Helping Low-wage workers improve their standing

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”  – Proverb

Do you think that some of us are perhaps adopting too much of a laissez-faire attitude towards skills?

I’ve got a friend, let’s call him “Ah Soon”. Now Ah Soon has been working as a junior security officer for some time now.

Me: Hey Ah Soon, long time no see. What have you been up to?

Ah soon: Eh! Wah…long time no see…me ar? No good lar. Work as a security guard so long already, still earn $1,000 a month only.

Me: How long have you been a security officer?

Ah Soon: Aiyah…5 years already! Every day work and work, by the time I go home I am so tired.

Eh, you got kang tao can help me find new job or not? Need more money leh.

Me: Have you thought about going for courses to upgrade your skills? Has your employer sent you for courses before?

Ah Soon: Aiyah, upgrade simi skill? I do security guard, just guard lor. Got robber, just hammer lor. What skill you want?

There you go – I disagree with Ah Soon immensely. There really is a lot he could go learn. First aid, management, simple legal knowledge etc are some of the things I can think of immediately. Employers need to have a reason to pay you more. If you don’t have the skill, and if you can’t add value to their business, how on earth are they going to pay you any more?

Often we see low wage workers not progressing in their jobs and their wages remaining stagnant. Their common gripe: lack of skills.


Without proper skills, these low wage workers continue to be stuck at where they are. Hence, we see a lot of talk of late about upskilling and productivity, which is the key to low wage workers earning a better living for themselves.

Skills also allow for the worker to boost his or her employability and to remain employable.

Professor Tommy Koh in a recent article on low wages in Singapore said that the argument that the only way to raise wages of low wage workers is through productivity increase is not persuasive. He asked how the cleaners in his office can be more productive than they already are in order to receive higher wages.

The answer? Simple. Having low-wage workers such as cleaners upskill and use equipment allows the workers to work faster and better.

Heard of a vacuum cleaner? It allows cleaners to clean up dirt and dust efficiently without having the dust particles swept up into the air which could get into the lungs of cleaners. Easier, Smarter, Safer.

hotel cleaner

Of course, with skills that lead to a more productive work, employers naturally have to pay better.

Who says low-wage workers cannot be more skillful and productive than they already are in order to earn more?

I hope the reader can take the opportunity and think about the value he/she could bring to the employer. Employers are not evil and selfish people (well, not most of them anyway). If you want more money, just give them a good reason to do so.






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