Singapore employers bemoaning the lack of qualified and experienced local workers need to look a little closer to home or - more rather - inside the home.
I am talking about the large number of women here who gain qualifications and valuable experience, then leave the workplace on a more or less permanent basis. This particular demographic group - women over the age of 30 - has emerged as a potentially untapped resource here.
Efficiently utilising labour resources is an especially pressing issue for Singapore right now, not just because of its ageing population, but also because of the recent mandated changes to labour policy.
Indeed, it is predicted that, by 2050, Singapore will be among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of the proportion of the population aged over 60.
In the face of such an eventuality as well as current government strategies to reduce dependency on foreign labour, the many women who are not employed in the formal workplace could provide a valuable, under-utilised source of labour, one that could help plug the predicted manpower gap.
Employers who put insightful policies in place now to attract these workers are likely to be the best placed when the expected labour crunch comes - as it inevitably will.
MINDING THE GENDER GAP
Cultural expectations, family responsibilities and the general lack of flexible part-time work - these factors play a key role in why women have a lower labour force participation rate (LFPR) here than men do, based on findings by researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
However, the education levels of men and women are very similar and, until the age of 29, workforce participation is roughly equal. Indeed, at this stage, many women actually out-rank and out-earn their male peers, who have to first undergo two years of national service.
From age 30 onwards, the story is very different.
One cannot help but think that it might have something to do with the gender wage gap. If you knew, for instance, that you earned up to 42 per cent less than the colleague sitting across from you, you would probably think twice about the value of working too.
This is the stark reality for many female workers in Singapore, particularly blue-collar workers such as plant and machine operators. Women in professional, clerical support and service and sales roles have it slightly better at a younger age. However, in older age groups, women earn less than men across all occupational categories.