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BUDGET 2017

As economy reboots, mindsets need to be rewired

Job security of mature workers assured, with close monitoring by labour movement and tripartite partners
Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 05:50

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Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How says while being able to execute a given plan within time and budget was good enough, it is no longer sufficient now - clients these days expect much more.

Singapore

MOVE from being a chess piece to becoming a strong chess player.

As the economy gets a reboot, mindsets of Singaporeans need rewiring too, MPs said on Tuesday, the first day of Budget 2017 debate.

While being able to execute a given plan within time and budget was good enough, it is no longer sufficient now, said Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How, who gave the chess analogy.

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Mr Heng, who is also the deputy secretary-general of NTUC, said clients these days expect much more.

Using project managers as an example, he said they are expected to "add value and create value up and downstream from their traditional work - in coordination, integration and unleashing synergy" on top of executing plans.

"Those who can do so have developed capabilities and connections both broadly and deeply, which they then leverage to good effect. They are valuable to clients and are in strong demand," he added.

But those who can only execute to a given plan will see their relative value decline, and the need for their services progressively supplanted by redesign and technology.

Mr Heng said: "We must focus on leadership that can skillfully and effectively work the white space between boxes marked 'Funding', 'Schemes', 'Regulations' and 'New Technology' to develop the critical partnership capabilities and reflexes needed to produce innovative and valuable new platforms, products and services."

On the job security of mature workers, Mr Heng assured that the labour movement and tripartite partners are monitoring the situation closely.

He said: "The tripartite partners have long agreed that mature workers, including re-employed workers, are not to be targeted for discriminatory retrenchment or termination."

He also noted that the extension of the Special Employment Credit (SEC) and the Additional SEC will address cost differentials between older and younger workers in the same jobs.

Mr Heng also reminded companies that should they lose experienced manpower, they will find it harder to recruit such manpower quickly when the demand returns and thus constrain their own growth prospects.

Mr Henry Kwek, MP for Nee Soon GRC, noted that it is hard to avoid ageism and that senior citizens themselves are not sure how they fit in the future economy.

He suggested a national digital initiative by catalysing a gig economy for seniors and creating micro-jobs.

He said: "Compared to companies, consumers using the gig economy are less willing to discriminate."

Mr Kwek gave the examples of mobile app companies like Uber, Honestbee, Foodpanda and Deliveroo.

"Our consumers are less likely to discriminate on who shows up at the door as long as that person can do that one-off 'micro-job' well," he said.

He added that there is potential in a government-led app partnering a start-up for micro-jobs in the social services like home-based healthcare, infant care and after-school care, and training seniors for these micro-jobs through SkillsFuture.

"In this digital age, data is the new invisible hand. We should fully tap on data, combine it with our social policies to orchestrate our economy and society of the future," said Mr Kwek.

East Coast GRC MP Lee Yi Shyan said Singaporeans are surprisingly insular and inward-looking: "One is Singaporeans' unwillingness to leave their comfort zones and take up foreign postings, another is that being very sheltered, Singaporeans become unsure and very risk-adverse in poorly defined and uncertain environment."

Ms Foo Mee Har, MP for West Coast GRC, is heartened that Singapore had the foresight to launch SkillsFuture, noting how life-long learning in most societies is undertaken by those who are already doing well, and is thus more likely to widen the gap of inequality rather than narrow it.

But she raised the concern that there are not enough Singaporeans who take ownership of preparing for their next careers well before their current ones become obsolete.

She said: "Some of those who lost their jobs may have found relief as Uber drivers - itself a fortuitous result of industry disruption - but I fear this, too, could be a short-lived job, with the advancement of self-driving technologies. Jobs are hybridising.

"With longer life expectancy and unending shifts in the jobs market, the ability to learn will be the key skill to nurture, along with the willingness to do so."

Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera noted the need for more entrepreneurship education in students and in nurturing skills, such as lateral thinking, creative problem-solving, leadership, communication and self-confidence, which are as important as literacy and numeracy skills.

He said: "Raw academic performance can always be inflated upwards with enough academic pressure, tuition, model answers, 10-year series and discipline. But to what end? Are we helping our children compete in the world of disruption that they will live in when they grow up?"

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