The new social contract: productivity and skills

Productivity - Waiter drone

One of the features of this year’s Budget is “productivity”.

A common complaint: productivity seems to imply slave-driving.

But it is not. If you’ve ever wanted better pay, more vacations and better benefits at work, the magic word that makes any of this possible is – productivity.

But this nation is having none of it. Productivity remains low, with little improvement.

The problem is well diagnosed: the Singaporean workforce is slightly advantageous in terms of skills, but others are fast closing in on that.

The solution? Much harder. It involves the co-operation of the worker to adapt to new processes and skills.

One factor that can level the playing field is technology. Technology has been responsible for the creation of many high-skilled jobs, and reducing the need for low-productivity, low-value manpower. It transfers the gains to workers who are capable of doing more with less, thus making for a better salaried Singaporean core.

This introduces fresh questions for employers.

What do you do with staff who have working experience, but may become obsolete due to lack of skills? How much should the company invest in such technology? How much should the company invest into skills?

If we switch gears and recall Singapore’s goal of being a “Smart Nation”, one can instantly see the Budget as yet another planning exercise for the future.

Budget 2015 has re-iterated the hope of helping SMEs transition through economic restructuring. Budget 2015 speaks of significant investments in transport — this is a hint for saying “Transport Restructuring”. SkillsFuture is a restatement of the need to train and retrain people for an uncertain future that no one really can predict. The best hedge to an uncertain future is quick learning and re-learning ability.

It is precisely in answer to these questions that the NTUC welcomed the creation of the SkillsFuture Credit scheme for all Singaporeans.

This would encourage lifelong learning, a mastery of skills and even second-skilling by supporting individual initiated training for a person’s entire career and lifetime,” said Ms Diana Chia, president of the NTUC.

In other words, Singapore has re-calibrated its approach. The new selling point of today has got to be:

Whatever kind of labour force you (the companies) want, we can get it prepared. No matter what the economy looks like, rest assured that Singapore will be the place to do business because of superior law enforcement, policy expediency and a workforce with fungible skills.

Only if we can achieve this can we then re-evaluate governmental finances and ask, “How much more can we spend?” If not, expect to hear more of “petrol taxes”, among other attempts at trying to squeeze more dollars to fund massive, but sorely needed programmes, to position for the future.

But will Singaporeans be comfortable with this new “social contract”? Only time will tell.







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