Coronavirus pandemic

No one is too old to hire, too qualified to adapt: Tharman

National Jobs Council to pay special attention to middle-aged workers, create opportunities

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

No employer should think someone is too old to hire, or that those with higher skills are overqualified or not adaptable enough, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday, in a Facebook post on the jobs challenge for Singapore amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Tharman, who chairs the new National Jobs Council, said after its first meeting yesterday that it will pay special attention to middle-aged and mature Singaporeans.

The Government is providing very strong support for employers amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he noted, adding: "Every employer must be part of our national team in overcoming the jobs challenge. Those who prefer to stay on the sidelines will find themselves being asked tough questions by MOM (Ministry of Manpower) about how they are abiding by the Fair Consideration Framework."

The framework requires employers to consider the local workforce fairly, and not discriminate on factors such as age, gender or race.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the council in his Fortitude Budget last week, and is an adviser to the group.

A key focus: helping people tap 100,000 opportunities in the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package - a scale well beyond past crises.

Mr Tharman said where people cannot get a job, opportunities to be at work such as temporary jobs, internships and other forms of training have to be created.

"They all give people skills, exposure and experience, that they carry with them into longer-term career opportunities eventually," he said.

"No amount of unemployment benefits can compensate for not having a job, and for the social stagnation and loss of optimism about the future that comes when a large segment of the population feels redundant and out of sorts.

"We must never get there," he added.

The council will align its work and implementation strategies with those of the Future Economy Council and Emerging Stronger Taskforce.

Besides Mr Tharman, the National Jobs Council's other members include Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) president Mary Liew and secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, as well as Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Robert Yap and other business leaders are also on board.

Mrs Teo stressed the need to open more pathways to jobs and uphold fair opportunities for Singaporeans, and Mr Iswaran noted that ICT is a bright spot, with digital and tech roles still in demand.

Mr Ng said NTUC will do its best to support the "whole-of-nation approach" to job preservation, job matching and job advocacy, as well as job creation and training.

Mr Yap said SNEF's members will look at how they can provide opportunities for existing and incoming employees to upskill themselves and safeguard their livelihoods both in the near and long term.

Singapore Computer Society president Chong Yoke Sin said that as Covid-19 has underscored the urgent need for digital transformation, "we will push for this critical digitalisation across all sectors, and for more workers to undergo training to gain digital skills".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2020, with the headline No one is too old to hire, too qualified to adapt: Tharman. Subscribe