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Written Answer by Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Finance and Minister for Manpower, to Parliamentary Question on employability of persons aged 50 years and above

Mr Yaw Shin Leong: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Manpower (a) why across all age and qualification groups, degree holders aged 50 and above persistently have the lowest re-employment rate from 2007 to 2009; (b) as they are already degree holders, how will re-training improve their employability especially during bad economic times; and (c) whether the current non-discriminatory guidelines have been effective in protecting retrenched degree holders aged 50 and above against employment pass/S pass holders.

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam:

Data from MOM’s labour market surveys indicate that older workers aged 50 and over are less likely to find a new job within 6 months after retrenchment, compared to younger workers. To put this in context, it should first be recognised that retrenchment of older degree holders has been low. Likewise, unemployment remains low amongst this group.

There may be various reasons for why older degree holders take longer than younger ones to re-enter the workforce. For example, older degree holders are more likely to have held senior positions with relatively higher wages in their previous jobs, and may prefer to spend more time to look for jobs that match their skill sets, qualifications and salary expectations.

As is the case in other societies, degree holders young and old will find that their knowledge and skills need to be refreshed regularly so as to remain relevant to changing industry needs. It is hence important for everyone to continually upgrade themselves and broaden their skills sets.

The Government is committed to helping all Singaporeans improve their employability and employment prospects, including degree holders. WDA has introduced comprehensive training assistance and programmes for Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs), such as through the Skills Training for Excellence Programme (STEP), which offers a suite of programmes from modular to full qualification courses, as well as master-classes and scholarships. Apart from company-sponsored training, we strongly encourage individuals to also embark on self-initiated training and tap on the training opportunities provided by our Continuing Education and Training (CET) system.

PMEs in sectors affected by economic restructuring are also encouraged to explore job opportunities in other growing industries. In this regard, WDA has put in place Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) which equip PMEs with the necessary skills to switch industries. The Government will continue to review our CET and employment facilitation schemes, to improve their relevance for all segments of our workforce.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices or TAFEP uses moral suasion to advise companies found to be carrying out discriminatory practices. When feedback is given, TAFEP will take a case-by-case approach in dealing with the companies. Discrimination of any kind can be difficult to prove definitively and it is critical to bring about a more fundamental mindset change. So far, practically all employers approached have accepted TAFEP’s advice. MOM also stands prepared to intervene in more serious cases of alleged discrimination.

TAFEP and MOM will continue to monitor and take appropriate action to ensure that the guidelines are implemented smoothly. In doing so, we will seek to strike a balance, so as not to introduce business rigidities that hamper investments and job creation for Singaporeans themselves.