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How Singapore's initiatives to address manpower shortages are playing out

How Singapore's initiatives to address manpower shortages are playing out

In a series of questions addressed on the topic, Minister Dr Tan See Leng urged employers to utilise support and press on with efforts to become more manpower-lean, while tapping on available sources of local workers.

On top of asking parliamentary questions regarding flexible work arrangements (FWAs), Singapore's Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Wan Rizal raised a separate question on manpower shortages in Singapore to Minister for Manpower, Dr Tan See Leng. Having the same concern as MP Wan, other MPs such as Yip Hon Weng, Poh Li San, Joan Pereira, Leong Mun Wai, Yeo Wan Ling, Liang Eng Hwa, Nadia Ahmad Samdin, and Sharael Taha, too, posed similar parliamentary questions to Minister Tan.

In a general response, Minister Tan mentioned the Government recognises that some segments of the economy "may find it challenging" to fill job vacancies amidst the tight labour market. which he believes is in large part due to the impact of COVID-19. The Minister shared that over the past two years, Singapore's non-resident workforce "declined sharply" as businesses were battered by the pandemic. "While demand is recovering, border restrictions had dampened the regular inflow of foreign manpower", he added.

Minister Tan reiterated that the Government "has taken steps" to resume the inflow of foreign workers to ease the manpower crunch, such is in the progressive ease of border restrictions from late last year. "Since then, non-resident employment growth increased in the fourth quarter of 2021 for the first time in two years, and picked up pace in the first quarter of 2022".

"Most recently, we announced the removal of entry approval requirements for all pass types, including Work Permit Holders (WPHs) in the CMP sectors. The number of CMP WPHs in Singapore reached a two-year low in October 2021, but has since grown strongly by more than 40,000 to reach over 90% of pre-pandemic numbers. Our businesses now have fuller confidence to bring their work pass holders into Singapore, and the recent reopening of the Singapore-Malaysia land border should also further ease the labour market tightness in the months to come," Minister Tan said.

Specific to MP Yip, MP Poh, MP Sharael, and MP Nadia, Minister Tan shared that MOM is "working closely" with Ministry of Transport (MOT), Ministry of Trade & Industry (MTI), Singapore Tourism Board (STB), and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to provide targeted support for the tourism and aviation industries with additional foreign worker quotas on a time-limited basis to ensure that it can quickly rebound and capture the opportunities.

On top of that, Government agencies are doing the same with industry and unions to promote good jobs and ramp up local hiring. He cited the example of STB partnering with NTUC, NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (NTUC’s e2i), WSG, and key Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) to launch the Tourism Careers Hub in January 2022.

"This Hub facilitates job matching of local candidates with the tourism sector, supports the upskilling of workers to meet evolving demands, and drives business transformation efforts. CAAS is working with aviation firms to recall former employees and expand hiring. Both CAAS and STB have lined-up recruitment activities such as career fairs in the next few months," Minister Tan shared.

Previously: More than 3,100 workers in Singapore's tourism and lifestyle services sectors have taken part in Career Conversion Programmes

The Minister for Manpower reiterated such efforts will continue - and target businesses "to transform and improve job quality to attract and retain local workers". MTI, in another instance he shared, recently announced the S$70mn Food Services & Retail Business Revitalisation Package. Minister Tan said that MOM and MTI will work closely with TACs to study further ways to support both the retail and F&B sectors' manpower needs in the immediate term.

And with regard to the cleaning sector, he said that the National Environment Agency (NEA) "has also been working with cleaning companies" to adopt technologies such as autonomous floor cleaning scrubbers and robotic solutions to free up workers to meet the added demand for disinfection work.

Minister Tan said, on a separate note, the Government "will nudge and support our businesses to hire locals".

"We have extended the Jobs Growth Incentive to September 2022 to support hiring of mature local workers aged 40 and over who are not in work for at least six months, persons with disabilities and ex-offenders. Employers can receive up to S$21,600 per eligible hire over a 12-month period. There are also other pathways in which employers can tap, such as the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme. Attachments under this programme allow employers to provide mature candidates with on-the-job training and evaluate their job-fit".

