aim is for the entire retail sector to be transformed, which will result in more demand for skilled workers, who would have been trained up by the surrogate employer programme, he said.

"They can go to retailers, they can go to brand owners, they can go to all the mom-and-pop SME companies that will need these skills to help them in this transformation journey," he added.

Mr Yap was speaking to ST after Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said earlier this month that the National Wages Council would convene for a second time this year. This will occur later this month, and the council aims to release updated guidelines by next month.

Mr Yap, a council member, said the group's focus this year is on helping companies transform quickly, and also see how their wage policy can be consistent with the current situation.

Mr Yap said SNEF is working to provide more coaching services on how to make the most of government grants so that SMEs can survive the economic crisis.

He also hopes for more government support for large local enterprises which have Singaporean workers at heart.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay had, during the Budget debate in February, mooted bringing back the Surrogate Employer Programme, which NTUC worked with the Government to administer from 2001 to around 2011.

The programme gave union members absentee payroll and course fee funding if they were keen to upgrade their skills without the support of their employers. NTUC functioned as a surrogate employer to them.

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem said yesterday that SNEF's planned scheme appears to provide not just a stop-gap measure to keep aviation and retail workers in jobs, but a longer-term solution to reskill them for future growth sectors.

Mr Yap said that even as SNEF pushes for more help for businesses to survive the crisis, not all are "salvageable", especially if their business models are no longer relevant.

"If they stick on to where they are and hope for a lifeline, they can only extend a couple of months, but it doesn't mean that they will be able to get through (the crisis). At the end, it would be also a dead end," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2020, with the headline New scheme in the works to train retail, aerospace workers. Subscribe