PAP MP copied WP proposal? Good!

Patrick Tay, one of the Labour MPs, wrote something in the NTUC blog about preparing for jobs of the future. Then StatesTimesReview (STR) suggested that the ideas in that article were plagiarised from Workers’ Party (WP).

What happened?

One of the ideas that Patrick wrote in that article was to provide “direct wage support to employees during the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) training period to match the entry salary of those jobs, so as to encourage more mid-career adults to re-skill for new jobs without having a major pay cut.” STR claimed that Patrick was essentially proposing an unemployment insurance scheme. And of course WP released a paper detailing their proposal for an unemployment insurance.

But wait. Two things. First, did Patrick really propose an unemployment insurance? Second, so what if he did?

Firstly, what Patrick proposed wasn’t an unemployment insurance. There are two key differences, one good and one bad. The difference that is good is that what Patrick proposed doesn’t need you to be forced from your job for you to get the wage support. You can voluntarily choose to change job. The difference that is bad, is that the scheme is limited to specific jobs within certain sectors. So if you really don’t have talent or affinity to those jobs or sectors, you can’t benefit.

So no. What Patrick proposed isn’t anything like an unemployment insurance. But even if it is, so what? Would you rather that we have a government that would deliberately NOT do something simply because the opposition spoke in support of it? Even if that’s something good for Singapore and Singaporeans?

I think that would be terrible for us. Instead, I think this is a good situation. That we have a responsible opposition like WP who would take the effort to come up with good policy alternatives. And we have a government who is pragmatic rather than ideologically dogmatic and thus willing to consider even ideas put forth by the opposition. In the process, if this comes across as “plagiarising”, so what? What matters is that things get done, Singaporeans benefit, Singapore progresses. Right?

That said, there is something that Patrick wrote that I’m rather skeptical about. One of the things he wants to do is to get a sense of the “jobs of tomorrow”, i.e. jobs with good future prospects. NTUC will then use this to advise people on what sort of skills they should pick up to remain relevant today and in the future.

I am highly skeptical that this will work. Patrick said this:

“It requires the collective and combined mindshare, cooperation and focused efforts of the entire labour movement (our unions, including our new extended labour movement network of U AssociatesU FSE [Freelancers & Self-Employed] and U SME [Small & Medium Enterprises], e2i and NTUC LearningHub); our tripartite partners (particularly SNEFMOM/WSG, MTI, EDB, SPRING, MOE/SSG); various stakeholders and partners such as the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and think-tanks/consultancy firms; and society as a whole. Work has already started to connect the dots and build the expanded network.”

Theoretically, if they can do this, then they’ll be better able to advise workers to go for training that would let them see better job prospects and higher pay. But for this to happen, many different groups of people to work together and share information. How likely is that to happen? I think very difficult. What’s more, even if they can work together and share information, given the VUCA nature of the world, and how quickly things change, will the synthesised information still be timely and accurate? Difficult.

So instead of just relying on the government to tell us, I think we need to take things into our own hands. Do our own research. Continue to learn. Keep getting better at creating more value for your employer (if you are working) or for your customers (if you are a business owner). I think that’s a better idea than waiting for the government to tell us what to do.

And that’s one of my resolutions for 2017 – to be better at getting better.

[Image from CNA by Pichayada Promchertchoo]

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