Workers, companies must adapt and transform to stay relevant: Swee Say

SINGAPORE - Amid reports of several companies laying off workers in large numbers of late, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say hopes that those who have been retrenched will remain positive and realise that help is at the ready.

"I want to assure workers affected by retrenchment, let's work together and look at the future with hope and confidence," he told reporters on the sidelines of a career services event for the infocomm technology (ICT) sector on Friday.

"The government will do our part, and the industry and unions will do their part too. Workers must be prepared to adapt, and then they can grow again."

While old jobs may be lost, Mr Lim said that many new jobs are being created across various sectors in the economy.

"We will do our very best to make sure that these new jobs and their accessibility will continue to get better. At the same time, for those who need to acquire new skills to take on these jobs, we will be there for them through SkillsFuture," he added.

His remarks came a day after oil rig builder Keppel Corp announced that its offshore-and-marine division had slashed another 3,080 jobs worldwide in the third quarter, including 660 in Singapore.

According to the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) figures for the second quarter, about 5,500 workers were laid off in the April-June period, up from 4,710 in the first quarter and 3,250 in the same quarter last year.

The bulk of the layoffs - 62 per cent - came from the services sector, which retrenched 3,400 workers, compared to 2,530 in the previous quarter.

Layoffs in manufacturing dropped to 1,600 from 1,790, and stayed mostly unchanged in the construction industry with 400 layoffs, up slightly from 390 in the previous quarter.

Mr Lim also called on workers to adapt to new jobs and careers as the Singapore economy undergoes restructuring.

"Whether you're affected by retrenchment or not, all of us will experience the same thing - and that is our jobs are changing and our industries are changing. Every sector is going through this process of industry transformation," he said.

"If we look ahead - say, 3-5 years from now - we can say the job profiles are shifting for the better. This is important because if we're not able to upgrade the job profile, then we won't be able to sustain our wage increases and career development and advancement."

Mr Lim said the priorities in the current downturn are different from the recession during the global financial crisis of 2009. Back then, the government's focus was to ride through the recession as quickly as possible, save jobs and cut costs, and minimise disruption to businesses.

"This time, it's different. By the time this transitional period is over, what we would like to see is a new economy with new industries," he said.

Singapore's workforce is going through a rapid change with an ageing and more highly skilled workforce. The country's cost-competitiveness also means more hurdles to overcome.

He urged workers to deal with the pressure to change, and turn this pressure into motivation to improve themselves and adapt to the new environment. Companies, too, should transform themselves and be willing to hire workers at all levels from other professions.

"If we don't change now, then in three or five years' time we'll all be in trouble. It's better that we all make the effort to adapt together," Mr Lim said.

This article was first published on October 22, 2016.
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