Saturday, 11 July 2015

Help for Singaporean PMEs

Steps to help Singapore PMEs
The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2015

Tougher rules will ensure firms hiring professionals give Singaporeans a fair shot.

From October, they will have to state the salary ranges of professional, managerial and executive (PME) jobs when they advertise vacancies in the government-run national jobs bank. And if they subsequently apply for foreigners to fill the positions, they may be singled out by the Government to see if they tried to hire citizens first.

But those that hire unemployed Singaporeans will get financial help to offset their wage costs.

A new Career Support Programme will subsidise the wages of older PMEs who have been unemployed for at least six months, to encourage companies to take them on. Employers that hire PMEs in jobs that pay at least $4,000 each month will get monthly wage subsidies of between $400 and $2,800 for a year.

Firms eyeing foreign PMEs to face tougher hiring rules
But companies that offer unemployed Singaporeans a shot at the jobs will get subsidies to offset wage cost
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2015

Firms looking to hire foreign professionals will soon face tougher hiring rules, but those that give unemployed Singaporeans a shot at the jobs will receive financial help to offset their wage cost.

From Oct 1, firms will have to state openly the salary ranges of the professional, managerial and executive (PME) jobs when they advertise their vacancies in the government-run national jobs bank.

This will ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the hiring process so that Singaporeans will not be short-changed, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say yesterday.

When these firms subsequently apply for foreigners to fill the vacancies, some may be singled out by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) to show proof that they tried to hire Singaporeans, such as having interviewed them.

This will put firms under "greater scrutiny", Mr Lim said.

In an extreme situation, firms that already have a higher ratio of foreign staff, compared to their peers in the industry, or those that the ministry feels may not be highly committed to hiring locally, will be asked to implement plans to reduce their reliance on foreign PMEs before Employment Passes are approved or renewed.

"We are not going to treat them on equal basis (as other firms)," said Mr Lim, adding that the ministry has already put the hiring processes of about 150 firms under greater scrutiny.

The MOM will also reject work pass applications outright when it doubts the qualifications of the applicants, noted Mr Lim. Previously the ministry rejected applications only from those who had forged their education certificates.

Firms will not just face the stick when they try to hire foreign PMEs. Carrots will also be dangled under a Career Support Programme to coax businesses into giving unemployed Singaporeans a crack at the jobs.

Employers who hire unemployed PMEs age 40 and above in jobs which pay at least $4,000 a month will receive monthly wage subsidies of between $400 and $2,800 for one year. Those who hire older workers will receive higher subsidies. The programme will run for two years from Oct 1.

Besides the wage subsidy, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) is also looking into hiring professional headhunters to help unemployed PMEs find jobs. The headhunters will be announced before Oct 1.

After the measures are implemented, the MOM will set up a tribunal in the first quarter of next year to help PMEs with salary or work-related disputes.

Workers will be able to turn to the tribunal regardless of how much they earn, said Mr Lim. The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and NTUC said they supported the MOM's moves.

However, the SNEF asked for some work pass approvals to be sped up. "MOM could facilitate faster approval of work passes for experienced and highly skilled foreigners and those from renowned educational institutions," it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, labour MP Patrick Tay, an NTUC assistant secretary- general, said unions will work with firms and the Government to ensure that workers who need help get it.

MOM's moves will make older workers more attractive to employers, said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee.

He said: "For the past four or five months, SMEs were not hiring... (Now) we have a greater chance at converting and upgrading the skillsets of our older PMEs to make them more relevant in their new jobs."

Additional reporting by Aw Cheng Wei

Wage support for jobless Singaporean PMEs
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2015

It has been more than two years since Ms Mary Koh, 47, started sending out job applications.

The former senior manager in the information technology division of a multinational company lost her job in a restructuring exercise.

She has been unable to find a similar position despite sending out an average of five applications a week.

Several companies rejected her after finding out that her last drawn pay was over $10,000 a month.

"Emotionally it's been a very difficult time; it really affects your self-esteem," she said.

