Debate Speech on Budget Statement 2023 by Desmond Choo, Assistant Secretary-General, NTUC; MP for Tampines GRC on 23 February 2023

The Government’s Cost of Living support packages will help Singaporeans to cope better with inflation.
23 Feb 2023
Mr. Speaker Sir,

Thank you for allowing me to join the Debate.

The world is opened for business after COVID has eased globally. But it is a world marked by geopolitical tensions and high inflation.
a. The Government’s Cost of Living support packages will help Singaporeans to cope better with inflation.

Now, critical to coping with inflation is to ensure wages keep pace with rising prices. Inflation is likely to stay for quite some time. The measures announced in this Budget to improve productivity structurally are especially important.
a. Many of these improvements will require many years of effort;
b. And, central to long term productivity gains resides with our younger people and our younger workers.

I will first speak on helping our in-school younger Singaporeans. Second, on younger Singaporeans already in the workforce who are currently in their first and second careers.

Youths in School (focus on ITE)

Our younger Singaporeans in ITEs who are soon to join the workforce face a daunting challenge.
a. The starting salary gap between university and non-university graduates continues to widen.
b. From 2016 to 2021, the gap between university and polytechnic graduates increased by S$200; and S$300 between university and ITE graduates.
c. The wage premium given to degree-holders is understandable. The degree holder has spent more years preparing for the workforce compared to the Nitec or Diploma holder. An ITE graduate enters the workforce in 3 years, while a university graduate takes another 3 to 4 more years.

However, in the longer term, the same phenomenon occurs. For example, the median salary for Singaporeans in their 20s and 30s with a university or post-graduate degree is $4,200. This is more than double of that earned by those with only secondary or lower education and ITE qualifications.
a. Studies have also shown that a large proportion of non-university degree holders took up roles as associate professionals and technicians (APTs). In comparison, university degree holders largely took up roles in professional occupations.
b. The value APTs bring to our economy might not be valued fairly by the market currently. Without APTs, those in professional occupations possibly cannot complete their work with quality or at all.
c. We need to move towards a better balance in valuing both technical and academic routes of career advancement.

Structured vocational training pathways

First, we need to strengthen vocational training and apprenticeship programmes for ITE students, and even graduates.
a. Recently, NTUC engaged ITE students who took up the ITE Work-Study Diploma to understand how their experiences have helped them in their careers.
b. One participant, upon completing his higher NITEC, took up a Work-Study Diploma in Automation Engineering. Through his diploma, he was given the opportunity to undertake full-time employment in the host company he was attached to during his studies. The company has set out a good career pathway for him. There are structured avenues for deepening industry knowledge and skillsets. This includes a company-sponsored overseas study programme with a bond to work in the company’s overseas branch for at least 3 years, which he is considering taking up.
c. While early days yet, the future for him is bright. The issue for us is, can we scale this up further?
d. We can incentivise more companies to develop structured work-study diplomas and even overseas training stints. This improves not only productivity but also Singapore’s pool of talent.

Quality Internships

Next, we need to have better quality internships to strengthen the nexus between school and work. This can reduce the number of younger Singaporeans not going into jobs that they are trained for.
a. Through the NTUC Youth Taskforce’s surveys and engagements, we found that internships rank highly in easing the transition from school to the workforce.
b. Our engagement findings also suggest that students who had internships gained valuable work experience, better understanding of the industry and career prospects within their sectors, they were also able to appreciate prospective job roles better.
c. The reticence of employers to offer internships is not unfounded. Resources must be dedicated to guide interns. This can be difficult when manpower is tight.
d. At the same time, this is also what our social compact is about – companies in Singapore offering younger Singaporeans opportunities to build a stronger Singapore. It requires thinking beyond just a company’s immediate needs.
e. Therefore, Unions and schools can work with companies to put in place good internship programmes. Clear standards of internships should be established. Government can provide more resources, perhaps in the form of tax incentives, to companies keen to support such a social compact.


