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Opening Remarks at Citizens' Panel on Employment Resilience

Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng, Employment and Employability Institute


1. Good morning, and a warm welcome to all of you.

2. Thank you for volunteering to be part of The Ngee Ann Kongsi-Institute of Policy Studies Citizens’ Panel on Employment Resilience, coming together to provide us with and contribute your ideas, insights and understanding on employment resilience.

3. My thanks also to the Institute of Policy Studies, and to The Ngee Ann Kongsi, for making this possible. 


Refreshing Our Social Compact

4. Employment is a very quintessential part of our social compact, and Citizens’ Panels such as this one have an important role to play in continuing to help us refresh, build and strengthen that social compact.
a. Our social compact, as DPM Wong explained when he launched the Forward Singapore Exercise in June last year, is about the roles and responsibilities that we have for one another, as fellow Singaporeans.

5. Why do we need to refresh this social compact? Because our society and the environment we are all working in, are rapidly changing. As Manpower Minister, and for the leader of the Labour movement, the area of employment is very important to us.
a. Externally, we are facing new disruptions – new technologies and digitalisation, they’ve all been accelerated by the pandemic. And obviously, they are creating a lot of new jobs, but a lot of old ways of doing things are also being “sunsetted”. So because of that there’s quite a lot of churn, and existing jobs are changing. Even though everyone talks about the cliché of change as a constant, change is actually accelerating.
i. Workers are at risk of displacement due to technology, supply chain changes and other disruptions.
b. Domestically, we are in a good position. Singaporeans are living longer and receiving better education, they have longer career runways, and there will be opportunities for multiple career options.
i. The aspirations and expectations of the younger generation have evolved, and they are more open to finding alternative paths to success.

6. Amid all these changes, what remains constant is the importance of careers.
a. For all of us, our careers are not only a key aspect to our well-being; in many instances, it’s what we find purpose in. A purposeful career will help give our lives meaning, and this then defines who we are, our core identity.

7. Therefore it is important for us to come together, to glean ideas from all of you, to sharpen our measures too, so that we can be a lot more precise, incisive, more surgical in some of the options that you have, for us to upskill, upgrade, consolidate and refresh our social compact. So I want to introduce to you this concept of career health.

8. All of us – employers, unions, the Government, and individuals like yourselves – we will need to come together to forge a common understanding on:
a. What does career health mean, and why does it matter?
b. What has worked well for us as a society that we should hold onto? Conversely, how should we, not just be reactive, but be pre-emptive, to be proactive? What can we do, to not just respond to new opportunities and challenges, but also stay ahead of these new opportunities and challenges?
c. How can we therefore be leaders, catalysts of positive change, and do our part for the future of employment in Singapore?
d. These are the kinds of ideas we hope that through multiple meetings, multiple sharpening of our ideas, we can come together to forge.

Career Health and Employment Resilience

9. Career health is quite similar to how we think of physical, medical health, in that it takes consistent effort to upkeep. For example, to take care of your physical health you watch what you eat, you make sure you get enough rest, take supplements and so on. Your own career health also takes hard work, and consistent efforts to upkeep. In addition, just like physical health, we do fall sick. So when we face setbacks in our careers, how do we recover, how do we bounce back better, how do we find new avenues to open.

10. This brings me to our theme for this panel – “employment resilience”. This resilience is what we hope to achieve through career health, which really embodies how we help our people and ourselves to bounce back from setbacks. In life, you can work hard, you can work smart, but the one thing that you cannot control is this concept of variance. I’m sure some of you have had this experience – you study hard, work hard, but you get hit by a curveball or that ideal state remains elusive. So how do we help people, especially our fellow Singaporeans, when they have these setbacks, how do we help them to bounce back?
a. In an increasingly uncertain and volatile world, the risk of displacement and involuntary unemployment is very real. What we hope to achieve is to get people to start to take ownership and give them understanding and insights into how global and industry trends are evolving, and how they can continue to stay relevant.
b. Until COVID-19 hit, our resident unemployment rate had largely been at or below 3% over the last ten years. Our long-term unemployment rate, which is defined as anyone unemployed for six months or more, is actually hovering at around 0.6%. Which means that we were essentially at full employment. So with that kind of steady-state, we were at a risk of becoming complacent.
c. When COVID hit us, it showed us how quickly things can change. The resident unemployment jumped from below 3% to 4.9% in October 2020. So things can change very quickly.
i. This difference of a few percentage points – why are we so concerned about it? It’s because they are our fellow Singaporeans. In terms of absolute numbers, it represents an increase of nearly 42,000 unemployed residents from the onset of COVID.
ii. We have rolled out significant support schemes, such as the SGUnited Jobs and Skills, Jobs Growth Incentive. Thankfully, we have been able to help our labour market recover, and advance estimates show that resident unemployment rate is below pre-pandemic levels as of December 2022.
iii. Still, we live in a world with accelerating change and accelerating disruptions. More and more jobs are being transformed, and more and more roles are being rendered obsolete by new technology. Just take ChatGPT for instance, and how it might potentially upend even long-standing businesses like Google. Very soon, we will find that this is going to be the future.
iv. None of us should ever take our roles and jobs for granted.

d. Resilience is not just how quickly we can find a job if we are displaced. It is also about finding better jobs, better roles that are even more fulfilling than the previous one.

11. Importantly, career health, career resilience is about building an added measure of resilience in your own career progression, and more importantly, your own career prospects. We always say you are most valuable when you are not looking for a job, but when the jobs come and look for you. There is a saying in Chinese: “人到无求品自高” – loosely translated, it means when people have no desires, they will have high standards of morality. 

a. Career health is the same:
i. You should not wait until you are at risk of unemployment to start developing “healthy habits”.
ii. You need to plan ahead, your career goals around your needs and interests, and continuously take steps to make sure you are not just meeting these goals, but exceeding these goals.

12. This ties into the other main aspect of career health, which is career progression.
a. It is very important that we consider the future of work. More importantly, we have to exhort our fellow Singaporeans to acquire skills ahead of time, for us to remain competitive.
b. How do we motivate and update ourselves? How do we prime our people to ride the waves of change? How can employers, with the support of unions, individuals like yourselves, and the Government, work together to develop resilience, improve career progression and boost our countrymen’s career health? This is precisely what we have gathered here to think about, and over the next few weeks, to see how we can move this forward, with all of your support.

Importance of Citizens’ Panel

14. So you can see why I am very passionate, very excited about this Citizens’ Panel, because it’s not just getting your ideas, but building bridges.
a. Through your feedback, we hope to also better understand the challenges that you face, your ideas, your concerns, your expectations, your hopes, and innermost fears, and how we can address them.
i. We hope that through getting insights from you, we can navigate the trade-offs, and co-create policies together.

b. Of course, communication goes both ways.
i. We also hope that through this, you will gain an appreciation of the measured considerations, the deliberations we take before policies are made.
ii. How do we strike a balance? There are multiple groups that we have to manage. That is what society is all about.

c. It is just as important that because we come from all walks of life, that you come together to build bridges among yourselves – among the different segments of the population and stakeholders that you represent.
i. Some of you here are employers, many of you are self-employed, some of you work for the Government. Because of the different occupations and seniority levels – in other words this can be a small representation, a microcosm of our larger society.
ii. Each of you bring a wealth of experiences, and as you share your perspectives, it allows us to have a glimpse of what you have gone through.
iii. I hope that this will be a very fruitful series of discussions, that we can have a meeting of minds that gives rise to a new understanding and forge a new social compact.

15. I really look forward to hearing your views!