Protecting workers, not jobs: 3 tiers to strengthen Singapore's employment resilience in a dynamic economy

05 May 2023

Untitled Design(3)

​This would mean efforts such as helping Singaporeans reskill, upskill, and transit more easily to take up new job opportunities, DPM Lawrence Wong highlighted.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has affirmed that, in a dynamic economy, Singapore's approach is to protect the worker, not the job. Particularly since, as the flow of innovation in such a desired healthy economy fosters new ideas and ways of doing things, a churn of jobs is to be expected.

Closing the Citizens' Panel on Employment Resilience on 25 March 2023, he set the context by posing the question: "How can we help our workers better bounce back from any employment setbacks? How can we help them bounce back not just into another job, but hopefully one that makes good use of their skills and has even better career prospects for them?"

While DPM Wong recognised that some jobs will be rendered obsolete, perhaps due to innovation and technological advancements, he also noted that new jobs will also be created — "and these new jobs will usually be more productive, and will pay better wages".

"These sorts of changes [are] happening all over the economy. It is a process of creative destruction, and in fact, it is an integral part of a healthy and vibrant economy."

Sometimes these new jobs that are created are within the same company, taking over the obsolete jobs. However, in many cases, the new jobs are being offered by more competitive firms in the same sector — or even in an entirely different sector.

DPM Wong foresees that this sort of churn will be accelerated in the coming years due to continued advancements in technology. 

As such, he affirmed that Singapore's approach is not to protect the job as this will only hold back the process of innovation and will hinder the creation of new and better jobs. Instead, Singapore aims to redouble efforts to protect workers, not jobs. This would mean efforts such as helping Singaporeans reskill, upskill, and transit more easily to take up new job opportunities.

He identified three levels to this: 

  1. Engaging employers

  2. Training providers to work closely with employers and the industry

  3. Engaging workers

Firstly, engaging employers is key as they are the ones who create the jobs. So, employers would need to know how they want to grow and transform their business, how to redesign jobs to achieve these goals, and what kind of skillsets they need for their jobs of the future, DPM Wong shared.

Second, training providers need to understand what employers need and design effective courses that can close the skills gap. The training providers must also maintain high and rigorous standards of training. This would mean ensuring that those who completed the course will truly have the certifiable skills that will be in demand by the industry.

Finally, workers should also be engaged, through the unions and also by appealing to and engaging them directly.

In doing so, it is important to recognise the diversity of the workforce: "There will be some who are very clear about what they want to do, based on their own skills and aptitudes. They will do their own research, they will undertake training on their own. In fact, they require probably very little help from external parties. We want many more people to be like that, unfortunately, for now, this group reflects only a small proportion of workers."

There are also those who are simply "just following the fad" – they go for training in areas they read about, without much thought on whether it’s a good fit for them, the DPM added.

Other groups of workers may not even go for training at all for all sorts of reasons – sometimes they can’t spare the time, and there may be some that are struggling with finances. Often, for this group, if they are displaced, they may jump to accept the first job that is offered to them, even though that’s not always the best fit or the best use of their talents.

These are the considerations DPM Wong laid out – targetting employers, training providers, and individuals. To address all of these issues, he further highlighted the importance of strengthening Singapore's SkillsFuture eco-system, especially in the area of training and job placement. One such example would be the introduction of the idea of Jobs Skills Integrators in the 2023 Budget.

Through efforts such as the Citizens' Panels, the Government aims to go deeper in its engagements. The panel helps cover various points of discussion for those interested to "wrestle with the trade-offs" and work with the Government, to shape policies in partnership.

One such example in the recent panel would be unemployment support. Following the topic at the panel, DPM Wong affirmed: "We do want to provide more support to displaced workers so they will have assurance, peace of mind and they can take the time to upgrade their skills and look for a better job.

"We also know that one unintended consequence that we have seen elsewhere is that generous unemployment support can inadvertently lead to more people staying unemployed, rather than finding a job. So we will need to find ways to avoid these negative outcomes."

Also present at the panel, Minister for Manpower Dr. Tan See Leng added in a Facebook post following the event: "To protect workers, we encourage them to reskill and upskill, so that they can take on new jobs in an evolving labour market. On the other hand, simply protecting jobs will only hinder the creation of new and better jobs to meet changing demands of the industry.

"This is what employment resilience is about, and what our tripartite partners are working towards. Together, let us build a more enduring social compact."