Correspondent's Take

CFE report: Workers must play leading role in economic transformation

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

The Committee on the Future Economy report devoted a whole chapter to workers and skills upgrading.

At first glance, there is nothing new in its battery of more than 10 recommendations on how workers can acquire what it calls "deep skills".

Take this proposal, for example: Singaporeans should be better equipped to make sound career choices, based on their interests, education and training.

This has been said many times.

In fact, nothing jumps out even after repeated readings.

But before one dismisses the section on skills upgrading as a rehash of old ideas and a collection of broad statements, consider this: The significance of the chapter is not whether the recommendations are new. Rather, it is a reminder that workers, like companies, are at the centre of the economic transformation, and they too have an important role to play in the future economy.

In other words, the transformation is not just a matter for the Government or employers. Workers must play a leading part.

Or take this statement in the report: "Our workers will need to continuously deepen and refresh their skills in order to stay relevant."

It might sound like the Government is repeating itself, or even sound like nagging.

But it does not make the statement any less true.


Besides spelling out the measures to help workers acquire skills that they will need to do well in the future, it was heartening to see that the committee recognises that some workers will need more help.

It singled out four groups - older workers, low-wage workers, those with disabilities and those who lose their jobs.

To help these vulnerable workers, the committee urged the Government to beef up its social safety net, such as wage subsidies through Workfare.

This is the right direction.

There will always be those who find it harder to keep up as the economy shifts gears. As the pace of change accelerates, more may find themselves left behind. For these workers, it is the social help that will provide a lifeline, not just economic help.

It is a pity that the social safety net for vulnerable workers was not discussed more fully in the report. Granted the report was primarily an economic blueprint, but more deliberation on this area would have given more assurance to these workers that help will always be at hand.

Another area that the report could have been more precise on was in spelling out what the committee meant by "deep skills".

I asked a newsroom colleague what she thought, and she jested: "I have the normal skills to write the news report, but you have the deep skills to write the news analysis."

This is going to be a burning question in every worker's mind: What kinds of skills do I need, and how deep should they be?

The report does not provide the answers. Let us hope that the ensuing discussions led by the Government, company and union circles will.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'Workers must play leading role in economic transformation'. Subscribe