Mid-career job seekers like her stand to get better support from a new Career Support Programme (CSP) announced by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say yesterday.

The scheme will subsidise wages of older Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) who have been unemployed for at least six months, to encourage companies to take them on.

For the first six months of employment, companies will receive grants of 40 per cent of the gross monthly salary for PMEs aged 50 and above, and 20 per cent for those aged 40 to 49, capped at $2,800 and $1,400 respectively.

They will receive half the level of funding for the next six months.

"After the one year, hopefully most of them will find that the adaptation is an effective one," said Mr Lim in a media interview at the Manpower Ministry headquarters.

The Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) will launch a pilot run of the programme for two years from Oct 1. There is no cap to the number of workers the scheme could support, or an age limit.

The scheme complements the existing Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs), which helps mid-career workers switch to a different industry by giving six months to two years of full-time training.

While PCPs help job seekers to find entry-level jobs, the CSP will help those hoping to continue in their industry or switch to a related industry at a mid-level job paying at least $4,000.

To join it, workers will have to register with a WDA career centre or the Employment and Employability Institute. Mr Lim said there are about 1,200 PMEs now registered with career centres, who will be "immediate targets for assistance".

There will also be more job fairs specifically for mid-career PMEs.

A former systems administrator, who gave his name as Mr Y. Toh, said he hopes the new subsidies will help him find an IT-related role in which his existing skills can be useful.

"Maybe an employer will take me in as he does not have to pay the full amount and he can spend the money on training," said the 56-year-old, who has been job-hunting for nearly a year.

Ms Koh, too, hopes to find a job in an industry which is linked to her corporate experience. "At my age, I feel that I still have more to contribute in my field," she said.

Wage subsidies 'can help PMEs get jobs'
But skills and experience are still the main criteria for hiring, say employers
By Aw Cheng Wei and Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 10 Jul 2015

Wage subsidies will make older, local white-collar job seekers more attractive to companies, but companies are unlikely to create new positions for these professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

Instead, they will focus on a candidate's skills and relevant experience in deciding whether to hire him for existing vacancies, 10 companies told The Straits Times.

They were responding to Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say's announcement on Wednesday that the Government will subsidise the wages of older local PMEs who have been unemployed for at least six months, to encourage companies to hire them. Under this two-year pilot programme which kicks off on Oct 1, a company will receive between $7,200 and $12,600 a year for hiring a jobless PME aged between 40 and 49; and between $14,400 and $25,200 a year for hiring an unemployed PME aged 50 and above.

In addition, changes will be implemented to make it tougher to hire foreign professionals. For example, firms may be asked to show proof that they had tried to hire Singaporeans for vacancies.

According to the Ministry of Manpower's latest labour force report, there were around 9,000 Singapore citizens and permanent residents aged 40 and above who were unemployed for at least 25 weeks as of June last year.

"The scheme aims to give out-of-work PMEs, who struggle to find employment, a leg-up," said West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower.

Companies said that they welcomed the additional measures to boost local employment. "It is an instrument to level the playing field between young and old, and between older local PMEs and foreign talent," said Mr Philip Kwang, managing director of high-tech lighting company Facade Global Master.

But their chief concern is whether the candidate is a good match in terms of skillsets, experience and personality. "It is expensive to train new workers, so if I'm hiring someone, I am looking to do so for the long term," said Ms Angeline Tan, who runs clothesline firm Ezzi Living.

The stakes of hiring someone are higher for small- and medium-sized enterprises such as her company, where the resources are limited, Ms Tan added.

Mr Victor Tay, chief operating officer of the Singapore Business Federation, said that for the scheme to work, it takes "two hands to clap".

Ms Ong Siew Kim, senior general manager of credit bureau DP Information Network, said: "After one year, we will assess, and the employees have to earn their salary in their own right. They have to be an asset to the company."

Timely help for Singaporean PMEs
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Jul 2015

Newly minted Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say has been on the job for just two months, but it has been a busy period for him.

The former labour chief, who took over the Manpower Ministry (MOM) on May 4 , announced important measures on Wednesday to nudge firms to give jobless Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) a better shot at jobs on the market.

