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Written Answer by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower & Senior Minister of State, National Development, to Parliamentary Question on the Training Employers for the Silver Industry

Mr Zainal Sapari: To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower (a) how ready is our workforce in meeting the needs of the silver industry; (b) how many people have been trained specifically for the silver industry especially in terms of the health, wellness and leisure sectors; (c) how encouraging has the response to such training courses been; and (d) what measures will be implemented to increase the level of interest in this sector especially amongst our younger workers.

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin:

By 2030, we expect that the number of seniors above 65 years old will nearly triple to reach over 900,000. By then, one in five residents will be over 65 years old, compared to fewer than one in ten today. Correspondingly, the needs of seniors in terms of healthcare and aged care, will increase significantly. It is therefore critical that all of us continue to stay ahead of the curve so that we can better look after our older Singaporeans.

The Ministerial Committee on Ageing (MCA) is leading the Government’s efforts to facilitate ageing-in-place, which covers many aspects such as making our physical environment more “age-friendly”, ramping up aged care services and infrastructure, and promoting active ageing. Here, let me elaborate on our efforts to recruit and up-skill a workforce to meet the expected increase in needs that come with rapid population ageing.

On the recruitment front, we are working with relevant stakeholders in the intermediate and long-term care (ILTC) sector to make careers in the sector more attractive. In particular, MOH has set aside up to $12 million in FY2012 to assist VWO ILTC providers to support pay increases for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in a bid to attract and retain staff in the sector. MOH is also reviewing the pay of healthcare support workers, in tandem with a review of their job scopes to make their work more challenging and meaningful.

We have also put in place a framework to train people for jobs in the silver industry, across the Community & Social Services and Healthcare sectors, as well as put in place programmes to help those who are keen to make a mid-career switch to jobs in the industry. In addition, we have many courses to up-skill the manpower within the industry. I will touch on each of these in turn.

First, we have put in place a holistic academic and vocational training framework to equip people for jobs in the silver industry. As the demands and needs of the silver industry changes, our training framework will have to continue to evolve in tandem in order to respond to these needs.

Our post-secondary education institutions offer courses in gerontology or gerontology-focused areas, catering to both young people and working adults. For example, Temasek Polytechnic offers a full-time diploma in Gerontological Management and Nanyang Polytechnic offers an Advanced Diploma in Nursing with specialisation in Gerontology. Additionally, courses are also offered in healthcare, health promotion and social work, which cover the key services commonly tapped on by the elderly. In the course of their studies, students undertake assignments or attachments with hospitals and elderly care centres to gain first-hand experience in working with the elderly. The number of full-time and part-time courses in gerontology, healthcare and social services areas has increased from around 30 in 2008 to more than 40 in 2011, while intake for these courses have increased from around 2,000 to close to 3,000 yearly over the same period.

We will also train more healthcare professionals locally by expanding the intakes in our schools. For example, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine will open next year. With the third medical school, we expect to boost our locally-trained supply of doctors to 500 across the three medical schools, a significant increase from the intake of 330 last year. We will also be training more nurses and pharmacists, by expanding the annual intake for nursing from 1,700 to 2,700, as well as for pharmacy from 160 to 240.

Second, we have put in place Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) to help Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) who are keen to make a mid-career switch to jobs in the silver industry. These PCPs allow them to pick up the relevant skills and transit smoothly into the new sectors. For the silver industry, we have six PCPs in place. WDA launched the PCP for registered nurses in 2003. Since then, we have progressively introduced other PCPs relevant to the silver industry, such as PCPs for social workers and eldercare professionals.

Third, we are also building up skilled manpower for the silver industry through our Continuing Education and Training (CET) programmes. Under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) system developed by WDA in close collaboration with industries, we offer a total of more than 300 courses for the Community and Social Services sector and 100 over courses for the Healthcare sector. Examples of these courses include the WSQ Professional Diploma in Community and Social Services (Seniors Services) and the WSQ Advanced Certificate in Therapy Services.

While we continue to improve on the numbers and quality of our training courses and conversion programmes, we are aware that the success of our efforts ultimately hinge on the take-up of these courses. In this regard, WDA works closely with industry partners to extend awareness and outreach and to promote training and career opportunities in these sectors. For example, in February 2012, two career previews for the PCP for Social Workers were organised by WDA, the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) and SIM University. The event drew about 400 attendees and led to the successful enrolment of about 50 candidates. The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) has also been showcasing the training and career opportunities in the ILTC sector at job fairs, and is working with the sector to create a portal on the ILTC sector so that potential recruits can easily access information on career opportunities in this growing sector.

I am heartened to note that an encouraging number have come forward to go for these courses and successfully completed them. In 2011, over 3,000 trainees were trained in WSQ courses for the Healthcare, Community and Social Services sectors, a sizeable increase from about 600 in 2008.

But we must do more. We will continue to consult and work with relevant stakeholders such as industry players, social organisations and workers alike to strengthen our suite of course offerings and improve on the awareness and outreach programmes. We continue to welcome feedback and suggestions as we seek to improve our efforts on this front. MOM and WDA will also continue to work closely with other relevant Ministries and agencies such as MCYS and MOH in a Whole-of-Government approach under the Ministerial Committee for Ageing, as we seek to enable our seniors to age in place.