Budget debate

MPs seek help for PMEs to cope with new trends

Mr Tay called for a programme for all workers to learn about digital disruption.
Mr Tay called for a programme for all workers to learn about digital disruption.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Assistance needed to move those out of a job into second careers

As companies internationalise and Singaporean professionals are encouraged to venture abroad, those returning should have more help to rejoin the local job market.

Labour MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), who made this suggestion yesterday, was among 13 MPs who spoke on labour issues amid concerns about the plight of local professionals, managers and executives (PMEs). They were the bulk of those laid off last year, and have a harder time finding a new job.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) shared the story of a 54-year-old volunteer who has been trying for three years to find a job, despite having experience in IT in Singapore and the United States.

Mr Tay told the House he had met a PME in his 50s who worked abroad for a European multinational in the oil and gas sector for 20 years, and returned to Singapore after being retrenched. He was unable to find a job for a year, until he took up a position as a project manager based in Saudi Arabia.

"It is important that we provide sufficient support and assistance to those who have spent stints overseas to assimilate and find jobs back in Singapore," said Mr Tay, an assistant secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress.

He also called for a programme for all workers to learn about digital disruption, and SkillsFuture Credit top-ups of $500 every three to five years for Singaporeans to use to acquire new skills or engage professional career coaches.

Although measures like professional conversion programmes help workers shift from sunset to sunshine industries, "there is strong inertia from many PMEs to explore new industries due to the high opportunity cost", he said.

Many often have to take on entry- level jobs despite their years of work experience, Mr Tay noted.

The Government can look into helping PMEs transit into second careers which are adjacent to their previous jobs so that they can "capitalise on their acquired skills".

Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) said that to help in the transition, workers should develop deep skills in core capabilities, as well as broad skills that are transferrable. She urged more focus on internships and on-the-job training.

Mr Tay, Mr Ang and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) also called for better use of information about labour market trends.

An inter-ministry working committee could be set up to gather information on job demand and supply, said Mr Ang. The Ministry of Trade and Industry could provide information on new investments and growth sectors, the office of the Head of the Civil Service would have an overview of jobs available as Singapore's largest employer, and the Manpower Ministry could highlight job losses.

Dr Tan said Big Data analytics could be applied to shed light on the reasons for underemployment, which courses help workers find work fastest and how many people are using skills they are trained for.

"Better data also opens the door to new policy responses," he said.

Workers would also benefit from happier work environments that would encourage them to be more productive and innovative, said Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC).

He said employers should be given training on how to foster a positive work culture, and schemes like the Productivity and Innovation Credit could be extended to cover the cost of making organisations' culture more employee-centric.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'MPs seek help for PMEs to cope with new trends'. Print Edition | Subscribe