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THESE are tough and uncertain times for Singapore's financial sector, which has been spooked by how global banks like Credit Suisse and HSBC have jettisoned thousands of jobs in recent months in a desperate bid to reduce costs.
A new national initiative rolled out on Wednesday, however, will do all it can to give those working in the industry here the help they need to stay relevant and employed for the long haul.
For the first time, the government, employers and the labour movement have joined forces to form a new group called the Financial Sector Tripartite Committee (FSTC).
This was announced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) at the annual Chinese New Year lunch of the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS).
The 16-member committee is co-chaired by senior figures from the MAS and the NTUC, and includes top business leaders such as the chief executives of all three local banks. There are plans to expand the group to rope in the business associations and industry and union representatives from other sectors.
For a start, the FSTC will work with the banking sector before extending its scope of coverage to the insurance and asset-management sectors later in the year.
MAS deputy managing director Jacqueline Loh, one of the two co-chairs, described the establishment of the FSTC as both important and timely. She stressed that Singapore's financial-sector workforce had to prepare for an operating environment that is increasingly competitive and driven by technology.
"(The FSTC) will harness and synergise the efforts of the various bodies involved to build strong capabilities in our financial-sector professionals and help them develop meaningful careers," she said.
One of the main initiatives that the committee will push through is the setting up of a one-stop career advisory facility in April.
This centre has six partners - ABS, MAS, NTUC, the Institute of Banking and Finance, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).
Its goal is to help the banking sector retain talent, re-deploy staff to growth areas and minimise structural unemployment.
The centre, to be housed at the NTUC headquarters at One Marina Boulevard in Raffles Place, will guide those eager to join the financial industry or professionals looking to move to new jobs within the sector.
Ms Loh noted that there was still "strong demand" for talent in key areas such as asset and wealth management, insurance, compliance and risk management.
As part of the centre's work, the ABS this week launched a new jobs portal, where member banks can post their job vacancies.
Not only will other banks be able to see the positions available at their competitors, ABS director Ong-Ang Ai Boon said the postings will provide a "good sense" of the industry's current requirements and help in the development of training programmes.
The FSTC's other priorities include working with the Institute of Banking and Finance - a body that provides training and competency certification to finance professionals - to review its programmes and identify new cross-functional competencies that may be needed.
The committee also wants to foster in the financial workforce a mindset change - one that will more willingly embrace the need for skills upgrading.
The third front of the committee's initiatives is to foster a mindset change in the financial workforce that will embrace upskilling and reskilling. The e2i will pilot this programme, with DBS, OCBC and UOB as the first three participants kicking things off in March.
NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay, the other co-chair, reiterated his call for Singapore's financial sector to remain relevant, resilient and ready to stay ahead of the competition.
"The sector has to ensure that the workforce continues to enhance its competency level, capabilities and professionalism by acquiring work skills in new or developing business areas, or in developing more sophisticated or specialist skill sets.
"Only then can we effectively stay future-ready, to serve markets not just locally, but regionally and even globally," said Mr Tay, who is also the director of NTUC's U PME Centre.
UOB deputy chairman and chief executive Wee Ee Cheong, who is also ABS chairman, said that the manner in which the banking industry takes advantage of the digital economy while maintaining a personal touch would define its success over time.
"Bankers must stay relevant in the face of rapid changes brought on by increasing connectivity and changing consumer behaviour," he said.