From Oct 1, companies eyeing foreign PMEs will face tougher hiring rules.

But the Government will also offer wage subsidies to firms which hire Singaporeans aged 40 and above in jobs that pay at least $4,000 a month.

The measures are significant on three fronts.

First, the ranks of PMEs in the labour force are growing. The number of Singaporeans in professional, managerial, executive and technical (PMET) jobs will swell to 1.25 million in 2030, up from about 850,000 in 2013.

Second, Singaporean PMEs are bearing the brunt of economic restructuring. PMETs made up half the 12,930 job losses last year. Worryingly, three in five of the local PMETs laid off were older workers in their 40s and above. The MOM moves ought to bring some cheer to this group.

Third, Singaporean PMEs face significant competition for good jobs in the local market.

This is because unlike lower-level jobs where foreigners are hired on work permits and S passes which are subjected to quotas, there is no cap on the number of foreign professionals on Employment Passes that firms can hire.

In other words, companies can technically hire foreign PMEs without restraint.

With the carrot-and-stick approach, the Government has sent a clear signal that it is prepared to put pressure on firms, which is about as much as it can do apart from actually controlling their hiring processes.

The question, then, is whether this approach is enough to sway firms and how long it will take before Singaporean PMEs will start to benefit from the moves.

Highly trained, middle-aged and out of work
Retrenched older PMETs are struggling to find jobs at similar levels
By Joanna Seow and Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2015

Dressed in an unassuming polo T-shirt and jeans, it is hard to tell that Mr Desmond Tan was once the head of Asia sales at one of the largest European banks.

Forced to quit shortly after the 2008 financial crisis, he was later turned away from jobs by bank after bank, some even saying he was "over-qualified" for the positions they were offering, given his over two decades of experience.

The 55-year-old, who used to earn more than $25,000 a month, now has to settle for commissions of about $3,000 from his current job as a property agent.

"I used to deal with money that numbered in the millions," Mr Tan said. But now his fees come only in the hundreds.

Mr Tan is not alone in joining the group of highly qualified professionals who have spent years climbing their way up to the top, only to be retrenched.

And when they try to search for a new or similar job, they realise that the fall from the top was a hard one.

Many such job seekers say that the search for a new job takes longer, and sometimes results in them taking up a role outside of their area of expertise and far below their previous pay.

Fifty-seven per cent of Singaporeans and permanent residents who lose their jobs are able to find a job within six months, according to the Manpower Ministry. For professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), however, the proportion was below average at 49 per cent for the same time period.

Workers aged 40 and above also fared worse than younger groups, with a re-entry rate of 53 per cent.

Here, however, it is unclear if those who managed to find jobs actually reached a level similar to that which they used to hold.

The Central Provident Fund Board, which provides data for re-employment rates, said it does not track the difference in wages for the new jobs.

But it seems hard for out-of-work PMETs who held senior management positions to find new jobs that are commensurate with their skill levels and pay expectations. 

"A rough 40 per cent are fortunate enough to get back into a job that is similar in grade and salary, 60 per cent have to reinvent themselves or do something totally different," noted Mr Paul Heng, managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group.

Human resource experts and economists said factors such as economic restructuring and rising competition could explain why it is so difficult for older PMETs to regain their positions at the top of the company food chain.

"Some jobs aren't available in Singapore any longer because regional positions may have moved out or are replaced by enlarged roles of other people," said Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan.

This hits long-serving PMETs hard because many of these workers have had to pick up employer-specific administrative and managerial skills. These are not easily transferrable to other companies or industries, said Nanyang Technological University assistant professor Walter Theseira.

Experts also note that there is generally a rigid pyramid-like structure in many industries. With a rising number of better-qualified people in the workforce, there is more competition for limited senior positions at the top of the pyramid of jobs.

"You're facing competition not only from people who are already in that position, but also from people who are striving to reach that position," said Quantum Leap Career Consultancy managing director Alvin Ang.

And once someone at the top leaves a post, whether voluntarily or not, it will be hard for that person to find another similar position.