Beyond that, the Government will also be disbursing the Small Business Recovery Grant from June this year, he said. "This provides S$1,000 per local employee, and up to S$10,000 per firm".

With regard to questions on SDAs - coming from MP Wan, MP Yeo, and MP Liang, for instance - the Minister shared that around 6,400 such workers were employed as at April 2022 by the public sector, government-funded institutions or private sector medical service providers.

"Approximately 1,200 of these workers will be re-deployed into longer-term roles, but the other 5,200 will be looking for new jobs when their contracts end over the coming months. WSG and NTUC’s e2i will be providing employment facilitation support. Employers who are interested to consider these workers can reach out to WSG and NTUC’s e2i. Many of these workers came from the F&B and Retail sectors, and would thus possess the relevant skillsets and experience", he added.

Read alsoUpskilling in Singapore: What your employees are really looking for

Further, there are 9,800 trainees who are still undergoing attachment and training programmes under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package as at end February 2022, and they too will be looking for jobs in the near future. The Jobs Taskforce, which he chairs, is also highlighted to be "working with sector agencies" to place these trainees into suitable roles which make use of the industry-relevant skills and experience gained through the programmes.

To MP Leong, Minister Tan replied the number of local part-time workers in F&B services "remained stable" at around 35,000 on average over the last five years, of which about 15% were students, classified as those who are schooling but currently working in vacation job or undergoing paid internship, working while awaiting examination results or NS call-up or working while schooling. "Part-time work can benefit both employers who need the manpower, and workers who will not only earn an income, but can also gain work experience for the future," he said.

Minister Tan, on that note, concluded and urged employers who are facing manpower shortages to "utilise all the available support" to press on with efforts to transform and become more manpower-lean, while tapping on available sources of local workers that still exist, to build up their local manpower core.

ICYMILeaders in Asia can utilise these four methods to counteract labour shortage, and attract & retain talents

For understanding, these were the questions posed by the respective MPs:

  • MP Wan had asked what are the plans to assist Safe Distancing Ambassadors (SDAs) to transit to new jobs and channelling them to sunrise industries, following the easing of safe management measures (SMMs).
  • MP Yip had asked what are the efforts to promote more local employment; how is the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) helping sectors that are facing a shortage of local workers, and whether MOM will relax foreign labour policies should the manpower crunch continue.
  • MP Poh had asked which are the sectors facing a severe shortage of manpower especially foreign workers, and what are the measures taken by MOM to help these industries and companies to ride out the labour shortage so as not to hamper the recovery of Singaporean economy.
  • MP Pereira had asked whether MOM will consider permitting cleaning companies to recruit cleaning workers from a wider range of countries to reduce the risk of labour shortages.
  • MP Leong had asked, for each year in the past five years, what is the number of local part-time food & beverage (F&B) workers, and how many of these workers are students.
  • MP Yeo had asked whether MOM will be working on measures to encourage and divert manpower resources from positions no longer needed - such as safe distancing ambassadors - to industries that are facing manpower shortages such as food services and retail.
  • MP Liang had asked what is the number of temporary workers who are currently working on COVID-19 related jobs such as safe distancing ambassadors or SafeEntry checkers; what are the other employment opportunities available to these workers as the safe management measures are being stepped down, and how can such workers be assisted in seeking new and longer-term employment.
  • MP Nadia had asked whether there are planned measures to support businesses, particularly in the F&B and catering sectors, who are having difficulty in hiring staff amidst the reopening, and if so, what are these measures.
  • MP Sharael had asked
    • following the easing of SMMs, how many safe distancing ambassadors and vaccination centre workers will be affected; how will the affected workers be re-deployed, and whether there are plans to upskill or re-train the workers to take on roles in industries with high demand for manpower, and
    • following the forecasted recovery of the aviation and tourism industries, whether there is sufficient manpower in these industries to meet the expected needs, and whether MOM will consider redeploying safe distancing ambassadors and vaccination centre workers to these industries.

Image / 123RF

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