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In Parliament: Nurturing local talent and enhancing workers’ employability

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo speaks up for workers in Parliament on 8 and 9 May 2023.

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By Nicolette Yeo 10 May 2023
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The occupations included on the Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS) Shortage Occupation List (SOL) are determined by their strategic importance to Singapore, the degree and nature of the labour shortage, and the sector’s commitment to developing a local pipeline of workers to address the shortages.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng gave this update during Parliament on 8 May 2023 in response to NTUC Assistant Secretary Desmond Choo’s query on the key considerations for SOL.

He added that labour shortages are assessed with data taken from the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Jobs Vacancy survey and MyCareersFuture job portal, relevant sector agencies assessments, and feedback from industry and tripartite partners.

Dr Tan stressed that the SOL’s key objective is to develop local talent for these jobs.

He explained: “The SOL does not stand alone as a strategy to meet industry demands for skilled professionals.

“While the SOL helps companies access foreign professionals to plug immediate skills gaps and seize economic opportunities, it must be complemented by robust efforts by the industry to train and place locals into these well-paying jobs.

“Hence, there must be clear plans and commitments by industry to develop the local pipeline or else the occupation will not be included in the SOL.”

In response to Mr Choo’s question on ensuring jobs for prospective new entrants, the manpower minister shared that the SOL is regularly reviewed in response to labour market changes and local graduate pipelines.

He elaborated: “MOM and MTI [Ministry of Trade and Industry] will continue to closely monitor indicators of shortage for each occupation, and we will also track local graduate outcomes for the SOL occupations.

“The SOL will be reset every three years. We intend to adjust it annually to add or remove occupations if there are significant changes in industry demand or supply of skilled workers. This will help us to avoid entrenching dependencies on EP [Employment Pass] holders in any occupation.”

Mr Choo also asked how MOM is working with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to ensure that local graduates have adequate skills to take on these in-demand jobs without being deterred by the influx of foreign talent.

Dr Tan said the ministry would partner with MOE to look at the local pipeline growth.

The effort is complemented by existing Workforce Singapore (WSG) career conversion programmes and NTUC’s Company Training Committees (CTC), as well as sector agencies’ feedback to institutes of higher learning on the in-demand skills so that course offerings can be updated accordingly.

Dr Tan also urged graduates to update their skills post-graduation and pursue jobs in growth industries. He also pointed to new tools, such as the CareerFinders feature on the MyCareersFuture portal, to help them access better jobs.

In response to Mr Choo’s question on whether MOM will monitor wage changes over time and adjust SOL occupations should wage growth stagnate, Dr Tan said the ministry does monitor wage changes and added that EP and S Pass minimum qualifying salaries had been raised in line with work pass holders’ ages.

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Improving workers’ employability

Dr Tan said that Singapore’s long-term unemployment rate has reverted to pre-COVID-19 levels after rising during the peak of the pandemic.

On average, the annual resident long-term unemployment rate in 2022 was 0.7 per cent, the same as the 2018 to 2019 period. It rose to 1.0 per cent in 2020 and 2021 due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The rate remains relatively low compared to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s average of 2.6 per cent.

Dr Tan said the cause of long-term unemployment is mainly structural, citing the key challenge as skills and qualifications mismatch. Older workers over 50 are also more susceptible, with a higher rate of 1.0 per cent in 2022.

His response was to Mr Choo’s 9 May 2023 Parliamentary questions on the causes of long-term unemployment over the last five years and the initiatives that have successfully reduced the rate.

Dr Tan added that MOM has successfully kept the long-term unemployment rate low by tackling the skills obsolescence problem.

He explained: “It starts with ensuring that everyone has a strong start through access to quality education and supporting lifelong learning through a strong SkillsFuture ecosystem.

“We also publish the Jobs Transformation Maps, which are detailed sectoral manpower studies mapping out the impact of technology and digitalisation over the medium-term to identify opportunities for employers to transform their jobs and upskill their workers for these transformed job roles.”

To reduce skills obsolescence, the manpower minister urged employers to embark on business and workforce transformation by tapping initiatives such as WSG’s Support for Job Redesign under Productivity Solutions Grant and NTUC’s CTC.

Additionally, he called on jobseekers to consider WSG’s career conversion programmes that can reskill them for in-demand roles.

These career conversion programmes have been relatively successful in supporting over 35,000 locals from 2018 and 2020. About nine in 10 stayed employed for 24 months, while nearly six in 10 earned more than their last-drawn salaries.