Some older PMETs continue to try to search and wait for the right opportunity. Sometimes, these openings turn up and the worker can resume his former career path.

Often, the only route available for such workers is to switch careers by picking up new skills in an industry with prospects.

Observers said older PMETs can help themselves by continuing to network and update their skills.

"(They must) build value for themselves so that they add value wherever they go and can then command the salaries they want," said labour MP Patrick Tay, who heads the National Trades Union Congress' PME Unit.

Those in urgent need of a job may have to lower their expectations.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said that she helps match employers with job seekers among her residents, and "normally those who are flexible in the distance from workplace, salary and working hours get jobs easily".

The Government is moving on several fronts to tackle this.

One is SkillsFuture, a national initiative which aims to equip workers with skills that future industries require. This will make it easier for workers to make the switch easily to new growth industries.

But this is a move that will take time to root.

The other, more immediate, solution is a new wage subsidy scheme that will support wages of older professionals, managers and executives by up to 40 per cent, capped at $7,000 a month for a year.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say announced this earlier this month and said: "After the one year, hopefully most of them will find that the adaptation is an effective one."

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy economist Hui Weng Tat said the programme could help by reducing the risk on the part of the employer and increasing the incentive for workers to take up the job.

For now at least, such news is cold comfort for workers like Mr Long Khin Keong.

A former general manager in the oil and gas industry, he used to draw a salary of about $15,000 a month. These days, Mr Long, 58, takes eight months to earn that much as a taxi driver.

He got behind the wheel about a year ago after struggling for six years to find a suitable job.

"Hopefully somebody 'up there' reads this and improves the predicament of many like myself.

"I'm not asking to become a GM again, I just want to be somewhere I can contribute with my experience," he said.


Singaporeans and permanent residents who lose their jobs are able to find a job within six months - 57%

The proportion for professionals, managers, executives and technicians for the same time period - 49%

Re-entry rate for workers aged 40 and above - 53%

Tests can weed out foreign PMEs with fake degrees

I hope the measures announced by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say will also address issues like foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), Employment Pass holders, fake certificates as well as English oral and written proficiency ("Timely help for S'porean PMEs"; last Friday).

Like Australia, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) should conduct English proficiency tests for foreign PME applicants.

The issue of foreign PMEs with fake certificates is also a concern.

I hope the MOM will work with the universities here to conduct tests for foreign PME applicants, to weed out those with fake qualifications.

Such tests for randomly selected foreign applicants can deter those with fake degrees from taking a chance to come to Singapore to seek employment, knowing that they could be sent home at their own expense.

If we do not take such steps, it will affect our productivity and unity, as it is also a politically-sensitive matter.

Tan Kok Tim
ST Forum, 12 Jul 2015

Hiring of foreign PMEs needs targeted approach

The Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) move to curb the hiring of foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) is a little late but nonetheless welcome ("Firms eyeing foreign PMEs to face tougher hiring rules"; last Thursday).

Past policies on foreign hires seemed to have taken a sledgehammer approach, which is appropriate only for huge, uniform problems.

What is needed now is targeted policymaking that addresses the specific demands of the various industries.

It is evident that while we have many unemployed PMEs, some sectors are crying out for more workers.

One such area is the food and beverage (F&B) sector, where the hiring of local staff is almost impossible.

Most locals seek other jobs as F&B work requires long, odd hours and is seen as lowly.

The hiring of foreigners is dependent on the number of local hires, and this issue is compounded by how difficult it is to get work visas for willing foreigners.

I urge the authorities to relax this ruling and allow more short-term workers into the F&B sector here.

The Government may be pushing for more automation, but this is one area where the human touch and personal service are paramount.

Let us not wield the sledgehammer, lest we kill off Singapore's F&B scene.

On the other hand, many well-educated and qualified PMEs are struggling to find suitable jobs. The hiring of foreign PMEs is easier as they are mostly well-qualified.

We need some foreign talent who bring in expertise, skills and their international networks.

However, it is not easy to distinguish between those who are needed and those who are not.

