This post is part of the series Budget 2017
Other posts in this series:
TL;DR – Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
It is said that it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish. Because if you give him a fish, he only gets to eat for a day. If you teach him to fish, he gets to eat for his whole life. Sounds good? But what if that man is already dying of hunger now? Or if he has other mouths to feed? His immediate needs would make it difficult for him to learn how to fish.
A case for unemployment insurance
That is an analogy that is very real for some Singaporean PMETs. They are typically middle-aged. They have families to support. And, just when they most need financial stability, the industry they’re in turns out to be heading into the sunset.
Consequently, they find themselves in the unfortunate situation where they are unemployed. They would be desperately trying to find a new job. But they don’t have the skills needed to change industry or do different work.
These PMETs would then grab whatever opportunity that comes their way. Often, these could be similar jobs in the same industry. And because the job is in the same industry, they may end up being out of job again shortly. Worse, they often have to take a drastic pay cut.
As a result, these PMETs alternate between being employed and unemployed. And when they are employed, they are often underemployed. That is definitely not a good situation to be in.
There is a concern that more PMETs will end up in this dire situation because of the increasing pace of disruption by technological advancements. As such, some people are advocating for an unemployment insurance. PMETs who find themselves out of job would continue to have a steady stream of income for a significant period of time. They can use the time to get the skills needed to move into an industry with promising growth, and get their careers on a stable, upward trajectory.
That is definitely a sound argument for unemployment insurance. However, we must consider the cost of such a scheme. Do the benefits justify the costs? And, perhaps most importantly, we should challenge ourselves to come up with alternatives that can give us a bigger bang for the buck.
That is exactly what Singapore has done with the Attach and Train programme that was announced in this year’s Budget.
An alternative to unemployment insurance that is potentially better
Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower elaborated on the details of the programme during his Ministry’s Committee of Supply (COS) debate. Participants of this programme will be attached to a company and receive on the job “conversion” training. This company will be in an industry with growth potential.
The relevant Attach and Train portion of Minister Lim’s speech starts from 12:05,
The government will provide the participants of this programme with an allowance of between 50% and 70% of the prevailing salaries for jobs they are training for, capped at S$4,000 a month. The company that the participants are attached to will contribute another 10%.
In other words, the participants will still have an income to support his/her family while he/she picks up the skills needed to put his/her career on a stable, upward trajectory.
This is much like what an unemployment insurance does. Except that the participant MUST undergo relevant skills training. This would address one of the reservations that those who are against unemployment insurance often cite, i.e. the concern that someone with unemployment insurance may just waste away his time and be no better off after the payouts from the unemployment insurance run out.
A catalyst for greater economic growth
That’s not the best part of this Attach and Train programme. The true genius of this programme is that it will catalyse the growth of companies in industries with growth potential.
Given the global economic climate, even companies in industries that have growth potential are facing headwinds. For these companies, business will pick up eventually. When it does, these companies will need to hire people who are appropriately skilled. Where will these people be? How can the companies find them when they need them? We will need to train them. Training them takes time.
If we wait until the economy picks up to train people, there will be a period of time when these companies want to make the most of favourable economic conditions to grow rapidly, but can’t because they don’t have enough people with the appropriate skills. However, they can’t spend the resources to train the people now because they can’t spare the resources to do so now. That is the “bottleneck” that Minister Lim mentioned in his speech.
The Attach and Train programme aims to break through this bottleneck.
The government will provide most of the resources needed to train people for industries with growth potential. The companies still need to invest some resources. They need them to be committed, and to be serious about wanting to do this together with the other stakeholders. With skin in the game, these companies will be more likely to provide the proper training for the participants.
Together with proper monitoring by MOM, and close partnership with industries and stakeholders, the Attach and Train programme holds great promise for workers, companies, and the economy as a whole.
Start small, (hopefully) scale up soon
Minister Lim announced that the Attach and Train programme will be rolled out in the logistics sector first as this was one of the key growth areas identified by the report recently released by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE). Other potential industries include healthcare, biologics and the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.
We are excited about this programme and hope that it will be well implemented and scaled up at a healthy pace.
Continue reading this series:
Briton says it’s easy to get job in Singapore even without a degree. And that’s a good thing, right?