DPM Lawrence Wong at The Closing Session of the Ngee Ann Kongsi-IPS Citizens' Panel on Employment Resilience

DPM Lawrence Wong | 25 March 2023

Transcript of Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at The Closing Session of the Ngee Ann Kongsi-IPS Citizens' Panel on Employment Resilience on 25 March 2023.


My Cabinet Colleague Dr Tan See Leng,

Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Manpower,

Friends from IPS,

Brothers and sisters from the Union,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to join you today for the closing of this Citizens’ Panel and let me thank the Institute of Policy Studies and Ngee Ann Kongsi, for making this event possible as well. I understand that for the past eight weeks, all of you, more than 60 of you gathered here have been deliberating over a very important issue on career health and employment resilience.

How can we help our workers better bounce back from any employment setbacks.

And how can we help them bounce back not just into another job, but hopefully one that makes good use of their skills and has even better career prospects for them.

So those are the questions we are asking ourselves and I am sure we will benefit from all the deliberations you’ve had over the past eight weeks.

Indeed, in a dynamic and healthy economy, there will always be a flow of innovation, new ideas and new ways of doing things, that is to be expected.

In fact, we want that to happen in a healthy economy. Which means that in such economy, there will also be a churn of jobs.

Some jobs will become obsolete, for example, because of innovation, technological advancements.

But new jobs will be created – and these new jobs will usually be more productive, and will pay better wages.

For example, maintenance workers used to have to slowly climb the exterior of buildings to do building inspections. Now, a properly trained drone pilot can do the same task in a faster and safer way.

So you see these sorts of changes happening all over the economy. It is a process of creative destruction, and in fact, it is an integral part of a healthy and vibrant economy.

Sometimes the new jobs that are created are within the same company, taking over the obsolete jobs.

But in many cases, you will find that the new jobs are being offered by more competitive firms in the same sector. Or, for that matter, in an entirely different sector – like what we have seen in recent years, where there has been a lot of demand for data and software engineers because of technological advancements.

And we can be sure that this sort of churn will accelerate in the coming years because of continued advancements in technology and Artificial Intelligence for example, which will be a huge game changer, which means that many jobs will become obsolete but new jobs will continue to be created.

So our approach in Singapore is not to protect the job. When I explain this in context, you can understand but you can be sure that the immediate instinct is to save the job, the job is becoming obsolete, my livelihood is being threatened, let’s save the job.

But, our approach is not to protect the job because this will only hold back the process of innovation and will hinder the creation of new and better jobs.

But to say that is easy, the churn that can happen can be very unsettling and disruptive for the individual whose very livelihood is at stake. And when your job is being impacted, you will feel very disrupted and very concerned. We know that the churn that takes place in the economy, will require individuals to adjust to change, to keep on learning new skills.

And that’s why our approach in Singapore is to redouble our efforts, not to protect jobs, but to protect workers, to help every Singaporean reskill, upskill and transit more easily to take up new job opportunities.

And that is what this Citizens’ Panel is about – career health and employment resilience. It seems logical, everything I just said, I hope it sounds logical to you, straightforward, but actually it is very difficult to do.

We need to coordinate and work with many different stakeholders and partners.

Which is why, when you look around the world, very few countries have a good system in place for adult training, skills upgrading and job placement. It is very hard to do at a national level.

I think in Singapore, we are fortunate that we are starting from a stronger foundation than many other countries, partly because of our tripartite partnership – we have the government, employers and unions working closely together over many decades and so we are in a better position to see how we can move forward and strengthen our overall system.

I think we have to do a few things. We have to first start off by engaging employers because employers are the ones who create the jobs.

So employers need to know how they want to grow and transform their business, how to redesign jobs to achieve these goals, and what kind of skillsets they need for their jobs of the future. And that is something we have to continuously think about, employers.

Second, we need training providers to work closely with employers and the industry.

Training providers need to understand what employers need and design effective courses that can close the skills gap.

And the training providers must also maintain high and rigorous standards of training. You can say I have a good course but are you sure that you maintain high standards of training and how can we be sure that those who completed your course will truly have the certifiable skills that will be in demand by industry.

Finally, we also need to engage the workers themselves, through the unions and also by appealing and engaging them directly.

We must recognise that we have a very diverse workforce.

There will be some who are very clear about what they want to do, based on their own skills and aptitudes. They will do their own research, they will undertake training on their own. In fact, they require probably very little help from external parties. We want many more people to be like that, unfortunately, for now, this group reflects only a small proportion of workers.

There will be others who say I want to train but in fact they are really just following the fad – they go for training in areas they read about and they say, today the media says that biomedical science is the next big industry, blockchain is growing, Artificial Intelligence is very big, so let me train in these new growth areas based on what I think is the latest fad and the latest popular trend, without really thinking hard about whether it’s a good fit for them.

