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Speech at Adapt and Grow May Day Lunch 2018

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo, The Star Vista

Intro: Why are we here today? 

  1. Every year, we give an update on the individuals placed through the Adapt & Grow (A&G) initiative.
  2. Last year (2017), through A&G, 25,000 individuals found new jobs. This is a 20% increase from 2016.
  3. But I think you will agree, this is really not just about the numbers.
  4. Behind every single one of the 25,000 placements is a person with fears and disappointments, hopes and dreams.
  5. Behind every single placement is a story of triumph over personal setbacks and career adversities.
  6. These are stories of resilient that are inspiring and definitely worth sharing.
  7. So, this May Day, as we celebrate our collective achievements in advancing the interests of working people in Singapore, MOM decided we should also find a way to honour the people who made all these placements possible. 
  8. The first group of persons are of course, the jobseekers themselves and the families behind them.
  9. All 25,000 jobseekers like Syaiful, Helen, Dhurga and Vincent, thank you for stepping up and stepping forward to share your stories. Your resilience inspires all of us.
  10. Your stories are not just about yourselves. They are also about how Singaporeans can triumph over the disruptions brought about technologies and economic restructuring.
  11. It is a uniquely Singaporean way where you are not left to struggle on your own. But instead, there is a whole tripartite machinery supporting you. You heard earlier from the Career Coaches.
  12. I have met quite a few of them since I came to MOM. They come from all walks of life. Some have been coaches for more than a decade. Others are quite new to the profession, like Angeline, but with rich experiences from banking, manufacturing, healthcare etc.
  13. Our career coaches know what it’s like to have to switch careers, the anxiety and frustrations.
  14. They also know what it takes to meet the needs of employers. They hand-hold jobseeker, help restore their confidence, provide leads on the types of industries and occupations, give practical advice to improve chances of success at interviews.
  15. Besides the coaches, you heard from programme managers (PMs) like Ashley.
  16. Think of the coaches and PMs like the two ends of a bridge. One end links to jobseekers, the other links to the employers. To do their jobs well, programme managers must develop a good understanding of the industries, the challenges they face, the opportunities and how that translates into job openings and skills requirements. The coaches and programme managers work together to help jobseekers and employers find each other.
  17. Sometimes, they need the employers to upgrade the jobs to meet the aspirations of jobseekers. Other times, they design programmes to help jobseekers meet the requirements of employers.
  18. Without their efforts, the mismatches of jobs, skills and wages will be much more severe. Thousands of placement opportunities would be lost each year.
  19. Today, within the Tripartite Movement, there are about 150 career coaches and programme managers.
  20. It may not seem like a large number but they are committed and supported by many economic agencies like EDB, MAS, and ESG and making a big difference.
  21. One final group of people we must also honour are the employers.
  22. When I was serving as executive secretary of SISEU, I always told the management partners that I hoped their businesses thrive because only then can my union members keep their jobs. Only then can my union members have better careers and better wages. It is also when businesses thrive that they continue to grow their human capital.
  23. In other words, in every successful placement, the role of the employer cannot be over-stated.
  24. Employers like ST Logistics which was prepared to look past Vincent’s age and focus on his abilities. Simone Jewels who was prepared to invest in training Helen even though she had no prior experience. In fact, we are very fortunate in Singapore that we have an employers’ federation that fully supports these efforts to help every working Singaporean Adapt and Grow.

An agile ecosystem as the winning formula

  1. What I have describe to you may not seem unusual until we compare ourselves to other countries. In many places, unions continue to fight employers, in the hope that business restructuring can be prevented or postponed.
  2. Employers continue to fight unions, without making much effort to bring people along their business transformation.
  3. The governments too are drawn into the fight, and are forced to take sides.
  4. In Singapore, our approach is to not fight each other, but to come together to tackle the challenges as one team, and create a better future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.
  5. Through tripartism, we have addressed many challenges together and improved employment outcomes.
  6. Unemployment has remained low. Employment rates of seniors and women have improved over time. Incomes have continued to rise at all levels.
  7. However, we also face fresh challenges.
  8. Workers worry about global disruptions to businesses threatening their jobs. Businesses worry about our ageing population threatening their growth in Singapore
  9. The future of work is yet unclear and no one knows exactly how to prepare for it.
  10. What is the essence of our tripartite approach in dealing with these challenges?  How can we stay one step ahead of the competition and win?
  11. In my view, it is about how we nurture an agile ecosystem that charts a bold path forward.
  12. It is an agile ecosystem consisting of
  13. What does it mean to be an agile workforce? 
  14. To be agile, means being flexible, quick and also well-coordinated. 
  15. It starts with having an Agile Mindset.  
  16. In fact, the jobseekers we are honouring today show great agility in their mindsets: Like Syaiful and Dhurga, encouraged by their spouse to be flexible about new careers with new employers. Helen, quick to learn new skills beyond employer’s expectations.
  17. I also asked Career Coaches for feedback, on what advice they will give to jobseekers.
  18. One of them said something that sticks in my mind. He said, “don’t wait till you have lost your job”, pick up new skills to stay relevant. Very good advice. But what new skills to pick up?          

One familiar way: up-skill and deep-skill

  • If your boss wants to promote you to a larger job, do you have the skills?
  • If your boss wants to promote you to be a specialist, do you have the skills?

Another, less familiar way: broad-skill

  • If your boss needs to re-deploy you to another department, line of business or another country, do you have the skills and knowledge?

