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Speech at Workplan Seminar 2019

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo


1. Welcome to MOM’s Workplan Seminar 2019.

  • Special thanks to tripartite partners for making time
  • To borrow a phrase from NTUC, “every staff matters”
  • Thanks to all our staff in MOM family – HQ, CPFB, WSG, SLF - for your hard work and contributions.

2. Let me start by doing a quick survey with everyone.

  • When you started to work, who among you wanted your first job to also be your last job, until you retired from work?
  • After some years in the same job, who among you have felt the need for change, for a new challenge, whether to learn something or contribute in a different way?

3. Very good. Most Singaporeans are like you.

  • Most want the opportunity to learn, to grow and be recognised
  • No one wants to stay in the same spot forever.   

4. This desire for career mobility is very similar to the desire for social mobility.    

  • Career mobility is, in fact, my focus for today’s workplan seminar.   
  • But before we talk about that, let me quickly recap what we discussed last year.

    Update on 3 Key Challenges   

5. At last year’s workplan seminar, I highlighted the need to strengthen tripartism in the age of disruption.    

  • We discussed 3 major challenges that will impact jobs and employment    
  • And the need for our workers, businesses and Government to all stay agile. Agility is going to be critical for all of us.   
  • The challenges I described have not gone away.   

6. First, where geo-politics is concerned, uncertainty remains.    

  • No closer to a clear Brexit outcome    
  • On trade tensions between US and China, resolution may be in sight. But not all investors are convinced   
  • Another worry, and this is now wearing my Home Affairs Hat, is that the threat of extremism and terrorism has not subsided    
  • Shocking attack in New Zealand serves as a grim reminder of what the world continues to face in terms of these risk   

7. The 2nd challenge was to do with demography.    

  • I highlighted global trends on aging    
  • Since then, more countries, like Japan, are asking what it means for their citizens to live the 100-year life    
  • On TFR, more countries fell below replacement level    
    • In Singapore too, it dipped last year    
  • But over a longer time horizon, we have some reasons to be optimistic    
    • In the past 5 years, the average number of citizen births was significantly higher than the two previous 5 year periods    
    • Same for marriages; the average in the past 5 years was significantly higher than the past decade as well;    
  • In other words, people are still marrying but they are having kids later    
  • We are hopeful there could be an uptick in TFR when they do get started.   

8. The 3rd challenge we discussed was how technology will reshape the jobs landscape.    

  • In less than two weeks, the tripartite partners will host a joint regional conference with the ILO on the Future of Work    
    • All over the world, there is a real worry that many workers will be left behind    
    • Many countries are already struggling with unemployment    
    • The outlook for them in the era of Industry 4.0 is not clear-cut.    
  • But for Singapore, increasingly, we see more upsides than downsides    
    • This is because, fundamentally, we are labour-constrained    
    • Our economy already creates many more jobs than we have people to do    
    • Most businesses, particularly in Services, believe customers still want the “human touch” in their interactions. They are more worried that the FW quota will be tightened!   

9. Our labour market is generally heathy.    

  • In the last few years, local employment has been growing steadily.    
  • Resident unemployment was already low and has further moderated.   
  • Retrenchments are down.   

10.This does not mean we forget about people who risk being displaced or are already out of a job   

  • We will keep strengthening the support for them so they can find their way back into employment   

11. But we must also not miss the opportunity that technology brings,    

  • which is the potential to help us grow our economy    
  • without needing a lot more people, and possibly fewer    
  • In fact, our challenge is not the quantity of jobs, but quality,    
  • Both in terms of skills content and pay levels.   

12. Here too, technology can be an advantage for us.    

  • Many companies are already using technology to raise productivity or improve existing jobs    
  • New jobs are being created that may also require higher-order skills   

13. There are good prospects for our workers to do better jobs and earn higher wages   

  • Provided they have the opportunity to learn new skills    
  • and also take it upon themselves to adapt.   

14. This is what we must try to achieve, and why we must keep up the momentum    

  • for industries to restructure    
  • for businesses to deepen their capabilities    
  • and for our workers to be trained in new skills   

15. It is the only way to push the boundaries for both our businesses and workers    

16. There will be times when we feel overwhelmed by all the adjustments we must make.   

  • But I’m convinced that Singaporeans, more so than people in many other countries, have what it takes to walk the tech journey together successfully.    

17. Our secret weapon is “tripartism”.    

  • Together as one united tripartite movement, we are turning our challenges into opportunities through 4 key commitments to each other, which I also talked about last year:   
  • Shared ownership    
  • Shared values    
  • Shared vision    
  • Shared resources

    Towards Our Future Together   

18. This is also why the theme for this year’s Workplan Seminar is “Walking with you. Caring for you. Towards our future together.”    

