Treat blue-collar jobs with respect: Tharman

Singaporeans have to rediscover that sense of pride in blue-collar jobs and regard them as core to the workforce if the country is to regard itself as a truly developed society.

This was the view of Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who made the call for everyone - employers, workers and customers - to treat 'ordinary' jobs such as waitering with respect.

'We cannot just be a society of real estate agents, insurance agents, bankers and office workers. The most advanced societies don't run that way,' he said at the annual Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum last night.

The event, organised by the National University of Singapore's Students Political Association, was attended by about 200 people - including NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan - at the varsity's newly-opened University Town campus.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance and Manpower Minister, cited the example of other developed cities in the world such as New York, Tokyo and Zurich where jobs at the lower rung of the economy such as waitering were embraced by all.

'You go into the restaurants or a small enterprise and you see the people there wearing their blue-collar uniforms with such pride. The waiters are proud to be waiters, and you can see that from the way they go about their tasks.'

When asked by a student what steps the government had to take to turn this mindset around, Mr Tharman suggested that it was timely to expose youths to the workforce at a much earlier age, even when they were in secondary school.

'They can take on work attachments, have some chance of knowing what a real job is like or perhaps be a mini-apprentice, even for a short while,' he said. 'They don't have to wait until they finish all their education before starting to find a job. We need to get people excited about jobs earlier on.'

Singapore has perhaps not invested enough to boost skills in such jobs in the past, which has resulted in lower productivity because the quality of the job has not improved.

'A modern and advanced economy needs a range of people doing technical tasks. We've had a little more of this problem recently of people not wanting to do service jobs,' said Mr Tharman.

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