Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) yesterday backed the direction set by this year's Budget, particularly schemes to develop local talent, such as the SkillsFuture accounts with an initial $500 credit for all Singaporeans aged 25 and above to use on approved courses.
But he called for Singaporeans to be given a chance to take on leadership roles in large local companies, in order to develop local talent who can replace foreigners in key positions.
Mr Low told the House that ensuring Singaporeans play key roles, and not just supporting roles, in the workplace is a major challenge for the country.
"Currently at some large companies, because of our foreign talent policy, it seems that many heads of department or senior management are all foreigners, whereas Singaporeans are merely middle managers," he said in Mandarin.
Many sandwiched-class Singaporeans feel they should have the opportunity to rise further, but cannot do anything about their situation, added Mr Low.
If the situation continues, it will threaten Singapore's development and youth, he said. "When Singaporeans can't even be the leaders in their own country's companies, to a certain extent, it means Singapore has lost a leadership role, and we will not be able to develop the younger generation to take over and become leaders in various domains."
He went on to spell out two other challenges the country had to address. First, Singapore cannot be overly reliant on foreign manpower. He welcomed the current strategy of economic transformation and increasing productivity as a path to maintaining the country's long-term interests.
Second, the widening gap between the rich and poor must be mitigated. Society will be divided if the Government does not help those who are left behind by economic growth, he added.
This is why he said Silver Support, a new permanent scheme which will give lower-income senior citizens aged 65 and above some cash to help with their daily expenses, was a necessary step.
Speaking after him, WP MP Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) also supported the Government's skills upgrading push in the Budget, saying this would help change mindsets among employers, some of whom were reluctant to let workers go for training.
Ms Lee also welcomed the move to subsidise course fees for those aged 40 and above by at least 90 per cent, and called for this age limit to be lowered to 35, saying this was the age where many, especially new mothers, look to switch careers.
This article was first published on Mar 6, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.