Budget debate: Measures helped to avert a 'Covid generation' of workers, students

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat noted that overall employment rates for this year's fresh graduates were similar to past years. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The suite of measures introduced last year helped to avert a "Covid generation" of workers and students by preserving human capital and enhancing their employability, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

He noted that overall employment rates for this year's fresh graduates from institutes of higher learning were similar to past years, although full-time permanent employment fell by about 10 percentage points compared with the 2019 cohort.

Some 94 per cent of autonomous university graduates found jobs or traineeships within six months last year, compared with 91 per cent in 2019.

"The SGUnited Traineeships programme has contributed significantly to this outcome. It has placed close to 5,400 recent graduates into traineeships, to help them gain useful skills and industry experience, and prepare them for the recovery. Some have already landed full-time jobs," he said.

The Budget also saw the Jobs Growth Incentive being extended to September, which Mr Heng said he hopes will encourage more firms to convert trainees to employees in a timely manner.

"Overall, we have managed to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our young. While unemployment rate among our young increased by 2 percentage points from September 2019 to September 2020, it remained well below that in European Union countries," he said, adding that it remains a priority to safeguard the future of Singapore's youth.

The impact extends to the wider labour market. Nearly 76,000 local job seekers were placed in jobs and skills opportunities through the SGUnited Jobs and Skills package between April and December last year.

Almost 80 per cent of them were placed into jobs, and of these, six in 10 were long-term roles.

Most of the placements were in growth sectors such as infocomm technology, healthcare and manufacturing, Mr Heng noted. Many job seekers also drew the same or higher wages than before, he added.

Mature workers aged 40 and above made up about half of the first 110,000 workers supported by the Jobs Growth Incentive, based on preliminary estimates. They also made up about half of the 76,000 locals placed in SGUnited jobs and skills opportunities.

He said: "We tilted support towards mature job seekers, recognising the higher hurdles they faced with career transitions."

More than 8,000 mature job seekers were placed last year on career conversion programmes, which help trainees to reskill for jobs with growth prospects.

Seven in 10 of the programme's participants have earned higher wages after starting their new jobs.

Meanwhile, firms should also look beyond hiring just "plug and play" workers, Mr Heng noted. Instead, they should look for the potential within job seekers to learn and grow.

"At the same time, job seekers should keep an open mind, be receptive to new and different job roles, and take the initiative to build new skills."

Mr Heng also responded to labour MP Melvin Yong's (Radin Mas) comment that every job is at risk.

"I am heartened by the labour movement's forward-looking approach on bringing firms and workers together to ride the waves of change and emerge stronger. Technological advancements promise new possibilities as well as challenges," he said.

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