SINGAPORE: The economy is undergoing both a cyclical slowdown, as well as a fundamental, structural slowdown in which consumer habits and production patterns change, said Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing in Parliament in Monday (Apr 4). This means the Singapore workforce will need to adapt, in order to avoid the problem of structural employment.
He cited an example of a retail worker who has been displaced due to e-commerce or online shopping. “The problem is not the total number of jobs available in the economy. The real question is: How do we help the person who is displaced at the retail line, get into another job that has been created? It will be too far-fetched… to expect someone who is displaced at the retail scene, to be able – with minimal training – to go into the e-commerce space or the data management space.”
He added that the labour movement will work with the employers and the Government to make sure that occurrence of possible structural unemployment is “minimised”. But he cautioned that this will not be easy when growth slows, as the manoeuvre space becomes tighter.
“At this point in time, we are at a critical juncture of our economic transformation. How do we restructure our industries to create the jobs of the future? How do we ramp up the capacity to upskill our workers to equip them with the skills of the future?” he said.
Mr Chan outlined a number of ways in which workers will be supported. First, efforts to provide career guidance and counselling need to be redoubled, he said. To this end, an announcement from the NTUC and WDA can be expected later in the year, Mr Chan revealed.
Second, the Government will ensure that workers can utilise, and maximise their SkillsFuture credit by making sure that relevant courses are made available.
Third, there will be what he calls a "second-skilling" of workers, to ensure that workers – especially those past 40 – will be equipped in the event of a retrenchment.
Mr Chan, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said that another concern of workers was the lacklustre productivity gains seen. To overcome this, he called for a united approach to re-examine mindsets and methods, including looking at job design.
“We got to go sectorally, to examine where are the laggards in our productivity drive. How best can we help them to uplift the productivity in their respective sectors?” he said.
“We either do this or we pretend that some broad macro measures will miraculously lift the productivity of all. I don’t believe that. I’ve visited enough companies to know that no two companies are the same.”
Recognising that raising productivity requires winning over workers, and retraining them according to their capabilities, Mr Chan pledged the labour movement’s commitment to work with the various ministries to “do this well”.