Why the Labour Research Conference is taking labour research to the next level

By January 2, 2018Current, Perspectives, Work

TL;DR- So what’s the deal?

Say the phrase “labour research” and half of the people you’re talking to immediately switch off. It certainly conjures up images of academics huddled together, laboriously poring over stacks of research material in a lab. While the layperson typically finds it hard to relate to research findings, we met with Dr Alex Lum who is the Deputy Director of the Strategy & Planning division at the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute’s (OTCi).

His big plan – to take labour research to different level. We find out more about the mammoth task ahead of him and his team and what’s the deal with the Labour Research Conference (LRC) 2017.

*For the benefit of the uninitiated, OTCi was established for labour education and training in Singapore and works closely with National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on labour leadership courses for union leaders.

Dr Alex Lum, Deputy Director of the Strategy & Planning division, Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute’s (OTCi) (Image via NTUC)

So what’s the deal?

First up, we got Dr Lum to spill the beans on what topics were chosen and why both OTCi and NTUC were interested in the research findings. He gave us some context on how these topics were chosen, explaining that they were surfaced from months of engagement with different departments within NTUC. These topics were also recurrent themes that came out from ground feedback after speaking with various NTUC communities and unionists. 


Also, the Labour Research Conference was a good platform to work with academics in their field and yet bring in the unions and various partners who could contextualise the research findings. It turned anecdotes from workers on the ground to tangible, evidence-based learning and allowed labour-centric research to be done in a very unique way by giving it layers and a real world perspective – making it relevant for workers.

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“For labour research, we’re pretty unique – especially how it is was conducted and in the way that union leaders partnered

and spoke on tangible steps and outcomes while pairing up with the academics.”

Dr Alex Lum


The 4 issues in the new world of work

The 4 research topics that the LRC 2017 focused on were 1) Changing skills and jobs, 2) Retirement Adequacy, 3) Underemployment in Singapore and 4) New Types of Employment in Singapore.

The manner in which the research was conducted and presented was markedly different from other conferences, with the OTCi team working closely with both academics as well the respective union counterparts so that the research took on a more collaborative and “worker-centric” approach. Other conferences would typically be more geared towards policy level and be published in academic publications as opposed to having the findings operationalised by the unions.

This was the unique selling proposition of the LRC. With over 2/3 of the participants in the audience falling into the union leader or partner (Government counterparts, company representatives etc) category, Dr Lum emphasised that this would ensure better “buy-in” and follow through from the unions, relevant Government agencies and companies. He was excited that the team received good feedback with many of the participants keen on further collaboration to address concerns brought up as well as to take part in future research.

Interesting findings

Image from OTCi Facebook Page


On the topic of “changing skills and jobs”, it was found that many organisations do not plan for long-term skills challenges within the company and prefer to hire rather than train workers to fill the skills gap.

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This is important because there represents an opportunity for unions to work with the various Human Resource departments to identify skills gap in their organisations early and put in place training plans. Unions would also be the mobilising force to get their members to continually upskill.

Image from OTCi Facebook Page


A survey of 4,000 participants designed to assess the retirement adequacy of our elderly found that those who were union members were able to reach retirement adequacy earlier, have higher household savings, continue saving up to a later age, have more stable employment and be able to find employment opportunities sooner when unemployed.

This opens up avenues for further research into why union members seem to be more prepared for retirement financially compared to non-union members and trying to replicate these factors in helping more elderly achieve their desired retirement adequacy.

Bring it on, 2018!  

If anything’s for certain, Dr Alex answered with a resounding “We’ll be back!” when I asked if we’ll see a Labour Research Conference 2018. Moving forward, the team will be scaling the research up, with more findings and more applications for workers. Next steps also include the unions and its partners leveraging partnership opportunities and operationalising the findings.

With the value it continues to add to existing research by Government bodies such as the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) through incorporating a ground-up element, the LRC 2018 seems poised to break new ground.


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Jasmine C

Author Jasmine C

Pens random musings of life for anyone who would listen to an idealistic yet practical soul. xx

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