The finance industry needs to transform its workforce as it confronts several challenges, from financial crises to a greying pool of workers.
The warning came from Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, speaking to a ballroom of 600 banking staff at the Singapore Bank Employees' Union (SBEU) dinner last night.
Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, said the union, which counts 6,000 workers from 33 banks as its members, will have a role to play in helping the sector adapt.
For starters, he said, there is the need to stay resilient in the face of financial crises.
"Crises are now part and parcel of global finance, and have wider effects around the world than before," he noted at the dinner held at Orchard Hotel.
Singapore's finance sector has fared well so far, recovering from each crisis stronger than before and continuing to grow.
Today, the sector employs almost 190,000 people, of whom almost three-quarters are Singaporeans, Mr Tharman said.
"One important factor for this resilience has been a flexible wage system, which SBEU had a hand in negotiating for rank- and-file workers in the sector - first in the late 1980s, and then again in the early 2000s.
"It involved painful short- term adjustments but helped to save more jobs which would otherwise have been lost."
This has made Singapore's financial institutions more resilient but also benefited workers - employees in the sector earn about 26 per cent more pay than rank-and-file workers in other industries, Mr Tharman noted.
The second challenge, he said, has to do with technological change, which has spurred banks to offer a much wider range of products and services while customers are now more sophisticated.
It has also meant more compliance requirements and more complex risk-monitoring processes.
"These changes will mean that jobs in the financial sector will become more complex, requiring deeper skills and expertise in every segment of the workforce."
The union should encourage workers to upgrade themselves, and also work with employers to better understand their needs and identify opportunities for more structured career progression for rank-and-file workers.
The Government will invest heavily in skills at every level of the workforce and employers will also need to do their part, such as by developing structured career pathways for workers.
The third challenge, which is also an opportunity, Mr Tharman said, is the maturing workforce.
SBEU's work has led nine banks to offer re-employment to workers aged 62, up to age 65, on more or less the same terms.
"Much has been achieved, but there is more to do to promote re-employment of older workers in the financial sector," he said.
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