  • It reaffirms the shared commitments of the tripartite partners,    
  • to walk together, care for one another    
  • And ensure that everyone can make progress as we embrace the future of work.   

19. “Everyone” means “every worker matters”.    

  • It doesn’t matter whether you are 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60    
  • Or what qualifications you hold    
  • Everyone has aspirations    
  • At different point of our lives, our needs change    
  • And so, what we want out of our careers also changes.    

20. After my presentation, MOS Zaqy will share more about our plans for lower-wage workers, who deserve special attention.    

  • For my presentation, as I said at the beginning, I want to focus on career mobility for our people.   

    Supporting Senior Employment   

21. The first group I want to focus on is our seniors.    

  • Why?    
  • Because they are a growing group in our population and workforce.    
  • In June 2018, about 1 in 3 employed residents were aged 50 & over.    
    • In 2000, the citizen population aged 65 & above was only 11%    
    • By 2020, it would have nearly doubled to 21%; almost 600k

22. What does career mobility mean for seniors? From the many discussions I had with union leaders, their priorities are:       

  • To have opportunity to continue working if they want to        
  • To have the option of less intensive work        
  • To get help if they need to take on new job roles       
  • To build up more retirement savings      

23. Jobs matter to our seniors. This is why I formed the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers last year.        

  • Already, more seniors are employed in Singapore.        
  • Their unemployment rate is also lower.        
  • But there’s room for improvement, especially when compared to some OECD countries       

24. One of the policy adjustments that has helped is re-employment.        

  • Singapore is one of only 2 countries in the world        
  • Together with Japan        
  • That has the concept of re-employment.       

25. It is a concept that has worked well for us,        

  • Every year, when our workers reach the minimum statutory retirement age of 62, vast majority of those eligible have been offered jobs, and        
  • most get re-employed with no pay reduction.       

26. By now you would have known that the workgroup reached a tripartite consensus

  • To raise the Retirement Age, or RA, beyond 62 and the Re-Employment Age, or REA, beyond 67        
  • The workgroup needs some more time to deliberate        
    • on how far and how fast the RA and REA should be raised        
    • the CPF contribution rates for older workers. Those who are reaching 55 today have to take an 11% cut in CPF contribution rates and whether that has to be adjusted, and for the older age groups too.        
  • The workgroup will provide its detailed recommendations later this year        

27. Concurrently, we continue to support senior employment through our programmes like WorkPro.        

28. We have also extended the Special Employment Credit and Additional Special Employment Credit till end 2020, to incentivise and encourage employers to hire seniors. The amount that has been given out is not small. The Government has supported employers to the tune of about$3 billion dollars.        

29. These initiatives improve the career mobility of our seniors.        

  • Older workers would be more employable       
  • And they have more options when they reach RA/REA.

    Walking the Tech journey with Our Workers        

30. The second group is workers whose jobs are most affected by technological change.

31. There are workers who are afraid

  • That their jobs, being routine and repetitive, can also be performed by robots which will soon replace them

32. Even PMETs, white collar workers, are worried

  • Last month, it was reported that PMETs were an alarming 76% of workers retrenched last year
  • But the report missed the fact that retrenchments are down by quite a lot.
  • And so, the number of PMETs retrenched was the lowest since 2014.
  • There were also more PMET vacancies last year – around 31,500. PMET retrenchments were 5,400. PMET vacancies were 31,500 - about 6 times. It tells us that jobs are still being created. However, the job requirements have probably changed.

33. What does this tell us?

  • That jobs continue to be created
  • However, job requirements have changed
  • Instead of replacing workers with technology, employers may now require workers to use technology more
  • And unless our workers adapt, their careers may indeed stall

34. We can and must help workers avoid this

  • SkillsFuture is one way to help them stay current.
  • NTUC’s Worker 4.0 initiative will also help.
  • At MOM, the Adapt and Grow initiative offers targeted support.

35. Last year, A&G helped more than 30,000 jobseekers move into new jobs.

  • More than half were PMETs.
  • Nearly one in three was 50+ years old.
  • And 60% had been out of work. It also means about 40% were in jobs but were looking for something different.

36. In particular, through Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs)

  • Close to 5,000 people were re-skilled and employed,
  • an increase of over 30% compared to 2017

37. Most of the PCP participants do well.

  • About two-thirds were recognised for their newly acquired skills,
  • and received higher wages than before

38. With A&G, our workers can stay meaningfully employed or advance in their careers.

  • A&G is career mobility in action!
  • And we are moving upstream to help the workers well before they are displaced.

