This year’s May Day Rally, held at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, highlighted how important skills upgrading would ensure equal opportunities for workers and jobseekers, and ensure no Singaporean is left behind in the salary stakes.
This message was particularly timely given Singapore’s various challenges in the post-pandemic era. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong shared during his keynote speech how Singapore ultimately “cannot afford to outbid the big boys” to attract foreign investments.
He shared how Germany is negotiating with chipmaker Intel to build a semiconductor plant in Eastern Germany and providing S$10bn in financing subsidies.
DPM Wong, who is also Finance Minister, revealed: “S$10bn for just one project – that’s almost double what the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) will spend this year to grow our entire economy!
“Imagine just one project, and the subsidy promised is double what MTI spends in a year!”
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But we can still succeed if our workers and jobseekers have enough “ingenuity and innovation, guys and gumption,” DPM Wong said.
“This is the only way we will prevail, even when the odds are stacked against us,” he said, noting that Singapore has previously come up against oil and financial crises and come up strong, despite being pushed to our limits.
“We gritted our teeth, worked even harder to defy the odds, and bounced back stronger.”
Part of the government’s recipe for keeping Singaporean workers and jobseekers in a good position for job opportunities in this climate is to encourage and emphasise skills upgrading.
Here are four reasons to get on the bandwagon and build a mentality towards career resilience.
#1: Upskilling keeps you attractive and competitive in a competitive international job market
Following the May Day Rally, assistant secretary-general of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and Member of Parliament (MP) Patrick Tay said, according to CNA: “I warmly welcome this renewed focus and support … on helping Singaporeans embrace skills upgrading and lifelong learning.
“I think this is very important not just for the labour movement in Singapore, but that’s the constant agenda for labour movements around the globe!”
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#2: Workers who upskill have better work and salary prospects in their current jobs
Mr Vignesha Naidu, the executive council observer with the Union of Security Employees, believes initiatives like the Company Training Committee (CTC), which supports workers in upskilling and achieving better prospects through company training, “goes a long way in training (local security) officers.”
In addition, the progressive wage mode (PWM) for workers in the security industry, for example, also ensures that locals have reasonable salaries “given the cost of living in Singapore.”
The PWM is a wage ladder linked to skill and productivity improvements for lower-wage local workers to help cushion the rising cost of living.
According to Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, the PWM will benefit more than nine in 10 full-time lower-wage workers by July 2023. He said in his May Day Message: “We have made much progress with the recent implementation of the PWM in the retail and food services sectors, and occupations such as administrators and drivers, as well as the new Progressive Wage Mark accreditation scheme.”
It also pushes for more protection for platform workers and higher retirement and re-employment ages for mature workers. This would take place in collaboration with the government and employers in a three-way or tripartite partnership.
Vignesha added: “They’ve done the necessary steps … the PWM is one classic example of how you raise the salaries of individuals to ensure they can continue to have the proper living standards,” he continued.
“When you raise the PWM, you increase the number of people joining our industry, not solely relying on foreign labour. That gives us an opportunity to give Singaporeans more job opportunities.”
#3: Upskilling can make a difference whether you’re a freelancer, gig worker, or PME
NTUC labour chief Ng Chee Meng believes that his organisation will “do more and do better” for professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), so that they can close the gap on improvements in wages and welfare.
He revealed how NTUC has been revamping its business, membership and training models to keep up with changes in worker demographics and the economy, to aid segments such as PMEs and freelancers to upskill and reskill, and set up a training and transformation group.
The aim is to adopt an integrated approach, tying together its continuing education and training provider arm NTUC LearningHub, the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute and the Employment and Employability Institute, Mr Ng said, according to the Straits Times.
For freelancers and self-employed workers, such initiatives matter. MP Yeo Wan Ling believes they form a very important segment of the workforce, and said: “Because of the flexibility that such industries and clusters allow, (many Singaporean workers) look at such jobs.
“But I think that as these jobs or the platforms that they practice with evolve, it’s important that our workers’ rights, the protections (and concerns) for such workers are also looked after.”
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#4: Upskilling will help trade jobs become more professional
Minister Tan also shared how the Minister of Manpower (MOM) has been partnering with NTUC to look into how to redesign skilled trades, particularly those that are indispensable to the Singapore economy.
He shared: “The objective is to offer better salaries and career and upskilling progression so as to attract, retain, and reward workers in these jobs.
“Over time, if we are able to upgrade the prospects and perceptions of such jobs with more attractive career pathways, we will be able to build a more inclusive labour market that rewards mastery of skills and increase the number of locals in these roles sustainably.”
Why the Forward Singapore exercise matters to us Singaporean workers and jobseekers
DPM Wong also explained why the Forward Singapore exercise, launched last year, matters to Singapore workers, sharing: “A key aim of this exercise is to refresh and strengthen our compact with workers.
“The Labour Movement has this motto: Jobs are the best form of welfare. I agree fully. But we must expect jobs to change over time.
“New technologies and more productive ways of doing things will happen, and existing jobs will be made obsolete.
“But new jobs will be created, and these will be more productive and higher value-added jobs.”
He concluded: “That’s why in our Forward Singapore review, we are studying how we can invest more in every worker – to help them take ownership of their own careers, to continuously reskill and upskill, and take up better jobs and opportunities throughout their working lives!”