Opinion

Dear Singaporean PMETs, Here’s What Budget 2016 is Trying to Tell You

Peter Lin

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Budget 2016 has come and gone, and while some people might be upset that it was still considered premature for the property cooling measures to be relaxed, the truth is, most of us Singaporeans had other things on their mind. Like whether Finance Minister Mr Heng would help us PMETs should we be retrenched this year. Unfortunately, there weren’t any handouts announced. What was announced, was something that went deeper than just giving us money to tide us over during this difficult year.

 

“A virtuous cycle of higher skills, higher productivity and higher wages”

Instead of focusing on the people, Mr Heng first reminded that if companies don’t restructure themselves, workers will still not be able to earn more in the long run. Instead of allowing companies to keep workers in relatively meaningless jobs that don’t have any career prospects, Mr Heng pointed out that improving productivity would lead to higher wages, and that could only come if Singaporean PMETs improve their skills. But to do so, he encouraged us to be adaptable, learn, unlearn and relearn quickly in order to stay relevant and seek new careers.

 

Seek new careers? That means…

Yep, Mr Heng doesn’t mince his words. He’s not shying away from the fact that many careers aren’t going to be around for much longer, and therefore many workers, especially PMETs, will need to be ready for that reality. And just in case you think the government’s going to spoonfeed you while you languish in your dead-end job, think again. The search for a new career is going to be on your hands, and like the proverbial horse, the government’s going to bring you to the water, but it’s not going to make you drink. But if you’re still upset about having to do the whole job search thing again, here are 3 things Mr Heng would like you to remember.

 

1. SkillsFuture is here to stay

There was no news about when and how much the next SkillsFuture top up will be, but it’s probably too soon to announce it. What we do know is that, as announced at last year’s Budget, most Singaporeans will now have $500 in SkillsFuture Credit to help subsidise any courses they wish to take in order to upgrade their skills or learn new ones. And let’s be honest, the variety of courses available is almost inexhaustible. Should you feel like switching careers, these courses would go a long way to getting you started.

What if you like the sector you’re in? For people like you, Mr Heng touched on the SkillsFuture Study Award, which gives $5,000 for those with experience in 12 different sectors, including the Private Security sector, Early Childhood sector and even Internationalisation. The latter, for example, seeks to equip PMETs who can contribute by driving their company’s overseas growth.

Since SkillsFuture is here to stay, that means more Singaporeans should be looking out for courses, both short-term and long-term that will help them with their careers. Don’t waste your SkillsFuture Credit on skills that you would only do as a hobby. We’ll be covering more on some key courses to consider taking, so stay tuned with us and follow us on Facebook.

 

2. The government isn’t going to help you find a job, but it will make it easier for you to be hired

Exact details weren’t given during the Budget announcement, but an initiative called “Adapt and Grow” will help PMETs by encouraging firms to hire you. This is done in two ways – by expanding wage support schemes so that companies won’t feel the pinch of hiring a mid-career professional, and by launching new professional conversion programmes in sectors like Information and Communications Technology, as well as Design. At first glance, these are not new initiatives. But by giving it a name, it hopefully emphasises the government’s direction to those of us at risk of layoffs.

Basically, that direction is: you’re still going to have to find a new job yourself. Or, if you’re not ready to re-enter the working world, you’re still going to have to decide if you’re keen on a career in a different sector. The good news is, unless you’re somehow expecting to still command your last drawn salary, you should be easier to employ.

We’ll hope that the Adapt and Grow initiative will be further discussed at the upcoming Committee of Supply debate. What is clear is that this will definitely reward those ready to learn, even if it means having to do it after office hours.

 

3. The Information and Communications Technology sector is the place to be

We’re in the year 2016, and we’re looking forward to the day the futuristic sounding year of 2020 becomes our present reality. To that end, Singapore’s hoping that no one gets left behind. Recognising that the increasing demand of technology savvy professionals, coupled with the current limited supply, is inflating salaries, Mr Heng announced the TechSkills Accelerator.

The TechSkills Accelerator is a skills development and job placement hub, intended to identify the need for specific technological skills and meet them. It will also develop skills standards and certification for the industry, as well as get employers to hire based on specific skills rather than academic standards.

The plan is to create similar hubs for other sectors in the coming years, but it’s clear why the current focus is on Information and Communications Technology. This sector has consistently managed to buck the downward trend of the economy, but has not been able to attract enough local support – often resulting in the reliance on foreign workers with the necessary skills but who are willing to work for less.

By encouraging the learning of specialised skills, Singaporeans will not be left behind as the country moves forward.

 

But what does all this mean for PMETs in Singapore?

These four letters are an easy way to label a very vulnerable group of workers – well-educated, white collar workers who are often paid beyond the median wage of Singaporeans. While they may have enjoyed life when our economy was booming, they’re also often the first to go when a company trims the fat. And in these past couple of years, many PMETs who may have been resting on their laurels have suddenly had their iron rice bowls taken away from them.

The Budget announcement has been pretty clear about the direction that Singapore is moving towards, and workers can no longer pretend that they are oblivious about what we have to do. If we truly want security in our jobs, we have to take advantage of opportunities to catch up with and overtake the innovative head start found in other parts of the world. We have to be able to think outside the box, regardless of how old we are. The good news is, in Singapore at least, it’s never too late to start anew.

 

Does Budget 2016 inspire you to try something new, career-wise? Or were you hoping for more handouts? We want to hear from you.

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Peter Lin

I am the poster boy for reinventing one's self. I've been a broadcast journalist, technical writer, banking customer service officer and a Catholic friar. My life experiences have made me the most cynical idealist you'll ever meet, which is why I'm also the co-founder of a local pop culture website. I believe ignorance is not bliss, and that money is the root of all evil only if you allow it to be.