Focus on jobs, lifelong learning
Two new statutory boards, Workforce S'pore and SkillsFuture S'pore, formed
Against the backdrop of slower growth and greater uncertainty, how do we balance domestic manpower growth constraints with aspirations to do better?
The answer lies in Workforce Singapore (WSG) and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), two new statutory boards expected to be formed by the end of this year.
This comes after two Bills were passed in Parliament yesterday - the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (Amendment) Bill and the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency Bill.
SSG, under the Ministry of Education (MOE), will take over some functions currently performed by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and absorb the Council for Private Education statutory board.
SSG will foster a culture of lifelong learning, and help to integrate a whole system of education and training through life.
The WDA will be reconstituted into WSG. It will focus on jobs and ensuring enterprises can become manpower-lean while remaining competitive. The new statutory board will remain under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and will focus on developing a strong Singaporean core in each sector of our economy.
Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung told the House yesterday that SkillsFuture applies to everyone, whether they are in a traditional sector or an emerging industry.
He used national swimmer and Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling, 21, as an example.
Schooling had told Mr Ong on Monday that he decided to focus on his 100m butterfly event at this Olympics, before attempting new events in the next.
Mr Ong said: "This is SkillsFuture. When you focus on one area and are excellent at it, it gives you the foundation to do many other things."
He said workers need to know that versatility comes after excellence in a craft.
He said: "If you just touch the surface of everything, we will not have the versatility. So SkillsFuture is applicable to everybody, whether traditional sectors or new sectors."
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say told Parliament yesterday that SkillsFuture will also be one way to avoid challenges the rest of the world is facing: High youth unemployment, sticky unemployment and declining labour force participation.
"We will need to quicken the transformation of the workforce, to make every worker a better worker. MOE is leading the effort to inculcate lifelong learning, from pre-employment education to professional and continuing education. SSG is the new agency tasked with this," he said.
Within the Government, WSG will partner with economic agencies on industry transformation, and with MOE and SSG on lifelong learning.
But the most important partner, said Mr Lim, will be Singapore workers.
He said: "Every individual will need to play his or her part to adapt and grow in this new environment.
"WSG will do its utmost to empower each person on his or her own lifelong journey of career conversion.
"With a dedicated new agency in WSG and the collective endeavours of all our partners, I am confident we can do more than before to match the aspirations of our people and the needs of our businesses.
"In short, we must make sure that innovation-driven growth of the economy is also inclusive growth for our people."
We will need to quicken the transformation of the workforce, to make every worker a better worker.
- Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say (above)
Don't forget the PMEs
The number of Professionals, Managers, and Executives (PMEs) seeking help, especially for job placement, at the National Trades Union Congress' PME Centre and the Employment and Employability Institute has surged in the past year, said Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC).
Mr Tay (above), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, foresees this figure will stay high, or continue to rise.
"With the rapidly ageing workforce, I am particularly worried for those who are above 40 as they take a much longer time to find employment and are more vulnerable to layoffs," he said during the debate on the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (Amendment) Bill.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say replied in his closing speech: "We are cognisant of the issues faced by PMETs, especially those who are mid-career and in their 40s, 50s.
"We (also) recognise that with a faster pace of restructuring, many of them will be affected even more."
SPEED IT UP
One solution, Mr Lim said, is to speed up the process of extending Professional Conversion Programmes - which help jobseekers obtain skills for new jobs - to more sectors.
Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) also voiced his concerns for PMEs during the SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) Agency Bill debate.
He asked if more focus will be placed on the younger generation now that SSG will come under the Ministry of Education (MOE).
However, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kungsaid in his closing speech that this will allow MOE to tap on SSG, which will comprise of certain functions of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA).
This is why WDA was restructured, he said.
"Today, all curriculum of all programmes are done with consultation with (the) industry. How do we do that even better?
"The best way (is to) take an outfit which has deep knowledge, who knows the philosophy of adult training very well, and inject them into MOE."
Inclusivity is key
Be it in lifelong learning or in the workforce, some Members of Parliament asked for inclusiveness.
Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) said she was "disappointed" to see no mention of people with special needs in the Bill.
"Our Singapore brand of lifelong learning must be inclusive. It must include those of us who learn and contribute differently," said the head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education.
"The cliff effect on learners, especially those from special schools, is real. The cost of not helping them to continue learning and renewing their skills is high as they may otherwise seek higher-cost social services such as day activity centres.
"There is also an upside in that a number of adults with special needs may be able to take on jobs in our tight labour market.
"But even those who have found jobs will discover that without continual customised training and support, they will soon lose their jobs," she said.
Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said: "I'm of the view that there is a space for a place like a special education academy or SGEnable, focused on helping the disabled. There's also a space for everyone else to do their bit...
"We must look at the disabilities, which are the ones we can help, then go all out to help them.
"It's not possible for (a) single agency or single institution to cater to disability of all forms."
Quoting a World Economic Forum gender gap study, Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) said women are relatively under-represented in jobs that have more potential for growth, which is one of the reasons for the "disproportionately negative impact" of labour disruptions on women.
Ms Tan said: "It is therefore imperative that WSG (Workforce Singapore) works with companies to tackle the barriers to tapping the talent pool of women, given that we, in Singapore especially, have a highly educated and skilled female population."
In his closing speech, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Saysaid that while the labour participation rate for women here is high by global standards, there is still "room for further strengthening" when compared to that of men.
He said: "There's still a lot of scope for us to work together to tap more on our women workforce."