2 March 2015
Budget ‘lacks teeth on tackling manpower costs’
Angela Teng

TODAY Reports: Many companies in the Republic are calling this year’s Budget both a socially inclusive and a future-looking one, but said more could be given to managing manpower costs and retaining talent.

Singapore: In a live poll by KPMG at its Budget briefing yesterday, nearly half of 41 respondents highlighted manpower constraints as their top concern, saying the Budget did not do enough to tackle the issue.

Rental costs (24 per cent) came in as the second-highest concern, with support for businesses in growth (15 per cent) and simplicity of taxation policies (12 per cent) making up the rest.

The briefing was attended by about 140 CEOs, CFOs and tax directors with listed companies, multinational companies and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Manpower is a concern for both businesses big and small. It is very difficult to attract and retain talent. This remains one of our biggest challenges, when people have the luxury to job hop as they would in the current economic situation ... I think (retaining) talent is an issue for all companies,” Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills said at the panel discussion.

His sentiments were shared by SMEs, which said they require more assistance in the face of a tight labour market and rising business costs.

“What SMEs require are programmes to resolve the tight labour market costs … SMEs are somewhat resigned to this situation … On the costs side — the labour costs and business costs — there weren’t many measures to (help companies) reduce business costs,” said Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises.

Businesses acknowledged that the SkillsFuture scheme announced in the Budget was a bold attempt to help both companies and employees. The SkillsFuture scheme allows Singaporeans aged 25 and above to use S$500 (credited next year) to pay for all courses, as long as they are related to work skills and supported by public agencies or offered by various local post-secondary institutions.

Ms Selena Ling, OCBC Bank’s head of treasury research and strategy, described the initiative as promising. She added: “Whatever benefits that come in terms of skills mastery through SkillsFuture will reach employers as well.”

“The move to SkillsFuture is a very bold and ambitious programme … an emphasis on individual responsibility for our own career progression,” said Mr Mills. “If the quality of the courses and training is consistently high, it will definitely benefit companies as well as individuals and therefore, (boost) productivity and benefit the chance to push for innovation.”

See more: http://www.todayonline.com/business/budget-lacks-teeth-tackling-manpower-costs