And there will be still others who may not even go for training at all for all sorts of reasons – sometimes they can’t spare the time, there may be some that are struggling with finances.

And so, often, for this group, if they are displaced, if they are retrenched, for whatever reasons, they will jump to accept the first job that is offered to them, even though that’s not always the best fit or the best use of their talents.

So these are the considerations we have – employers, training providers, individuals. And to address all of these issues, we really need to strengthen our SkillsFuture eco-system, especially in the area of training and job placement.

We have been doing this for some time, it is not something we only started now, we have been building this up over the years.

In this Budget this year, we made a further move when we introduced the idea of Jobs Skills Integrators.

But we think there is much more we can do to strengthen our overall SkillsFuture ecosystem and that’s why we have set up this Citizen’s Panel.

It is part of our ongoing engagement efforts under the Forward Singapore exercise.

Typically, when the government does these sorts of engagement sessions, we have a large group of people, we invite you to give your feedback and ideas and we go back and collate all the feedback. That is something we have been doing as part of Forward Singapore for the past six months.

But now, we want to go deeper in our engagements with Citizens’ Panels like this where we invite a smaller group who are more interested in particular issues to step forward; think about the issues very carefully, wrestle with the trade-offs and help us, work with us, to shape policies in partnership with the Government.

And I hope that is what all of you have had the chance to do over the last eight weeks. I know it has been an intensive experience.

You’ve got to engage with different stakeholders from the unions, employers, training providers.

You’ve to consider different perspectives, and even manage the differences of opinions and views amongst yourselves.

You start to realise that not every idea can be easily implemented, not every wish can be granted and you really have to grapple with difficult trade-offs.

For example, we would like to have personalised jobs and skills insights provided to every worker. Ideally, you just press a button, you enter some data and an algorithm will tell you these are your strengths, these are your abilities and these are the kind of jobs that are available, that best match your strengths and abilities. Presto, that’s all you need to do. Maybe in a few years time, when AI becomes more developed, we might very well have such a system. But for now, scaling such a system up, with such a personalised service can be very resource-intensive and it is not easy to do on a nation-wide basis.

Or take the example of unemployment support, there is another group looking at this. We do want to provide more support to displaced workers so they will have assurance, peace of mind and they can take the time to upgrade their skills and look for a better job. We also know that one unintended consequence that we have seen elsewhere is that generous unemployment support can inadvertently lead to more people staying unemployed, rather than finding a job. So we will need to find ways to avoid these negative outcomes.

These are the kinds of tensions and trade-offs government ministries and agencies have to deal with all the time.

But through Citizens’ Panels, we are now involving you in this process, citizens in this process of grappling with these issues and we hope the experience will help you better understand what the issues are and we also want to hear from you, how the trade-offs should be managed, and what solutions you would like to offer.

I want to thank everyone for your active participation, and for generously contributing your time and efforts to this Citizens’ Panel.

I know many of you volunteered to do this while juggling work and family commitments. There are many other things you can be doing on a Saturday afternoon than being here with all of us talking about these issues, I recognise that.

So I thank you for making the effort to do this, I assure you that we take this very seriously. We look forward to listening to your recommendations later, and subsequently, reading your final report.

And I also assure you that your final recommendations will play a part in shaping our policies and our recommendations as part of the Forward Singapore exercise.

Ideally, of course, we can do a lot of these Citizens’ Panels all over Singapore, get many more people involved.

But it is, again, one of those things that is very hard to do, it is very resource intensive as you yourself know from this experience.

The panel must be small enough to facilitate quality discussions and every participant must be prepared to commit to the process.

It is not easy to scale but still, we think it’s still very useful to have Citizens’ Panels like this, from time to time.

Because from the experiences we’ve had with these panels, those who do participate generally found that it increased their knowledge of public policies, and strengthened their confidence in the value of their contributions as citizens.

More importantly through citizens’ panels, we get everyone, Singaporeans involved directly in deliberating over policy issues and trade-offs and in so doing, we are able to strengthen public trust in policy making, and we build a more enduring social compact together.

I hope that indeed has been your experience serving on this Panel. We value your feedback too, let us know how the experience has been, let us know how we can improve our processes because we want to learn and improve and continue to convene more of such Panels in future.

To conclude, through initiatives like this, and through the Forward Singapore exercise, we would like involve Singaporeans in imagining and shaping the Singapore we would like to see for the future.

And this is also an affirmation of the experiences we have been through together in the last three years, tackling the pandemic. All that we have been through these last three years, demonstrates that we are stronger when we stand and when we work together.

So we want to uphold that solidarity and trust and get everyone to do our part in building a better Singapore that endures and thrives for many generations to come.

Thank you.