Employers need ‘new thinking’ to give mature Singaporean workers ‘fair chance’: Tharman

Staff Writer, Singapore
·Editorial Team
·4-min read
Office workers seen during lunch hour in Singapore’s central business district on 2 June 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Office workers seen during lunch hour in Singapore’s central business district on 2 June 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Employers need to adopt a “new thinking” to give middle-aged and mature Singaporean workers a fair chance to prove themselves, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday (17 June).

Tharman made the comments while delivering his address in a national TV broadcast - the fifth in a series of six speeches by Cabinet Ministers on securing Singapore’s future in a post COVID-19 world.

Elaborating on his theme “A Strong and More Cohesive Society”, Tharman called for a concerted national effort to help middle-aged and mature Singaporean workers. He said employers need to reorient their management philosophies and human resource practices.

“No Singaporean who is willing to learn should be ‘too old’ to hire. And no one who is willing to adapt should be viewed as ‘overqualified’,” said Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Social Policies.

Towards this end, the government will work closely with the business associations to bring all employers into this national effort. The Ministry of Manpower will also watch companies’ hiring practices to ensure that they comply with the Fair Consideration Framework.

“If it becomes the norm to hire mid-career Singaporeans and train them for new jobs, everyone is better off,” Tharman said. These workers will be able to build on their skills and experience and enable Singapore to have a more capable and motivated workforce, he added.

The effort assumes more urgency with a higher proportion of Singapore’s labour force of age 40 years and older compared with previous decades. Today, the proportion is 60 per cent with many of them 50 years or older, Tharman said.

‘Social priority’ to save jobs

The goal of saving jobs and helping unemployed Singaporeans to bounce back into work is not just an “economic issue, but a social priority”, Tharman said.

Amid the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tharman forecast that new job openings in Singapore will very likely be fewer than job losses. If Singapore were to leave things to market forces, unemployment will rise significantly over the next year, he warned.

Hence, the National Jobs Council, chaired by Tharman, is “moving full speed ahead” to secure the 100,000 jobs and training places targeted by the SGUnited Jobs and Skills package.

The government is also working with companies across the sectors to take on unemployed Singaporeans through temporary assignments, attachments and traineeships during the current downturn while heavily subsidising these opportunities. But Tharman said, “No amount of unemployment allowances can compensate for the demoralisation of being out of work for long.”

The public sector will bring forward hiring of jobs, in areas such as healthcare, early childhood development, education and social services, he added.

‘Fast-forwarding’ future

For the majority of Singaporeans who still have jobs, the government is investing heavily in their reskilling and upskilling as many occupations are being transformed by the digital revolution, Tharman said.

While the government has been preparing for this for several years, COVID-19 is “fast-forwarding” the changes, he added.

Hence, training opportunities in every sector and every job, through the Next Bound of SkillsFuture, have been expanded like at e2i.

Tharman said, “Everyone must have the courage to re-gear to stay on track, and make the effort to acquire new skills at regular points in your careers, possibly even learning whole new disciplines. Please take on the challenge.”

Prior to Tharman’s address, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing had delivered their speeches in the series, which began on 7 June.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is scheduled to wrap up the series and address the nation on Saturday with the theme “Emerging Stronger Together”.

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