“The Government should not dismiss youths, unnecessarily label them, nor merely acknowledge them as an act of tokenism,” said Red Dot United (RDU) in its position paper on Youth Empowerment and Employment released on Saturday (28 Nov).
Acknowledging the unprecedented health crisis and economy disruption the world – including Singapore – is facing today, RDU said that the youth of Singapore have disproven their “strawberry generation label”, and asserted themselves as “extraordinarily resilient” who are keen on playing an active part in rebuilding a new world.
“In the midst of the hardships imposed on them by this once-in-a-lifetime crisis, the young people who are between the ages of 15 and 35 have remained steadfast in not compromising their values in their attempt to take control and shape the world,” said the alternative party in its newly-introduced position paper.
Having engaged with young people in the lead up to and after GE2020, RDU stressed that young people are pushing for a more inclusive and caring society, reduce inequality, address climate change, and improve civic discourse and participation.
However, a desire to engage better with the Government comes with roadblocks in Singapore. The party noted that this is due to fear of being penalised, surveilled, or coerces, as well as concerns of the limited spaces available for young people to participate in peaceful activism and engagement.
Warning the Government against dismissing its young citizens, RDU calls for genuine engagement of youth as co-creators in policymaking at all levels – from feedback, to testing and fine-tuning policies.
“Besides engaging them, our Government can also better protect and empower our young people by preparing them for the jobs of the future, reviewing our education system, and providing better access to mental health support,” added the party.
In terms of preparing for better jobs in the future, RDU stated that Singapore will not be spared from the displacement brought about by technology and automation.
“Job creation is already starting to lag behind job destruction, which means that there is an increasing urgency to expand social protection for workers against unemployment and help them better navigate towards the ‘jobs of tomorrow’,” it warned.
However, it is not all bleak. Highlighting Singapore’s status as a hub city and its high technology adoption and adaptable workforce, RDU is positive that these factors will draw many of the new jobs created to these shores.
The current situation is that many of Singapore’s young workers have taken to the food-delivery and ride-hailing industries. These type of gig-economy jobs are appealing due to the almost non-existent barrier to entry and the ability to make quick cash, but there is a concern of suitability, career progression, and even job security.
“One important reason [that the future is bleak for these types of jobs] is because the world is moving towards self-driving cars and autonomous delivery vehicles in an accelerated pace and when the technology companies in these industries decide to switch from humans to robots (which may be better for their bottom lines), then there will be terrible pain waiting for those that are dependent on jobs in these sectors for livelihoods,” the party remarked.
Hence, RDU stressed that the Government needs to create positions for the young people in future growth areas which are in the green economy, data and artificial intelligence, as well as engineering, cloud computing, product development, content production, marketing and sales.
To do so, the party proposed four areas that need work, starting with addressing the problems of underemployment and lack of job security.
Fix underemployment and improve job security
According to RDU’s own survey on youth issues, many young people are concerns about underemployment.
Noting that government statistics show that underemployment is higher for those without university education, the party called on the Government to improve measures of underemployment by adopting a “multifaceted” approach.
“To encourage more young people to upgrade themselves, the Government should match PMETs to jobs and then make them go through an OJT or part-time training programme (this is a reversal of the process in current schemes),” it explained.
Additionally, the party proposed a wage support from the Government to incentivise companies to hire and train such people, as well as the expansion of the Professional Conversation programme.
Review the Employment Act
Next, RDU addressed the issue of job security. Namely, it asserted that those working in the gig economy are often classified as “independent contractors” who do not have the standard benefits such as annual leave, paid medical leave, public holiday pay, overtime pay, and CPF contributions.
“The test for whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor is based on a non-exhaustive checklist of variables. No one variable is necessary nor sufficient in deciding if a person is an employee or an independent contractor,” noted the party.
“The problem arises for workers who are employees who share many of the characteristics of independent contractors,” it added.
Though there is the Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons, RDU stressed that these are “merely guidelines”, and they do not have statutory force, leading to many of these “de-facto employees without benefits or protection”.
“The Employment Act should be reviewed to clamp down on errant employers, preventing them from abusing the distinction between employees and independent contractors,” said the party, adding that there is also a need to relook at the classification of employees vs. independent contractors.
Review the education system
RDU also proposed a review of the education system in its policy paper, namely to emphasise computational skills and soft skills.
“We need to foster a culture of experimentation, where students will not be afraid to take risks and in the process learn how to handle failures better,” said the party, adding that critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving are the top skills that major companies find important.
“New skills workers would have to pick up urgently would be stress tolerance, resilience and flexibility,” it argued.
Quoting several studies, the paper stated that youth in Singapore are “more afraid of failure” than their counterparts abroad. On top of that, despite consistent top international rankings in education, firms often complaint that Singapore employees lack creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, and are unwilling to take risks.
According to RDU, there is a lack of better integration of industry practitioners into formal curriculum.
Additionally, the current system which emphasises rote learning and memorisation, coupled with pressure to succeed, tremendously disadvantages late bloomers, the party wrote. There is also insufficient emphasis on career guidance, and developing soft and social skills.
Provide better access to mental health support
The fourth proposal in RDU’s policy paper focuses on mental health support. Citing statistics, RDU noted that one in 16 Singaporeans have exhibited symptoms of depression at least once in their live. What’s more, it expressed that the leading cause of death in Singapore for people aged 10 to 29 is suicide.
“This statistics suggest that young people in Singapore need more help in coping with mental health issues,” said the party.
“The COVID-19-related restrictions do pose mental health challenges, but we should stop pretending that a post-COVID world filled with long work hours, stressful commutes, hectic crowds, mass consumerism, air pollution and 24/7 everything would mean much fewer,” it added.
As such, RDU called on the Government to make mental health support more accessible to young people. For starters, looking at schools as the starting point for young people to get the support they need for their mental health. Right now, schools are only equipped with one or two counsellors for thousands of students.
“The Government should provide easy access to prevention programming, early identification of mental health challenges, and varying treatment options,” said the party.
“They should also consider partnering with mental health organizations and agencies to develop an integrated, comprehensive program of support and services,” it added.
Echoing the age old adage that the future belongs to our young people, RDU remarked: “Youth empowerment is about giving young people access to the resources that can help them to build confidence and work in the direction of attaining growth and transformation, not just for themselves but for all of society.”