Help millennials succeed at home and work

New mothers should be given greater flexibility to make alternative work arrangements when they first return from maternity leave, said Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) yesterday in his Parliament debut.

He also called on the Government to encourage more employers to give fathers an additional week of paternity leave.

In a speech focused on young Singaporeans born between 1981 and 2000, Mr Choo said the Government and employers should help these "millennials" succeed at work and at home, as they are the ones who will shape Singapore's next 50 years.

Millennials, aged between 16 and 35 now, form about 22 per cent or 1.2 million of the population, he said.

"The crux is perhaps to put young Singaporeans at the centre of this common future that we will want to build and empower them to succeed," he added.

Mr Choo, who is director of NTUC's youth development unit, suggested legislation that will give new mothers the right to opt for eight weeks of flexible work arrangement. This is on top of the 16 weeks of maternity leave they are entitled to.

Said the MP, whose wife gave birth to their first child four months ago: "This will help a mother to ease her transition from caring for a newborn full-time and having to return to work."

Mr Choo added that young fathers also believe in "shared parenting". He asked if the National Population and Talent Division could do more to boost the take-up rate of a scheme that offers fathers an additional week of paternity leave, paid for by the Government.

These progressive work practices can help young Singaporeans realise their aspirations of raising families while also building their careers, he said.

It is important to help the young succeed as "talent rather than capital" will drive productivity, Mr Choo added.

Addressing the criticisms often levelled at millennials, Mr Choo cautioned against generalisations about specific generations.

For instance, he said, their concern for work-life balance, could be a result of them wanting "social and family successes" as much as career success.

As "digital natives", they are "comfortable producing work anywhere, not just in the office", Mr Choo said.

Employers also often lament that millennials do not stay in a job long enough to learn sufficiently, he added, suggesting it could be because the youngsters believe in "chasing growth and learning curves".

Many millennials have told him they are likely to leave a job when they feel they are not learning; when career paths are unclear; and when they cannot identify with the company's work, he said.

But with more guidance, this group can adapt and thrive, he added.

He suggested tapping the labour movement's links with professionals to build networks of mentors that students can access easily. Also speaking on the topic of talent yesterday was Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), who noted that the number of overseas Singaporeans has gone up from 157,800 in 2004 to 212,000 in 2014.

Addressing the House for the first time, he said: "We must do what we can to provide the most attractive work and living environments so that we can retain as many talents that we have nurtured as possible."

Meanwhile, newly minted labour MP Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) reinforced the importance of the three-way partnership between the Government, unions and employers in his maiden parliamentary speech, calling tripartism an "often overlooked factor to the success story of Singapore".

The National Wages Council, set up in 1972, formulates wage guidelines in line with long-term economic growth and has laid the foundation for tripartism here, said Mr Yong.

But tripartism should move beyond the national level and be expanded to different sectors of the economy, he added.

The former senior police officer cited the public transport sector as an example: When a new bus operator entered the public transport industry, the union, operators, and the Land Transport Authority came together and hammered out guidelines that called on the new operator to offer bus drivers employment terms that at least match their current packages.

He also suggested tripartism be taught in schools so that children "would know, appreciate and continue to nurture this key competitive advantage" of Singapore.

This article was first published on January 26, 2016.
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