The Straits Times Future Economy Forum

The Straits Times Future Economy Forum: Many jobs on offer despite slowdown, says Ong Ye Kung

But retrenched PMETs need to acquire new specialised skills to enter new industries

The office crowd in the Central Business District (CBD) of Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

The slowing economy has sparked concerns about job losses, but there are thousands of jobs waiting to be filled, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said at a forum yesterday.

He pointed to where the jobs are and where jobs will be created:

• 30,000 IT professionals needed by 2017;

• 3,000 more jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) in precision engineering by 2020;

• Demand for 1,000 rail engineers;

• At least 1,200 professionals needed in finance, mostly in IT and compliance; and

• 4,000 more early childhood educators needed in the coming years.

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Retrenched workers, however, find it difficult to get these jobs because they lack the appropriate skills, Mr Ong said as he talked about the jobs and skills for the future at The Straits Times Future Economy Forum.

Another obstacle is that the jobs are spread across many small industries, instead of being concentrated in a few large sectors.

At a separate event, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong pointed out that greying Singapore will need 30,000 more healthcare workers in five years, to add to today's 70,000.

Upcoming health facilities will need an entire range of workers, from geriatric doctors to highly trained nurses who can helm clinics.

These include six new polyclinics, another 2,100 public hospital beds, 9,100 extra beds in community hospitals and nursing homes and 7,600 more places in day, home and palliative care for the 610,000 seniors Singapore will have in 2020, a rise from 460,000 last year.

This means "ample good jobs for Singaporeans", Mr Gan added.

In his speech, Mr Ong noted the slowing economy has led to layoffs, with PMETs being hit hardest.

But the economy is not in recession, he said, unlike in the 2008 global financial crisis when "every week, every other day, some retrenchment exercise was going on", he said. "Today, we are still growing albeit at a slower pace."

However, it is now more difficult to place laid-off workers in new jobs scattered across industries.

This is unlike in 2008 when, "despite the tremendous numbers being retrenched, we had a big emerging sector", he said, referring to the two integrated resorts which were hiring aggressively.

Today, nine in 10 fresh graduates from local universities and polytechnics land a job in six months, an indication that the labour market is still holding up, he added.

Retrenched PMETs, however, face an uphill task in entering a new industry, as specialised skills are often needed.

In short, they need to acquire new specialised skills to find a job.

Ensuring people can pick up the right skills to take on future jobs is a key focus of the Committee on the Future Economy, and a move in which workers, employers and the Government all have a role to play.

Mr Ong said that while workers need to upgrade their skills, employers too have to be more flexible and open to hiring people from other industries with related skills.

Meanwhile, the Government is tackling the problem in three main ways, he added. These are: helping laid-off workers find new jobs, retraining workers to have the necessary skills, and exploring new growth sectors where jobs can be created.

He noted the National Jobs Bank has some 70,000 vacancies. Many require specialised skills, he added.

For instance, in hospitality, managers with a strong sense of care and duty are needed, and in financial services, those with knowledge of IT applications and cyber security analytics, as well as strong numeric skills, are in demand.

On top of that, he added: "Employees need to be multi-skilled. Besides technical skills, it is also important for them to possess mental skills, such as learning agility, so that they can and are willing to unlearn, learn and relearn."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline Many jobs on offer despite slowdown: Ong Ye Kung. Subscribe