16 December 2015
Key changes in Singapore's manpower policies targeted at SMEs, PMEs
Imelda Saad

SINGAPORE: Singapore's manpower landscape in 2015 saw a slew of measures introduced, mostly aimed at Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs), as well as support for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

This came against the backdrop of economic restructuring and further tightening of the foreign labour market.

The measures for PMEs included enhancements to the Fair Consideration Framework, aimed at levelling the playing field for local PMEs in search of jobs. PMEs are expected to make up two-thirds of the workforce by 2030.

From October, employers looking to hire must publish the salary range for jobs posted in the National Jobs Bank. Those who do not, and go on to make an application to hire a foreign professional, will be rejected by the ministry.

Authorities have also started to increase the scrutiny of firms that hire a disproportionate number of foreign professionals.

New initiatives such as an Enhanced Place and Train programme (P-Max) for PMEs were launched, as well as the Career Support Programme, targeted at those 40 years and above and who have been out of a job for six months or more.

The Labour Movement said that in 2016, it will further enhance the Singaporean core at workplaces and develop sector-specific career ladders as part of the work done by the SkillsFuture Tripartite Committee on sectoral manpower.

"We are on the ground, and some of these issues and challenges, some of these skills required or some of these skills that will become obsolete, we have a good idea of them, and we are part of this consultation process as we map out our sectoral manpower plans,” said Mr Patrick Tay, assistant secretary-general of NTUC.

“Our unions and union leaders will play an active role in ensuring that some of these plans worked out will be achievable and at the same time reasonable and also look after the interest of workers," he added.

Next year will also see the formation of the Employment Claims Tribunal. This will give PMEs who earn more than S$4,500 a month an avenue to resolve statutory and contractual salary-related disputes.

"One of the things we are going to offer as an additional service at our U PME Centre is the reporting - if there are any unfair practices at the workplace with respect to breaches of the Fair Consideration Framework or issues where there are discriminatory practices,” said Mr Tay.

The U PME Centres helped 1,098 PMEs in the first nine months of 2015. Most were above the age of 50, seeking placement assistance and workplace advice.

The 2015 labour landscape was also marked by some targeted support for SMEs. The Manpower Ministry launched the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme in October. The pilot programme allows companies to make temporary adjustments to their foreign worker mix as they transform their business operations.

The Indian Restaurant Association was among the first applicants to the scheme. The initiative has been described as a potential game-changer by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) because of its customised support for small businesses.

"It is more proactive in looking into the particular SME's project needs and then customising the solutions from the area of Government grant and support schemes for SMEs,” said Mr Kurt Wee, president of ASME.

CHALLENGING YEAR AHEAD FOR SMALL AND MEDIUM ENTERPRISES

However, ASME also said that 2016 will be an even more challenging year for these businesses.

“Now we are in a phase whereby the real difficulties have started surfacing. SMEs are now complaining about difficulties in collection. And potentially we might have a finance servicing situation going forward, if interest rates are to keep going up as well,” said Mr Wee.

He said businesses have no choice but to innovate to become leaner and look beyond the Singapore market to grow.

"For us, there is a cost relative compared to the other Southeast Asian countries - Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. So we need to frame ourselves from the perspective of how competitive we are versus some of these countries and the segments of industries that we want to be in, and the segment of industries that we need to either move out there or we need to be out of,” Mr Wee explained.

He added: “There is a real and significant cost gap between us and some of our neighbouring competitors. So this is a situation where part of the solution actually is getting our SMEs to regionalise and move into those markets, so that they can not only broaden their base and tap some of the lower costs but at the same time have a chance to fight it out and serve a bigger market beyond Singapore shores.

“If there are local entrepreneurs who are serving the market there, I think businesses should also think about extending themselves into those markets and serving those markets. The challenge is of course, how can you extend the breadth of your second line, to manage multiple business units?”

To that end, Mr Wee said the association is working with Government agencies IE Singapore and Workforce Development Agency to offer a training programme targeted at business managers looking to regionalise. This will be available from the second quarter of 2016.

He said: "We are looking to co-develop or lead an initiative where we would train more and more PMEs to be able to have a sense of how it is like to be a business unit manager for a regional role.

"There are companies with very strong operational personnel and the jobs need to grow and at the same time, the bosses need to expand their businesses regionally. I think this is where some background training on overseas regional role, overseas culture and overseas business practices will come in and be useful in accelerating this process and equipping the company with some of these additional management capabilities."

- CNA/xq

Link: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/key-changes-in-singapore/2352074.html