Squeeze to get tighter as local workforce growth shrinks

Squeeze to get tighter as local workforce growth shrinks
Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

As this decade comes to a close in 2019, the number of locals entering the workforce each year will shrink by up to 80 per cent to around 20,000 - a decline that will significantly tighten the squeeze in the Singapore labour market.

This picture, however, is just part of the struggle businesses will face.

The other is fast-changing technology that "will change the way we work, the way we communicate and the way we do business", Manpower Minister Tan Chuan- Jin said yesterday.

Together, the two forces will compel companies to learn to do more with fewer workers and leverage new technology, if they want to be successful, he added.

"If businesses do not become more manpower-lean, if they do not become more productive, they will have great difficulties in finding manpower - be they local or foreign - to run their operations," he warned.

Mr Tan painted this daunting picture for companies during yesterday's debate on the Manpower Ministry's annual budget.

Workers, too, must upgrade their skills so that they can stay relevant and seize opportunities in the new economy, he said.

This is why the time has come for the Government to encourage Singaporeans to master skills relevant to their work or pick up new ones under the SkillsFuture programme, he said, referring to the new initiative that will give grants and study awards as well as provide on-the-job training.

The plunge in local employment growth in a few years' time is due to baby boomers gradually leaving the workforce and smaller cohorts entering the workforce.

Mr Tan sees the number plunging from 95,000 last year to just 20,000 a year.

He made clear that the Government will keep the foreign workforce growth at its current pace. Last year, it grew by 26,000, down from 80,000 in 2011.

On technology, he pinpointed DBS Bank's use of a supercomputer named IBM Watson to crunch data and churn out around 700 to 800 reports for clients each quarter, an unthinkable speed before.

He urged other businesses to similarly embrace technology to keep ahead of the curve.

Mr Tan also outlined how the Government is helping workers keep abreast of these changes.

Courses offered under SkillsFuture, for instance, will be diverse and of high quality, he said.

The five-hour debate drew questions from 28 MPs and among the main issues they raised were the Central Provident Fund system, help to boost the pay of low-wage earners and ways to coax companies to re-employ older workers.

Mr Heng Chee How (Whampoa), Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) and Mr Sam Tan (Radin Mas) want the Government to do more for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

This group has been facing the pressures of economic restructuring, with the older ones struggling to get a new job at the same pay.

Replying, Mr Tan pointed to the higher subsidies in this year's Budget for older PMETs, and grants for companies to groom Singaporeans for leadership roles.

"We want to work towards creating even better jobs, higher incomes, and a more secure retirement for all Singaporeans," said Mr Tan.

charyong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Mar 10, 2015.
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