Jobs still top priority for next few years, says President Halimah at Parliament opening

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President Halimah Yacob said that to sustain job creation, the economy must be kept strong and competitive. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Jobs will continue to be the top priority for the next few years, said President Halimah Yacob on Monday (Aug 24).

Keeping people in work is the best way to help them take care of their families, and keep their skills current until the economy improves, she added, as the Covid-19 crisis continues to weigh heavily on the job market.

Speaking at the opening of the first session of the 14th Parliament on Monday, Madam Halimah said that to sustain job creation, the economy must be kept strong and competitive, which is why there is an urgency to transform it and find new ways to make a living.

For instance, air travel will be resumed safely to maintain Singapore's role as a global and regional hub, while digital connectivity will be strengthened. Businesses will get the help they need to develop links to new markets.

Efforts to increase the nation's resilience in critical areas like food, healthcare and supply chain management can become new sources of growth, said the President.

The economy itself will undergo significant structural shifts, she added, with some sectors changing forever and some jobs disappearing for good, but Singapore must remain open and connected.

She said: "Much of our economy thrives because we have made ourselves a vibrant hub for the region and an attractive place for trade, investments, talent and ideas. We cannot take our hub status for granted or assume that its scope and role will remain the same."

In her speech, which the Government drafted, Madam Halimah acknowledged Singaporeans' fears and anxieties about jobs, and said Covid-19 has worsened the pressure caused by a slowing global economy in recent years.

Lower-wage workers, mature workers and mid-career Singaporeans with heavier financial commitments and families to support have been hit especially hard.

The Government, said Madam Halimah, is doing all it can to help. For instance, it is supporting businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, with cash flow and credit so that they can stay afloat and retain their workers.

And the National Jobs Council is also working hand in hand with the Government, employers and unions to create new jobs and skills upgrading opportunities for Singaporeans.

The council, which is chaired by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, is overseeing the design and implementation of the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package to create 100,000 jobs, traineeships and training places.

Said Madam Halimah: "We will continue to look out for our lower-wage and mature workers, many of whom are also essential workers who have been keeping Singapore going during the crisis.

"We are also making a concerted effort to help workers in their 40s and 50s, by matching them to suitable jobs and SkillsFuture programmes.

"I urge employers to see mid-career Singaporeans as valuable assets, and provide them with opportunities and training for new jobs."

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Another area of focus will be sustainable growth. This means reimagining city planning, redesigning urban mobility and growing using less resources in a low-carbon future, said the President.

Singapore will also push for green financing and sustainable infrastructure development across the region, to ride on Asia's growth while protecting the environment, she said.

"With creativity and resourcefulness, we can turn our aspirations for a greener Singapore into a competitive advantage."

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