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Helping jobless workers, professionalising blue-collar jobs among Government’s plans to build stronger society: DPM Wong

SINGAPORE — Introducing a re-employment scheme to help displaced workers make ends meet, professionalising blue-collar jobs and revamping the SkillsFuture programme are some of the initiatives that the Government will act on as part of its new approach towards social support and skills training.

Helping jobless workers, professionalising blue-collar jobs among Government’s plans to build stronger society: DPM Wong
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  • In response to President Halimah Yacobs’ recent address to Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong spoke on the Government’s key plans to create a new “social compact”
  • This includes finding more ways to help displaced workers and professionalising blue-collar jobs
  • The SkillsFuture programme will also be revamped
  • Mr Wong also spoke about how everyone have to change their mindsets about mindsets about schools and grades to avoid "too narrow" a concept of meritocracy

SINGAPORE — Introducing a re-employment scheme to help displaced workers make ends meet, professionalising blue-collar jobs and revamping the SkillsFuture programme are some of the initiatives that the Government will act on as part of its new approach towards social support and skills training.

This was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament on Monday (April 17) during a debate on President Halimah Yacob's speech last week.

In her speech, Madam Halimah laid out the Government’s priorities for the remainder of its current term of office during the opening of the second session of the 14th Parliament.

Among the priorities she raised were improving social safety nets for Singaporeans, as well as refreshing the nation’s social compact in a way that will allow Singaporeans to relate to and support one another.

On the subject of jobs and social support, Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, brought up in his speech an aspiration that “Singaporeans have voiced for some time now”, which is that people are more than the schools that they go to and their grades.

The Government has made “significant moves” to change the “too narrow” concept of meritocracy within the education system here, Mr Wong said, but that it is not possible to change something “that has become so ingrained in our nature by government decree”.

Going to a good school and doing well to secure a good job in working life has been the standard to chase for most people here, but the pressure from the rat race has been daunting.

He added: “And I hope society, too — every man, woman, and child; young and old; rich or poor — all will be serious about refreshing our mindsets about schools and grades… Every Singaporean must want to give themselves — and their children — more breathing space to discover and develop their diverse talents, and to maximise their potential.”

The new session of Parliament is “happening at an important milestone of our history”, he said.

In order for Singapore to build on its strong foundations, it must have the “courage to change where change is needed”.

This is what the Government has sought to do with its Forward Singapore consultation exercise, which allows it to review policies across all areas.

"We will ensure that the broad middle of society and their children see continued improvements in their lives; and we will close the gaps for the more disadvantaged groups," he said.

“If we succeed in effecting these shifts, we can secure a stronger social compact — and not just among ourselves, but between this generation and future generations to come.”


On the subject of job loss, Mr Wong acknowledged that losing a job is a major setback for workers and it can easily destabilise them and their families.

The Government is thus considering doing more to support displaced workers.

However, he said that unemployment benefits can lead to negative outcomes such as displaced workers finding it more attractive to receive these benefits than return to the workforce.

The Government is looking to design a support scheme that “provides assurance but avoids these negative outcomes”.

Mr Wong did not spell out the details of the plan, saying just that a “targeted re-employment scheme” will reduce the strain on displaced workers to make ends meet, while still encouraging them to continue with their upskilling and job search.


On the SkillsFuture programme that allows Singaporeans aged 25 and above to take skills-related courses using credits given by the Government, Mr Wong said that “some headway” has been made since it was launched in 2015, but there “is still much more to do”.

There will be “major changes to strengthen SkillsFuture” by reducing the costs and lowering the barriers to training.

The Government will also work with industry partners to come up with effective training programmes, including work-based learning options.

These courses will have to be better curated and vetted, so that they translate into meaningful employment outcomes.

The Government will also discuss with tripartite partners such as employers and unions on how it can support workers to take time off to train.

“This will help the workers individually, but it will help businesses, too,” Mr Wong said.

“At the same time, businesses must shift their emphasis from hiring (based on) credentials to hiring (based on) skills, and invest in the growth of their employees. And Singaporeans themselves must be open to change.”

He added that while some other nations aspire to create a welfare society from cradle to grave, Singapore will aspire to create a “full-fledged learning society — from cradle to grave”.

“That is how we will become a people ready for the future and equipped to succeed.”


Mindset shifts are necessary” for changes to take place, but Mr Wong does not think that it alone will effect societal change.

“It is not enough to say we will celebrate a variety of professions. Our economic structures, remuneration, and career prospects in various professions must also be consistent with what we value.”

The Government is therefore considering ways to “tilt the scales and narrow the wage gap across professions”.

One specific way is to further professionalise skilled trades such as the work done by electricians and plumbers.

This may include enabling them to attain accreditation for their skills and set a clearer progression ladder as they take on greater responsibilities.

Mr Wong said that Singapore can ascribe the right value to such forms of labour and grant such workers greater remuneration as professionals.

This will then assure graduates from the Institute of Technical Education and polytechnics that their wage and career prospects will not be too far below their university-going peers.

“They don’t have to succumb to a paper chase to secure a good salary and a viable career path. They can excel in the professions that they have trained in and have the aptitude for — be it hospitality, info-communication, social services, or others,” he added.


As for the pressure that students face in the early years of their education, Mr Wong said that as of 2021, for instance, pupils have been receiving their Primary School Leaving Examination scores in "achievement levels" instead of T-scores to reduce an over-emphasis on academic results.

Secondary school streaming will also be abolished next year, and replaced with subject-based banding

These moves will go some way to remove the stressors in Singapore's education system and signal to all in society that Singapore is serious about refreshing it, he added.

"A key mindset shift is to recognise that formal education early in life is not the endpoint of our meritocracy. Far from it.

"Our refreshed meritocracy must be a continuous one, with learning opportunities, milestones, ladders at multiple junctures. All must have the chance to try again, do better, and move forward in life, years after leaving school."


Aside from the various plans above, Mr Wong spoke about the new approach the Government will take in caring for seniors, which will go beyond physical health.

To achieve this, there will be a need to invest in infrastructure.

This will include building more community care apartments, expanding the network of Active Ageing Centres, and improving access to home-based care services.

Mr Wong also said that the Government will work with community partners to prevent loneliness and social isolation among elders.

“We will do all this and more, so we can create a home truly for our seniors,” he added.

The key shifts that the Government is embarking on as part of its new social compact will also include renewing Singaporeans' commitment to one another.

This means that it will be “less about ‘I’ and ‘me’, more about ‘us’ and ‘we’,” he said.

Related topics

Lawrence Wong SkillsFuture Jobs meritocracy

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