TL;DR – Yay, but it takes many hands to clap.
Being unemployed when you still need income is a terrible experience. Especially if you have mouths to feed. But these days, the rapid changes in the structure of the economy has made job security less certain. Many industries are being disrupted, roles being redefined, jobs lost that will never come back. There are people who lose their jobs and are unlikely to return to similar jobs, or even to the same industry.
Singapore has schemes to help
Singapore has a number of schemes to help. These include the Career Support Programme (CSP).
Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo in Parliament revealed in Parliament that more than 1,100 professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) have found jobs through the Career Support Programme (CSP) since its roll-out in late 2015, with the majority being older than 40 years of age and have been unemployed for a long time.
The CSP is part of the Adapt and Grow initiative. It helps to address mismatches in wage expectations and provides mid-career PMET job-seekers, especially the long-term unemployed, with greater opportunities to regain employment. It provides short-term wage support of up to 50 per cent for a maximum of 18 months to encourage employers to hire mid-career PMET job seekers who have been retrenched or unemployed for 6 months or more.
While the results of the CSP have been encouraging, there are still more that can be done for people who have lost their jobs.
Some of these people will find it tough to get a different job. That’s not because there aren’t jobs in the market. It’s likely because those looking for work don’t have the skills required to do the jobs in the sectors that are growing. It’s not just Singapore that faces this skills gap. USA does too. That’s why they are also investing in retraining their workers.
In the process, they have faced a few challenges:
1. Training cycle needs to be shortened
First, entire occupations and industries are expanding and contracting at an alarming pace, and the skills needed to keep up in almost any job are churning at an increasingly faster rate. As a result, there is often a gap between the jobs employers need to fill at a given moment and the skills of available workers.
Both employers and trainers are partly to blame for this mismatch.
Companies typically are reluctant to reveal their hiring plans too far in advance of filling the actual openings because they don’t want to tip off competitors. Meanwhile, colleges can take months, even years, to design and implement new programs; the requirements for a degree take another two years, further delaying graduates’ entry into the workforce.
That’s something that Singapore is acutely aware of too.
As such, to ensure that all workers can be equipped with skills continually and quickly, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is, for the first time, developing “bite-sized, just-in-time” training that would be offered to workers at affordable feed. NTUC said that it would be working with the institutes of higher learning and industry partners to develop such “speed-to-market” training.
2. Need to get people who are laid off retrained quickly
Speed matters when it comes to enrolling into training programs workers who were recently laid off. A significant delay – a wait of a year or more – often permanently hinders a worker’s chances at finding a new career and limits his or her lifetime earnings. Retraining is most successful when workers actually start it before they leave their old job.
Jane Oates, who was an assistant secretary in the Labor Department during the Obama administration, said:
“If you wait until they (workers) are out of a job, the emotion of losing a job comes into play; they start to get accustomed to not working, they get rusty.”
The analysis of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program conducted for the Labor Department in 2012 found that those who enrolled in training within 13 weeks of applying for unemployment benefits ended up working significantly more weeks, and earned more, than workers who entered training a year or more after a job loss.
The same applies to Singapore.
That’s why Singapore is trying to get those who might be unemployed (i.e. those working in sunset industries) to be trained with the skills they need to work in the jobs of tomorrow (i.e. jobs in sectors that are growing rapidly).
NTUC has set up a new capability called the Future Jobs and Skills Training (FJST). The FJST finds out from economic agencies like EDB, and SPRING Singapore which sectors are poised to grow in Singapore.
It also gets information from NTUC’s extensive network of unions, associations, communities, touch points, social enterprises and tripartite partners. It then analyses, corroborates and validates the information. FJST will then try to predict the exact skills and training needed for Singaporeans to tap the new opportunities as the economy changes.
3. People reluctant to go for retraining
However, none of the above schemes would work if people don’t want to get retrained in the first place. So, perhaps the biggest hurdle in retraining displaced workers is that some of them have little interest in going back to school.
After all, why would someone in his 50s who hasn’t been in a classroom in decades dedicate a few months or even years to train for a new job surrounded by people half his age and then start on the bottom rung of the career ladder?
This is a much harder challenge to tackle. The government can encourage, but that’s all it can do. At the end of the day, people must realise and be convinced themselves that they aren’t likely to stay in the same job, or even in the same industry forever.
No amount of encouragement will be enough if we ourselves aren’t willing and committed to keep learning new things, improving ourselves, and staying relevant to the ever changing job landscape.
Can we overcome these challenges?
We don’t know. Especially the last one. Lifelong learning is a culture that we probably don’t have yet. Hopefully, as we put the structures, programmes and schemes in place, it would help to encourage the development of that culture.
If that can happen, then we would have a chance of becoming a society where fewer workers find themselves out of work for long periods of time.