Resident unemployment rate rose to 3.3 per cent in March, highest in over a decade: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat

Singapore’s resident unemployment rate rose to 3.3 per cent in March this year — the highest since December 2009 according to preliminary estimates, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Delivering his ministerial statement during the debate on the Fortitude Budget, which was passed in Parliament on Friday (5 June), Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said that sectors such as manufacturing, wholesale trade and transportation and storage have been affected by both weak external demand and supply chain disruptions.

The COVID-19 circuit breaker, which was put in place to bring down community transmission decisively, also affected many businesses that could not operate offsite, he added.

Noting that over 140,000 enterprises across Singapore employ 1.9 million local employees in various industries, Mr Heng said that businesses face “not only immediate challenges, but also structural challenges” which will see workers losing their jobs or having their job scope transformed.

He assured, however, that the Government will continue to support locals to “access available opportunities to work or learn” if they are “willing to pick up new skills and adapt”.

The Fortitude Budget, said Mr Heng, will see the launch of a S$2 billion SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.

The package aims to create “close to 100,000 opportunities in three areas”, namely 40,000 jobs in both the public and private sectors, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 skills training, said the Minister.

“This will support the immediate needs of our workers, and raise the skills of our people for future jobs,” he said.

The public sector will create 15,000 jobs to meet Singapore’s long-term needs such as early childhood education, healthcare and long-term care and short-term needs related to COVID-19 such as healthcare declaration assistants and swabbers.

Government agencies will also be working with businesses to create 25,000 jobs “in a wide range of job roles, such as computer engineers, and machine operators”, said Mr Heng.

He added that the Government will increase capacity in career conversion programmes such as in Place-and-Train conversion programmes under the Adapt and Grow Initiative and Company-Led Training programmes under the TechSkills Accelerator or TeSA initiative.

“TeSA has been successful since its launch in Budget 2016. As of Dec 2019, over a thousand have been trained in partnership with industry leaders such as Accenture, DBS Bank, and Google.

“Over 90 per cent of them have been emplaced in ICT-related roles. I look forward to more industry partners coming on board, to help prepare more Singaporeans for a future where digitalisation becomes increasingly important,” said Mr Heng.

Govt to expand traineeship programmes for mid-career workers, the unemployed

Mr Heng also said that the Government intends to create around 25,000 traineeship positions this year, starting this month.

“Of this, 21,000 will be from the SGUnited Traineeships programme, and another 4,000 places under a new SGUnited Mid-Career Traineeships scheme,” he said, adding that the traineeships will include “technology-related areas that are in high demand or emerging rapidly” to meet Singapore’s innovation aims.

“DSTA will offer diploma holders the opportunity to build skills in fast-growing technology areas like IT and engineering.

“Agencies in our research and development sector, including our universities, A*STAR research institutes, AI Singapore, and SGInnovate will work with local deep-tech companies and startups for trainees to work with industry partners on real-world science and technology projects. These will include areas such as software learning and AI,” Mr Heng elaborated.

Mid-career job seekers will also benefit from a new SGUnited Mid-Career Traineeships scheme, which aims to provide 4,000 places for such individuals “to learn new skills and embark on new careers”.

A new SGUnited Skills programme will provide extra training capacity for about 30,000 job seekers this year, through which individuals may learn “industry-relevant and certifiable training courses full-time at highly subsidised rates”, said Mr Heng, adding that ccourse fees can be “substantially, if not fully, offset by the SkillsFuture Credit”.

The courses will be delivered by companies and Continuing Education Training (CET) Centres, including Institutes of Higher Learning, he added.

In addition to attachments or participation in company projects, participants will be given career guidance and job placement support and a monthly training allowance of S$1,200 per month during the course of their training.

This programme will be rolled out progressively from July 2020, said Mr Heng.

Govt to incentivise hiring local workers by subsidising salaries of eligible workers of all ages

The Government, said Mr Heng, will also incentivise the hiring of local workers by subsidising salaries of all ages.

“In these uncertain times, I understand why many employers, even if they are doing well, are reluctant to hire. To support employers in hiring, I will provide a hiring incentive to employers to hire local workers who have gone through eligible traineeship and training schemes,” he said.

For eligible workers under 40, this incentive will cover 20 per cent of their monthly salary over six months, capped at S$6,000 in total.

“Some employers have stepped forward to offer jobs and traineeships. This not only contributes to the national effort, but it is also a farsighted move to build longer-term capabilities for their companies.

“I encourage employers to also make good use of the strong support we provide to upskill their existing workers during this downtime so that they can emerge stronger when business picks up,” said Mr Heng.

The Government has also set up a National Jobs Council aimed at “creating jobs and building deep skills”.

Chaired by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam as Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, the Council will collaborate with the Future Economy Council on the overall upgrading of Singapore’s economy  “through the Industry Transformation Maps in each cluster”, said Mr Heng.

“This will be integrated with the work of the Emerging Stronger Taskforce,” he added.

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