Structured mentorship programmes can be a vital tool in easing career navigation and improving studies to work nexus.
a. We often associate mentorships for older working people. But there is also equal value to extending this to the ITEs and Polytechnics.
b. By connecting students with mentors from their interested industries, their ideas on potential careers and aspirations are potentially broadened. They receive targeted career advice and counselling particular to that field. An example is the SIT-Young NTUC’s Industry Mentorship Programme (IMP), which is in its 6th iteration this year. Young NTUC plays a bridging role in the IMP, providing linkages to career mentors for SIT students, and also hosts various networking opportunities.
c. This is also another way to strengthen our social compact. Our compact is strengthened when more successful Singaporeans provide career mentorship to those who might not have easy access.
d. There is scope for the Tripartite partners to extend and scale structured mentorship programmes across the different IHLs, especially that of ITE and polytechnics. The Labour Movement is committed to build such a compact and would share more information soon on its mentorship center.

First & Second Career Youths (Generation COVID)

Next on our youths who are in the workforce in their first and second careers. These younger Singaporeans, as I had shared in Budget 2022, comprise of Generation COVID.
a. Generation COVID is now coming out of the previously uncertain job market. As our economy recovers, we are also faced with structural labour issues. Certain job pathways are still undervalued, and the demands of employers are rapidly evolving alongside job opportunities in sunset and sunrise industries.
b. This affects not only non-degree holders, but our degree holders too. The 2022 Joint Autonomous Universities Graduate Employment Survey found that compared to 2021, more graduates remained jobless six months after leaving school, though wages are higher when they land a job.
c. To help Generation COVID emerge stronger from the battle, I would like to focus on two areas. First, enabling Generation COVID to tap on overseas work opportunities. Second, allowing for smoother career conversions.

Overseas Work Opportunities

First, on overseas work opportunities. Singapore’s strong performance during Covid has buttressed its reputation as a regional hotspot for business opportunities.
a. The question then becomes, how can we enable our people to capitalise on this and go out in the world to explore, and build greater networks to bring opportunities to other Singaporeans?
b. Supporting our young people, including Generation COVID, would be a good way to start.
c. Earlier this year in January, Young NTUC conducted a focus group discussion with 38 working younger Singaporeans. 66% indicated their interest in working overseas. They believed that this would be beneficial for their longer-term career prospects, gaining essential transferable skillsets and building professional networks. Support measures cited include remuneration support, relocation incentives, and of course, mentorship with others who have been in their position.
d. We could consider changing the current IHL overseas exchange programme for our students into something more work-based or company-centric. This can give our students an early taste of working overseas while sharpening the studies to work nexus.
e. The government can look into providing targeted support such as co-funding remuneration and relocation incentives where the placements are done in strategic industries where Singapore is short on talent.

Career Conversion

Next, on smoothening career conversion. As I mentioned in Budget 2022, the pandemic has hastened the emergence and decline of multiple industries, professions, and skillsets. It is not inconceivable for youths to now find themselves on the opposite end of the growth trajectory, unable to seize opportunities in bright-spot industries due to skills mismatch.
Even if our younger Singaporeans choose to specialise in a bright-spot industry now, no one is to say how bright the said industry would be in a few years’ time.
I believe that this has partly contributed to anxieties amongst our younger people. They do stress over having to choose the “right” first degree. This could partly be due to only first degrees being subsidised by the government. Or too much emphasis is on getting it right the first time.
An anecdotal example of this is one of our ex-colleagues with over 10 years of experience. Recently at age 35, she decided to switch from the public sector to merchandising in the commercial space, which was her lifelong interest. Her biggest challenge in making the switch was the lack of experience or training for the new role. Although she possessed transferable skills, her employers were looking for the latest skills and experience even for an entry-level position. Thus, she took up an entry-level position, took a pay cut and juggled working full time and night classes. This anecdotal experience shows that the pains of career conversion can similarly affect those who are relatively younger.

The current support for career conversion is weighted towards older workers. This is rightly so as older workers do find it even more difficult to switch careers.
a. However, the ever more dynamic economy will require Singaporeans to make more career switches, even earlier in life. A failure to switch decisively earlier can result in downstream difficulties to seize growth opportunities or even going down the wrong career trajectory. I encourage the government to consider offering graduated subsidies and loans for second diplomas and degrees to younger Singaporeans. This can help in making career pivots easier and earlier.


Mr. Speaker, as Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong mentioned, this Budget is centered on forging ahead together as a nation amidst the uncertain global environment. The Labour Movement will work closely with the Government and employers to do right by our workers and ensure that no worker gets left behind. We need to ensure that the successes enjoyed by Singapore today will continue to be shared with future generations by enabling our young workers to be well-equipped and form our new future-proof workforce.

Speaker Sir, I support the Budget.

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