Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (Amendment) Bill
Madam Speaker, I welcome the restructuring efforts for government bodies to specialise in their respective roles, enabling Singapore to have a more targeted push to develop a stronger workforce.
I commend the move to transfer WDA’s previously held role in education and training to a new agency. I believe that having separate agencies with a more targeted focus will allow for more robust decision making.
I welcome the amendments, which enables the new agency to play a more extensive role in helping job-seekers find and keep jobs.
Increasing workforce productivity
In Clause 9 and 10, increasing workforce productivity is clearly stated as a key objective for the Agency.
In this current climate of slower employment growth and economic uncertainties, it is important for the government to focus our efforts on boosting productivity, and to set up more safeguards than ever to protect our local workforce.
Reiterating what Minister Lim Swee Say said in the Budget debates this year, we need a new breakthrough in productivity growth, or low economic growth will become the new norm, as our international competitiveness will be at risk.
While there have been strong efforts by the government to increase automation to increase productivity, we must recognise that there are businesses for which there is no or little substitute for human workers. In particular, SMEs, and companies in retail, hospitality, F&B and construction.
Interestingly, it was mentioned earlier this year that it is precisely the same domestic sectors, such as retail and construction, which were the laggards of productivity growth.
In this regard, I commend efforts to look beyond automation to increase productivity, to areas such as job redesign as stated in Clause 9(c) and 10(c), to render work more fulfilling and meaningful.
Beyond job redesign, however, I would like to ask the Minister what else his Ministry will be doing to help businesses for which there is no or little substitute for human workers, to increase productivity.
We should also focus our efforts on fostering innovation. Innovative economies tend to have high productivity growth, measured by indices such as the intensity of R&D, patent activity and entrepreneurship.
Singapore tends to do very well in both R&D and patent activity, but perhaps less well in entrepreneurship.
Young Singaporeans, relative to their peers in countries such as the US, still lack the tenacity and boldness to leap into the riskier field of entrepreneurship, where many unknowns lurk.
Without the necessary support, many potential Singaporean Mark Zuckerbergs would give up, and too many brilliant ideas would go undiscovered.
On top of automation, R&D and other tried methods for productivity gains, perhaps fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship is where untapped potential lies.
WSG will be in close contact with our workforce and companies. While fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship is not the core focus of WSG, I hope that the two new agencies proposed to strengthen our workforce can work with SPRING Singapore to also look into how we can better foster among the young a spirit of entrepreneurship, a generation daring enough to step out of their comfort zone, and able to intuitively think out of the box.
Growing disenchantment among our workforce
Lastly, I would like to raise a point regarding the link between workplace satisfaction and productivity.
Surveys by Randstad consistently place Singaporeans as one of the less satisfied workforces in Asia-Pacific. In a 2016 survey, two of the top attributes employees look for were a ‘good work-life balance’ and a ‘pleasant atmosphere’ – both of which Singapore employers scored relatively poorly on.
This was not unexpected, as almost half of our workforce reported that they were working more than the MOM’s recommended limit of 44 working hours per week.
In a survey conducted last year, 3 in 10 Singapore employees were thinking of resigning, citing reasons such as poor leadership and disinterest in their job. Meanwhile, this problem also seems to plague newer entrants into the job market – the millennials – of which a high 7 in 10 said they were willing to move overseas for the right job.
In a country lauded for its great wealth and top-class quality of life, Singapore’s disenchanted workforce is the white elephant in the room.
This is something any new agency with a mandate to help our employees must take a serious look at. To remain competitive, we need to ensure that our workforce is not one which is simply productive, but also fulfilled and serve their roles with enthusiasm and a sense of collective achievement.
There are many high-profile cases where a happy workforce can transform a company, and this can be applied to Singapore’s economy.
In this regard, I would like to ask the Minister if the new Agency will look into how we can turn the tide of these negative survey results on workplace satisfaction.
Madam Speaker, I have complete trust that the proposed Workforce Singapore Agency will thrive under the MOM, and will bring Singapore forward to a new era of strong productivity and economic growth.