To maximise opportunities, cross-skill and multi-skill

  • Vincent is a good example
  • Spent major part of his career as IT support in hospitality sector
  • Noticed that his company was restructuring to cut cost
    • Decided to be proactive
    • Took up Attach-and-Train programme
    • Moved into new company [ST Logistics] in different sector
  • Besides IT, also had project management skills
    • Assigned to help develop an e-procurement platform
  • By cross-skilling, Vincent made himself valuable to his employer
    • Offered him full-time employment before attachment ended
    • Successfully transit into a new role of a System Specialist in the logistic sector
  • In future, by continuing to cross-skill or multi-skill, he will have more options as IT specialist in other organisations or take on new roles in the logistic sector.

So Vincent's company, please watch out.


  1. What does this look like to you? Some people say “tic-tac-toe”!
  2. This can be a winning formula for career advancement.
  3. Taking care of our careers is not a game; it is serious matter.
  4. In future, even if more jobs are disrupted, workers like Vincent who display such agility will have an edge.
  5. We can stay relevant by adding skills, and multiplying opportunities.
  6. A tic-tac-toe approach by each individual translates into a workforce with Agile Skillsets.
  7. The essence of Skillsfuture is to make every worker a better worker; Agile enough to move quickly and flexibly from old jobs that are lost to new jobs as they are created.
  8. A workforce with agile mindsets and agile skillsets is half the battle won. 
  9. The other half requires agile businesses. What does that look like?


Agile businesses


  1. Recently, I visited a fairly young company in an old business.
  2. Spic & Span (S&S) has been around for just 3 years but has a bold mission: To rethink, reinvent and repurpose the cleaning industry. The reality is that many of its staff are older workers.
  3. S&S also wants to be able offer vulnerable worker, such as mature workers and persons with disabilities, with decent job opportunities. Such as Mr Ang Thiam Boon, 53 years old who lost his arm in an industrial accident.
  4. One challenge: Many offices have high glass windows that are difficult to clean.
  5. CEO Benjamin Chua saw an opportunity instead. He sourced for glass-cleaning robots (WinBot) that could be remotely-controlled, making it easier, safe and smarter for its cleaners.
  6. Another challenge: Cleaners start work from 7am. But many offices don’t want to be disturbed by the noise that could be generated by vacuum cleaners. Cleaning staff may not be allowed to do much after 9am.
  7. Benjamin sensed an opportunity to better optimise staff deployment. He sourced for quieter equipment and persuaded some customers to let his workers try working after 9 am.
  8. His experiment paid off. He also actively looked for customers in nearby vicinity and bought e-scooters for staff. This allows them to be cross-deployed in emergencies and prompt service promotes customer loyalty.
  9. S&S has also been agile in responding to the needs of clients. They are quick to bring in a chemist to develop solutions that address poor air quality.
  10. They won over customers that want to provide healthier workplaces. As a business, S&S shows how Agile Mindset + Agile Toolset can be game-changers.
  11. It found ways to be inclusive and progressive. They got new tools: equipment and cleaning solutions.
  12. This helped workers to be more productive and earn higher wages. This is a win-win for both workers and businesses.
  13. I hope the business will grow, hire more people to help them fulfil their mission.
  14. In fact, agile businesses are at the heart of the Industry Transformation Maps.
  15. We need every one of them transform and grow to be more productive and innovative so that every job can be a better job.
  16. Agility extends beyond Singapore. We need businesses to take advantage of overseas opportunities and offer their employees better careers.
  17. Even SMEs are increasingly internationalising.


Agile government

  1. I hope you can see how an agile workforce supported by agile businesses can help Singaporeans chart a bold path forward even if disruptions hit jobs or our population ages.
  2. In fact, I believe this is how Singaporeans can distinguish ourselves when compared to workers in other countries, keep us attractive as a place to invest in, to grow businesses, stay relevant and competitive together.
  3. MOM too is committed to keep ourselves agile to complement efforts by businesses and workers.
  4. Over the last two years, there were at least 40 enhancements or additions to our policies and programmes. MOM will remain agile in responding to the needs of businesses and workers, adjusting as we go along.
  5. For example: Enhanced Work Trial to Career Trial, expanded PCP to include Redeployment PCP i.e. help workers before they are retrenched be re-trained for new jobs with the same company.
  6. LEDS: moved from bespoke solutions to ready-to-go solutions so that more businesses can become more manpower-lean more quickly.
  7. We will also launch the SkillsFuture for Enterprises. This programme focussed on helping employers build capabilities in human capital development which is critical for their growth within and beyond Singapore. Through these efforts, there is a good chance we can achieve better employment outcomes for Singaporeans.



  1. To conclude, Singaporeans can thrive in an age of disruption through an agile ecosystem comprising of an agile workforce, supported by agile businesses and an agile government.  To get there, we will all need to be equipped with
    - Agile Mindsets
    - Agile Skillsets
    - Agile Toolsets
  2. Let us also acknowledge the challenges.
  3. An agile ecosystem will not happen by chance neither will it happen overnight. 
  4. But if anyone has a chance to build an agile ecosystem, it is Singapore. 
  5. We have already started and we should keep pressing on in our uniquely Singaporean tripartite way.
  6. Today, as we honour our A&G alumni whose agility and resilience inspires us, let us also commit never to give up in our efforts to help every working Singaporean adapt and grow, for this present generation and every generation that follows. 
  7. Happy May Day once again!