Future of Us public engagement session with Minister Lim

I attended the public engagement session with Minister Lim Swee Say on the Future of Us at the MarketPlace on Saturday. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and insightful session. Instead of the normal dialogue session or break out groups, Minister Lim led the group in a roleplaying game simulating the jobs market. While there were much simplification and assumptions, the activity was innovative and a good primer for the subsequent discussion.

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The activity we had before the discussion

During the activity, the “employees” may have had a difficult time being matched with the right jobs because of imperfect information. In the real world, we could reduce the impact of this problem with the clever use of technology.

It is heartening to hear Minister Lim say that more will be done with the National Jobs Bank to through improved data analytics so that jobseekers can better navigate and use the National Jobs Bank to find the jobs that best match their skills and aspirations in an easier manner.

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Minister Lim Swee Say fielding questions during the discussion

The activity oversimplified complex challenges of jobseekers, employers and MOM. Understandably so. Trying to make the activity too realistic would make the activity to complicated and time-consuming to go through. One of the simplifications was that “employers” in the activity who couldn’t find sufficient employees would close down.

It is worth pointing out that unlike in the activity, in real life, companies that can’t find enough workers don’t just have two options of either finding foreign workers or closing down. They can redesign their job processes and improve their productivity so that they are still able to operate profitably with less staff. I am sure that the government will continue to emphasize on this and support companies as they make the necessary transition.

Another simplification was that every employee simply had to go to one of four stations to get “upgraded” in certain skills. However, in reality, it may not be as easy for every worker to upgrade. Some may not be able to upgrade because in doing so, it may mean a loss of income. In some other cases, it may be because they simply lack the potential.

For the former group, it is heartening to know that there are measures put in place to provide for the daily expenses of workers as they go through upgrading, either through absentee payroll (for those who are working) and some allowance (for those who aren’t working). I hope this area will be strengthened as part of the continued development of the SkillsFuture framework.

I had wanted to raise an issue during the discussion, but decided that since I had already spoken, I ought to let other people have the chance to speak.

The issue I had in mind was whether MOM has done any studies about the economic value add of the current WSQ (or any other existing CET programmes). For instance, if a worker goes for some form of training, does MOM track whether there is any increase in the salary of this worker, and if there is, by how much? Does MOM then calculate the ROI of the investment into helping workers reskill and upskill? More importantly, what can be done to increase the ROI?

Because, as Minister Lim rightly pointed out during the discussion, employers determine whether the SkillsFuture is successful. If employees can’t get better jobs with higher pay after going through training, then it would be difficult to justify the time, effort and money spent on training. Therefore, I think such analysis would be useful as we enhanced the SkillsFuture framework.

And indeed I think more can be done to enhance the SkillsFuture framework. I think it would be useful (and fun!) if we have something like what I mentioned during the discussion – as people went for training, they earned badges like in computer roleplaying games (RPG), which they can display on their resumes. And if we have proper accreditation of the training, when employers see that the person has certain badges, he can be sure that the person will be able to do that set of tasks at least to certain standard.

This could also help to enhance the National Jobs Bank. Jobs advertised state clearly the skills (or “badges”) required. That would make it easier for jobseekers to search for jobs that they are qualified for or to chart their own training roadmap so that they can land the job that they aspire to do. It may seem like a wild idea, but it may be useful to study how some computer RPGs display the skills and levels that the characters have. I’m sure some of the staff in MOM will be familiar with such games.

It would be interesting to see what the enhancements to the National Jobs Bank and SkillsFuture framework will be. Given the economic headwinds that Singapore faces and the increasingly VUCA world we live in, MOM sure has its job cut out for them. I hope that they would approach the challenges they face with wisdom, ambition, courage and compassion.

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