Singapore Budget 2022: industry leaders on jobs, talent shortage and business transformation

Singapore’s push to strengthen its digital capabilities is a step in the right direction

Singapore announced its Budget 2022 on 18 February, with finance minister Lawrence Wong saying the country is investing in the pandemic-hit economy where recovery has been uneven.

The country will give targeted support to the hardest-hit workers and businesses that are struggling with the pace of digitalization and technological advances. It will also address climate change more.

This includes a three-pronged plan to encourage more local firms to take up innovation through research and development, upskilling the workforce and raising the carbon tax.

While members of parliament are debating the budget over the next few weeks, The Drum asks industry leaders for their thoughts.

Chew Siew Mee, managing director of JobStreet Singapore: “As our economy stabilizes, workers in Singapore are no longer looking at part-time or temporary work arrangements. Workers will be seeking full-time employment that can provide them with a stable and sustainable income for the long-term, suited to their skill levels and salary expectations.

“As such, we have seen the government respond through the expansion of the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways program with company attachment made permanent with full-time attachments and training allowances. The extension of the Jobs Growth incentive to the third quarter of 2022 will also encourage the hiring of workers who face greater difficulty in finding full-time jobs.

“For Singapore to emerge stronger, we must have a strong foundation for our workforce which is supplemented with full-time workers. While traineeships will continue to benefit workers who are exploring career options, full-time workers will continue to be the main driver for our economy and improve social welfare in the long run.

“Some of the additional support we have seen this year include the expansion of the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit (SFEC), which funds up to 90% of qualifying expenses related to upskilling, reskilling and training. This scheme is now made available to an additional 40,000 SMEs by waiving the Skills Development Levy contribution requirement. This is a step up from the previous SFEC scheme, which was only eligible to employers that had at least three local employees who contributed to at least $750 of Skills Development Levy over a qualifying period.

“We have also seen a $100m funding to support NTUC to scale up company training committees and introduce new grants to support companies in developing upskilling and reskilling transformation plans for their employees. This will help to encourage skills matching in the workplace and mend the skill gap that is profound in our workforce today.

“It is also heartening to see a new SkillsFuture Career Transition program, which is catered to provide high-quality, industry-oriented training courses for job seekers. These are schemes that will benefit Singapore’s workforce in the long run and ensure that skills mismatches can be reduced to a minimum, while workers can find jobs that are meaningful to them.

“In 2021, the government allocated additional resources to support senior workers, with $230m allocated to hirers to promote and increase the retirement and re-employment age. This is part of the government’s effort to encourage more opportunities for our mature workers for part-time employment.

“This year, further support is provided through the continued increase in CPF contribution rates for senior workers aged 55 to 70 in 2023 and the raise of Basic Retirement Sum for those turning 55 in 2023 to 2027.

“Inclusivity will be crucial to expanding our workforce capabilities. This year, the government launched the Enabling Masterplan 2030 to strengthen support for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in areas like employment and lifelong learning. This will empower PWDs with the opportunity to be self-sufficient for the long run while providing Singapore’s workforce with an alternative talent pool.”

Kun Wu, co-founder and managing director, AI Rudder: “Singapore’s push to strengthen its digital capabilities is a step in the right direction. Many businesses are eager to scale to meet growth demands but are unable to do so amid a global talent shortage. Hence, we welcome the government’s decision to increase investment in helping businesses improve operational efficiency through AI and cloud technologies, as seen in the expanded Advanced Digital Solutions Scheme. With such technology, businesses, especially process-driven industries, will be better equipped to face any ongoing and upcoming surges in demand and workload.

“We already see support functions being overwhelmed and there is an urgent need to further augment resources. Industries that need to quickly scale up and down have to invest in digital resources that are efficient, scalable, resilient, flexible and consistent.

“Firstly, time is of the essence in fast-paced functions like customer service and building knowledge capabilities in AI could be more efficient than hiring and onboarding new employees. AI technology can also easily manage multiple customers simultaneously, handling surges and dips in demand with ease. Lastly, communicating new information to customers will be a breeze with AI – back-end script changes is all it takes to provide consistent information dissemination and a better customer experience.

“Amid the excitement of AI’s potential, we must remain cognizant that AI cannot solve all problems on its own. It is here to support and be supported by human agents. To stay resilient, businesses need to employ a scalable, flexible and consistent solution like AI to work hand-in-hand with their customer service teams. Ultimately, the dynamism and impact of human touch (and voice) needed in certain situations cannot be replaced. I believe that AI, when implemented with the right strategy, will take businesses further, faster.”

Shannon Lung, head of UOB Bank innovation accelerator The FinLab:

“While there is value in adopting sustainable practices for SMEs, SMEs often face a lack of know-how in going green.

“In addition to educating the SMEs on sustainability, the new green financial initiatives will provide environmentally focused projects with the monetary incentives they need – it is a move The Finlab welcomes, given our role as an innovation accelerator and partner in helping SMEs and startups transform digitally and sustainably.

“As Singapore strengthens its position as a regional green hub, more banks and financial institutions will be encouraged to develop their sustainability funding options, thus offering diverse financial products and packages to SMEs in need.”