Mr Chan Kum Yew, one of our PCP alumni, is a good example

  • Mr Chan is one of the youngest among the Merdeka Generation.
  • At 60 years of age, Mr Chan was not jobless.
  • Previously self-employed as a freelance business consultant, he saw the growth prospects in ICT. And yet, having no relevant work experience, he did not have an entry point.
  • So he signed up for PCP last year to gain a deeper understanding of data analytics. With the PCP, he was able to join an IT consultancy company Integrated Decision Systems Consultancy Pte Ltd.
  • The training enabled him to communicate more confidently with clients and effectively with colleagues in technical discussions.
  • At age 60, most people would assume they were well past their “CEP” or Career End Point. But not Mr Chan.
  • Instead, he achieved further career mobility though his willingness to learn something new and make himself more valuable to his employer.
  • He also feels a stronger sense of self-worth when he helps clients improve their business performance.
  • Mr Chan shows us that embracing technology can be rewarding. And it is not only young people who can walk the tech journey successfully or extend their career mobility.

    Assurance for Our Workers

39. This brings us to the third group, workers who are neither senior, jobless or at risk of losing their jobs.

  • However, their job content have not changed much
  • And they have not had much room to advance.

A few months ago, I met Ms. Aryani Suhardi.

  • When I met her, Aryani had been with Prudential since 2006.
  • For years, her job as a customer service executive involved dealing with nearly the same kinds of queries from Prudential’s 4,500-strong team of financial consultants.
  • Day in day out, they called her. Vast majority of their questions were simple and did not require much problem-solving.
  • In any case, customer service executives were already so busy dealing with routine queries, they did not have much time to deal with complex issues.
  • In 2017, Prudential started to see the potential for a chat-bot to automate the most repetitive parts of query-handling.
  • Aryani was given the opportunity to be the chat-bot’s trainer. She learnt to feed relevant information to improve the chat-bot’s capabilities, and demonstrate to financial consultants on how to use the chat-bot.
  • When the chat-bot was launched, it improved staff’s efficiency and reduced call volume at Prudential’s call centres by around 40%.
  • Through this exercise, Prudential not only improved productivity, it raised the staff’s job quality.
  • Aryani is now equipped with the knowledge and skills to train a chat-bot, and even impart such skills to other colleagues.
  • Existing call operators now have more time to handle complex queries. These are more challenging but the staff also feel a greater sense of job satisfaction.
  • Companies such as Prudential are taking the right step forward to use technology or other means to enhance job quality for existing staff.
  • As a result, workers are not stuck. Instead they have opportunities to upgrade their skills, improve job satisfaction and advance in their careers.
  • These kinds of workplace enhancements assure workers of career mobility.


40. I have shared how three different groups of workers can be supported to meet their aspirations for career mobility.    

41. In fact, career mobility matters to all workers. It should therefore also matter to all employers too who want to attract and retain the best talents.    

42. I would suggest that career mobility is as important as educational mobility.    

  • Just think about it: most of us expect to spend most of our adult lives working    
  • This is several multiples of the years we spend in formal education    
  • If students should have multiple pathways to advance while in education, it is even more important that working people have multiple career tracks that are rewarding   

43. Career mobility is therefore the cornerstone of all of our programmes in the Adapt and Grow initiative.    

44. In essence, Adapt and Grow is about giving our people:    

  • The opportunity to move up and do better in their careers    
  • Whatever their starting points    
  • And at different stages of their lives    
  • Through their own efforts    
  • Plus the support of employers and Government   

45. We are therefore completely aligned with NTUC’s vision for Worker 4.0    

  • Which has a strong focus on adaptive skills, technology skills and technical skills.    
  • These skills are essential for workers to have career mobility throughout their working lives   

46. To give everyone a chance for career mobility, we must also have an inclusive workforce as well as progressive workplaces.    

47. This means employers must come on board. And there are three important contributions that employers can make:    

  • To be open to workers who may not be a hundred percent job fit from day one but have the right attitude    
  • To continually transform the business and be willing to invest in training    
  • To reward and recognise the effort of your employees   

48. Helping workers achieve career mobility is meaningful and important.    

49. In conclusion, let us continue to work together as one united tripartite movement,    

  • to foster an environment            
  • where career mobility for all is not just a vision but a reality      
  • so that we can walk together, care for one another,            
  • while moving towards our future together!