31 July 2012

Creating Jobs for Our People Despite Global Uncertainty

31 July 2012

Despite continued turbulence in the world economy, I was heartened to note that our employment level rose by 29,200 this second quarter. Overall unemployment also declined to a seasonally adjusted 2.0% in June, with citizen unemployment dropping to 2.9%. Layoffs also showed a similar downward trend.

Better figures mean that our people have jobs and are in a better position to provide for their families. This is not trivial as I understand how debilitating it can be, not just financially, but emotionally for those affected. I do not take the state of our economy for granted as I look at unemployment figures elsewhere. It is 8.2% in the US and 11.1% in the Eurozone. Closer to home, it is 3.2% in Hong Kong and South Korea, and 5.2% in Australia. While our economy is on sound footing and our labour market remains robust, my concern is, how long will this last?

It would be difficult not to be affected by global economic uncertainties. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) cautioned last week that we are likely to see slower growth in the second half of the year with the current forecast at between 1-3%. You see, it is not about economic growth for its own sake. It never is. Slower growth is often accompanied by less job creation and the prospect of higher unemployment. Maintaining sufficient and reasonable growth to keep our people meaningfully employed and to secure our nation’s well-being is critical. 

Let’s keep our eyes on productivity as the key driver of growth

While good employment figures are always laudable, if I were to be more self-critical, I would be somewhat concerned that employers were adding jobs at a faster pace, at a time of slowing economic growth. This would dampen our labour productivity. It is not good for our economy and therefore we cannot let up on our efforts to restructure and raise skills in every job, so that productivity drives our growth. Over the past decade, productivity improvements contributed to one-third of our economic growth. This coming decade, we should try to achieve a level of productivity that contributes to two-thirds of our economic growth[1]. Why? This would help ensure that we come out from this period stronger and more competitive. This means that more of our workers will be employed in higher-value jobs and more of these jobs will be created in Singapore for our people. It will also allow us more space to better manage our foreign workforce numbers.

Continue with better job matching

While we may enjoy one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, our seasonally adjusted estimates show that we have about 53,000 unemployed citizens. Each jobseeker has different circumstances. While some may have just joined the job market or are in a transition period of changing jobs, others may have to care for family members in his/her household or are sole breadwinners and need to find employment quickly. More can and must be done to better match this group of job seekers to fill job vacancies in growing sectors such as services, where employers are crying out for local workers. 

For example, WDA has begun stepping up employment facilitation efforts on the ground by working with industry associations to beef up job sourcing efforts; engaging community groups, grassroots and self-help groups to establish a structured referral process for the unemployed, vulnerable and needy job seekers; as well as collaborate with Family Service Centres and other community counselling providers to help job seekers who require emotional support. Likewise, e2i will ramp up its outreach and assistance capacity through the unions, advertisements and activities carried out in locations close to the community. Our job matching efforts on the ground must continue.  

Let me share Ms Nur Hidayah Binte Juwahir’s experience to illustrate how it can work. 27-year-old Nur approached the career centre at South West CDC last year. Married with 3 young children, she stays with her parents, three siblings, her husband and children in a 4-room flat.  The family was finding it hard to make ends meet. Nur’s husband works as a Warehouse Assistant, while Nur - who used to be a retail supervisor - was no longer working as the long hours and shift-work made childcare arrangements difficult. 

Nur, who has a Secondary 2 education, was initially skeptical when invited to attend training to refresh her skills. She did not think training would improve her employability, and was also hesitant to attend courses as she was worried about her childcare arrangements. To ease her childcare concerns, the CDC referred Nur as she is eligible to receive government subsidies for childcare arrangements. The CDC also arranged for her to attend several Employability Skills (ES) WSQ courses, which were 100% subsidized by WDA.

Nur was subsequently successfully placed as a Visitor Registration Officer on a 12-month contract at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). I understand Nur said she regained her confidence through the WSQ courses. Three months into her job, Nur’s employer promoted her to Team Leader. Well-done, Nur! Good job, SW CDC!

We are also growing the Place-and-Train programmes. There are currently over 30 place-and-train programmes in sectors such as Creative, Finance and Food & Beverage. By expanding the intake of these programmes in line with hiring demand and into more growth sectors such as Animation and Biomedical Sciences, this will in turn help ensure a pipeline of well-trained workers for employers in these sectors.   At the end of the day, there are good employment prospects and good jobs in these growing sectors, and such initiatives serve to provide more choices and options for those who are willing to consider a switch to a career in a different sector. 

At this juncture, while we have seen stronger job creation, easing of layoffs and even lower unemployment this quarter, we cannot afford to take our eyes off the ball. Where there may be spillover effects if the global economic situation deteriorates, we will do what we can to ameliorate the impact on our people.

Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin

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