02 February 2011

Manpower Challenges Ahead in 2011

02 February 2011

On Monday (31 Jan 2011), I had the chance to meet Hot Bun Confectionery boss Mr Low Chien Yih and his employees. Mr Low took part in the first run of the Heartland Retail Workforce Upskilling Programme designed with small- and medium-sized HDB retailers in mind to help these heartland shops become more productive and competitive.

I am glad that Mr Low recognised the importance of training and encouraged his staff to upgrade their skills. He sent two of them – Ms Tan Siew Guat and Ms Koh Bee Leng - for training conducted at the Community Club in my own constituency, Chua Chu Kang, and at their shop during afternoon break times. This way, the training did not take additional time after work – which helps to address the top training issue facing many workers, the lack of time. 

Minister Gan speaking to Mr Low Chien Yih, boss of Hot Bun Confectionery.

Minister Gan shaking hands with Ms Tan Siew Guat and Ms Koh Bee Leng
of Hot Bun Confectionery in Teck Whye.

They told me that the training has been useful and they now know how they can improve the display of confectionery and even replenish sold out stock quickly. This has helped the business, especially in the lead up to the Chinese New Year.

As the labour market tightens, training is all the more important if we were to achieve productivity improvement and wage growth. Our survey shows that training participation among employed residents rose by 0.9% to 29% in 2010.

We must continue to do more on this front, and WDA will continue to bring programmes like this one for heartland retail shops to business and workers who need it the most.

We must press on with our efforts to moderate demand for low-skilled foreign manpower. Although the increase in foreign employment in 2010 is lower than what we had originally expected, it nevertheless grew by 53,000 (excluding foreign domestic workers). This shows that there is still growing demand for foreign manpower, especially in the services sector, despite two rounds of increases in foreign worker levy in July and January.

While I understand the concerns of employers on the ground, businesses need to adjust to the realities of manpower resource constraints. It is not sustainable for us to expand our foreign workforce rapidly. Instead of depending on low-cost, low-skilled foreign manpower to support their growth, employers need to act and adjust to this new reality quickly. They need to make decisive efforts to up productivity and reduce their reliance on foreign workers.

Businesses can tap on the various productivity measures such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit announced earlier to make the move. The National Council on Productivity and Continuing Education has also been working with the various industry groups to implement strategies to raise their productivity. If we work hand in hand with a common goal of realising our productivity growth targets, I am confident we will all have much to look forward to in a prosperous Year of the Golden Rabbit.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Gan Kim Yong
Minister for Manpower
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