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Opening Address at MENDAKI Symposium 2023

Minister for Manpower, Dr Tan See Leng, PARKROYAL COLLECTION Marina Bay

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Manpower & Ministry of Defence and Deputy Chairman of Yayasan MENDAKI

Mdm Zuraidah Abdullah, CEO of Yayasan MENDAKI

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. Good morning! It is my pleasure to be here at the MENDAKI Symposium. I would like to thank MENDAKI for inviting me. I am glad to see many of you here today. 

2. The theme for this year’s symposium, Employment and Lifelong Learning, is an excellent and apt theme, because it is not just relevant to the Malay/Muslim community, but for everyone in Singapore. 

3. In the vast overwhelming majority of our lives and our careers, it is very unlikely that you will end up just holding one job. And because of that, we constantly need to pick up new skills to stay relevant, particularly in the face of all these transformations and disruptions, so that we can continue to move up the career ladder and improve our career prospects. 

Update on the labour market situation

4. Over the past year, Singapore has emerged from the shadows of COVID and we have roared back to life. Many of us here today would have had the chance to travel over the June holidays last month. I am sure that as you travelled, you don’t see “Safe Entry” and “Trace Together” happening anymore. 

5. In tandem with the re-opening, the labour market has improved significantly.

a. Our total employment grew by more than 200,000 in 2022 alone, and the resident unemployment rate fell to 2.5% in March this year. This is well below the pre-pandemic levels.

6. The healthy and resilient labour market that we have did not happen by chance. We could turn around very quickly and robustly, and this is due to the very strong compact that we have, the efforts of the workers, employers, educational institutions, the community organisations, as well as the Government. 

7. I am happy to note that MENDAKI has been an active partner in our efforts to help prepare Singaporeans for new opportunities. MENDAKI works very closely with MUIS, People's Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (PA MESRA) and other Malay/Muslim Organisations in the M3 network, to help us drive various employment and upskilling programmes. In the past year alone, the M3 network has strengthened its referral process, involving agencies such as NTUC’s Employability and Employment Institute (e2i), NTUC LearningHub, Workforce Singapore (WSG) and SkillsFuture Singapore. All of them came together to better support Malay/Muslim workers with their employment needs - from training and upskilling to facilitating job placements. In 2022 alone, MENDAKI co-organised six career fairs with WSG and e2i and assisted in about 1,700 employment-related cases! 

8. MENDAKI is also a strong advocate of lifelong learning. Its Raikan Ilmu (Celebrate Knowledge) campaign, which was launched in 2016, promotes the culture of learning within the Malay/Muslim community. In October 2022, MENDAKI organised close to 40 exciting activities, events and programmes across 11 M3 towns. 

9. MENDAKI also has a range of fantastic ground up initiatives, such as the Professional Networks that help Malay/Muslim PMETs grow their social capital, and the Women At Work programme that helps Malay/Muslim women return to the workforce, that complements our WSG programmes. 

10. Looking ahead, I hope that we can continue to count on the strong support of MENDAKI and our other community partners. This is as, while we have done well in 2022, we are already facing and are going to face significant headwinds for the rest of 2023. Our economy grew by 0.4% year-on-year, in the first quarter of 2023. This is slower than the previous quarter’s 2.1%. There are stark realities facing Singapore and the global economy. 

a. The war in Ukraine continues to put upward pressure on global energy and food prices. 
b. The global economy has also seen turbulence, which has resulted in more disruptions to the international labour market. Our beloved country Singapore has not been spared. 

11. Against this backdrop, many Singaporeans are understandably anxious about their jobs and the economy. But let me reassure all of you – never fear. If we can put the worst of COVID-19 – the black swan event that was the crisis of a generation – behind us, we, collectively as a people, can take on any challenge. 

Journeying with our people

12. I have full confidence that if our people are united and remain adaptable, nimble, responsive and agile as we had during COVID, we will survive the coming storms. In fact, I don’t think we will just survive, but we will emerge stronger. 

