TL;DR – The government alone cannot close the widening pay gap. A combined effort between employers, workers and unions, training providers need to work alongside the government for the change to be realized.
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong voiced his concern about the widening gap between starting salaries of Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnic and university graduates at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum on Oct 18.
DPM Wong noted that the median starting salary for a university graduate is now almost double that of an ITE graduate. This is because a high premium is paid for jobs that require cognitive abilities while technical hands-on work as well as jobs in the services and community care remain undervalued.
Existing government initiatives
The Government has tightened foreign worker quotas and local qualifying salaries. Firms must pay a minimum salary of S$1,400 to locals before they can turn to hire migrant workers.
The Progressive Wage Model for lower-income workers was implemented in the cleaning, security, landscape, lift and escalator, and retail sectors. This scheme helped to raise the quality of vocational instruction and improved ITE skill-based curriculum.
But this is not enough!
Beyond this, DPM Wong said that a wider change across the economy is needed to recognize the “hands” and “heart” work, of which many can be found in the local services sector.
He shared that employers of each industry need to look at ways to redesign jobs and raise productivity; upgrade skills and establish better career progression for workers.
We need to take training seriously
DPM Wong candidly shared that going for sporadic half-day courses isn’t enough for people to get a taster of what to learn and it surely isn’t enough to build deep skills.
Workers need to be allowed time to invest in more meaningful and substantial training whether it takes a few days, weeks or even longer.
Time is the main factor working against mature and mid-career workers who are torn between responsibilities at work and obligations at home.
With all the factors in consideration, the SkillsFuture ecosystem needs to be improved. More SkillsFuture credits, time off from work, and income support for workers who need to pursue full-time training are some of the areas that need to be provided.
Teamwork makes the dream work
As cliché as it sounds, a combined effort between employers, workers and unions, training providers and the government is necessary for the change to be realized.
While the Government invests in its people in efforts to reduce the material gaps in wages between different types of vocations, companies also need to recognize the value of their workers and cooperate in redesigning jobs and business processes so that their workers can be well paid.
It’s only natural that the costs of goods and services will rise as these workers are better paid. DPM Wong urged Singaporeans to do their part by accepting the higher costs in those sectors and occupations that are undergoing the transformation.
Based on the various Forward Singapore engagement exercises so far, DPM Wong said that people want a place of opportunity where people can aspire to exciting careers and good jobs.
DPM Wong acknowledged that the changes may not be easy to achieve but reiterated that if everyone – businesses, the labour movement, the society and the government do their part, it will be possible.