13. Over the past year, I had the privilege of engaging Singaporeans from all walks of life through the Forward Singapore exercise. Through many meaningful conversations, I have heard a common theme from fellow Singaporeans. Whether you are a fresh graduate, mid-career worker, or in a later stage of your career, you all want to improve your career prospects and do better for yourselves and your families.

14. Rest assured that the Government is committed to supporting your aspirations. We will journey with you, with our people, every single step of the way, in all of your careers. What does this mean for Singaporeans in different seasons of life? 

a. For fresh graduates who are worried about the transition from school to the workplace, we will enable you to pursue diverse career pathways with good prospects.
b. For mid-career workers, we want to empower you to be employable and relevant, so as to achieve greater impact and to bring out the best in your teams or organisations. The Government will continue to invest in Singaporeans to ensure that you have the skill sets and capabilities to succeed throughout your working lives. For those who are looking to switch careers, we will support them in areas such as job search and skills development to help them achieve their career goals.
c. For those who have unfortunately – because of curveballs or perhaps bad luck - lost their jobs, we understand, and we empathise with your anxieties and frustrations. We want to help you bounce back and emerge stronger than before. 

Friendly doctor’s advice on career health

15. Before politics, I served as a medical doctor. Perhaps, wearing the hat of a general practitioner, allow me to dispense some friendly doctor’s advice on employability and lifelong learning. I want to use health as a proxy. 

Know thy health

16. First, know thy health. I think you know that usually when you see a doctor, the doctor will tell you to do an annual health check-up to find out your body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In a similar vein, it is therefore important to have better insights and awareness of your own career prospects, where you stand vis-à-vis what is happening around the world and the industry, and how the economy is heading, where it is heading, how it is growing and how it is transforming. 

17. Now, a lot of my older friends and colleagues will say that “ignorance is bliss” – sometimes it is better to avoid health check-ups to avoid hearing bad news. But given the advances today, it is always better to detect health issues early, so that you can actively intervene, either to prevent it or to put yourself in a better position. 

Have a plan

18. Secondly, always have a plan. If you don’t plan, there is only one way and that is downwards. It is good to have hope, but hope is not a plan, so don’t just hope. Translate that hope – put down what you hope to see and then implement a plan. If we know the state of our health, the information is only going to be valuable and useful to the extent that we act on it by developing healthy habits, in terms of our physical exercise, the diet that we keep, and the rest that we take. You apply that in terms of looking for jobs, improving your career prosects – those are the parallels that you can draw.

19. As I have said in career health, we therefore need to take decisive steps to stay ahead of the competition and we should stand ever ready to seize new opportunities when they come. My colleagues and I from MOM – SMS Zaqy and the whole team – we stand ready to develop alongside with you a career plan, to help you to reskill, upskill and to take on new career challenges so that we can stretch and develop you to achieve mastery in your domain and improve your career prospects. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
20. Last but not least, if you are struggling, don't be afraid to ask for professional help.

21. We know that even for the fittest and healthiest amongst all of us, life will always throw curveballs, and people may experience health shocks. Some of us may experience employment shocks in our lifetime. People may fall into unemployment, through no fault of their own.  

22. The key thing is to always be positive. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can consult a friendly career coach from WSG or NTUC’s e2i, who will be able to provide you career advice. The Government is also carefully studying how we can provide re-employment support for displaced workers, so that you can bounce back stronger from setbacks. 


23. In conclusion, remember your friendly doctor’s advice:

a. Do regular “career health checks” to find out the opportunities in the labour market and how to seize them. 
b. Develop a plan to upskill and reskill and take on career opportunities for growth and development.
c. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to bounce back. The Government will be here to journey with you every step of the way so that we can face these storms of life together and keep moving forward, emerging even stronger.

24. Thank you and I wish you a very fruitful and engaging conference ahead.