The MOM needs to tread carefully here to avoid chasing away real talent.

One low-hanging fruit is the arena of human resource (HR) managers and directors.

I cannot fathom how a foreign PME can do a better job in HR than a local one. Local directors and managers understand regional policies and cultures much better.

There are exceptions but, in general, I believe that to be true.

Another area could be finance.

I look forward to the Government further tweak ing its policies.

But it should do so after listening to all stakeholders, including going beyond its normal feedback channels.

Sonny Yuen Chee Choong
ST Forum, 13 Jul 2015

Danger in monetary work scheme becoming a new norm

The latest initiative to support jobless professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) has left me with mixed feelings ("Wage support for jobless S'porean PMEs"; last Thursday).

I applaud the Government for initiating the Career Support Programme, aimed at financially encouraging employers to hire older Singaporean PMEs who have been jobless for at least six months.

My concern is over the use of a monetary strategy to resolve an issue whose root causes are not related to business costs.

Most employers do not favour hiring older workers because of their perception that they are generally "over the hill", not because of their salary costs.

All jobs come with a perceived monetary value. So long as employers have a salary structure that compensates employees based on the market value of the jobs they are looking to fill, it does not matter if the incumbent is an older PME or otherwise.

Having worked with older PMEs who have been outplaced, I would say that many of them have the experience, maturity and energy levels to be able to add value to their next employer.

On the flip side, though, the single most common shortcoming is that many of them have not been through any form of developmental training or upgrading courses for a good number of years prior to losing their jobs.

Most of these job seekers can also do better if they learn the basics - how to write a decent resume, sharpen their interview skills, and present themselves well as a "good product". Having a positive mindset and being self-confident are also keys to interview success.

In the longer term, a better solution is to continue to encourage employers to change their mindset towards older job seekers.

Singaporeans must also make a stronger effort to take charge of their own careers, and invest in their own personal and professional development.

The danger in this monetary-focused scheme is that it may become a new norm.

Paul Heng
ST Forum, 13 Jul 2015

* Enhanced support for Singaporean PMEs

We refer to the letters by Mr Tan Kok Tim ("Tests can weed out foreign PMEs with fake degrees" ; Forum Online, Sunday), Mr Sonny Yuen Chee Choong ("Hiring of foreign PMEs needs targeted approach") and Mr Paul Heng ("Danger in monetary work scheme becoming a new norm"; both published on Monday).

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) takes a serious view of foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) using fake degrees to seek employment in Singapore.

We have caught more than 5,000 such applicants with forged qualifications between 2012 and last year. They have been banned from working in Singapore for life.

As announced recently, MOM will also reject all work pass applications which contain doubtful qualifications, such as those from degree mills.

In setting the ceiling for dependency on foreign workers, MOM already differentiates between the construction, manufacturing and service sectors.

We do not go beyond that by imposing different limits for different service industries because the challenges faced are generally quite common in nature.

Ultimately, the most sustainable solution is for all sectors to move towards becoming more manpower-lean, with a stronger Singaporean core, complemented by better-quality foreign manpower.

We agree that older PMEs are a valuable source of manpower. The recently announced Career Support Programme (CSP) is aimed at encouraging more employers to seriously consider mature PMEs and value them for their skills and experience.

The wage support provided under the CSP will be temporary and last for one year, to enable mature PMEs and their employers to adapt to each other better.

The Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), together with partners such as the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and NTUC U PME, will also prepare them for their new employment.

More than 26,000 PMEs have been assisted through WDA and e2i since 2011.

Working together in partnership with employers, unions and workers, we are doing our best on these fronts: to enhance the competitiveness of our economy, to create good jobs for our people and enhance their employability, and develop good careers for them and their families.

Adrian Chua
Divisional Director
Manpower Planning and Policy Division
Ministry of Manpower
ST Forum, 18 Jul 2015

More diverse programmes to cater to growing PME population
Workplace advisory and consultation services, as well as changes to the Industrial Relations Act - these are some initiatives the National Trades Union Congress has introduced to cater to the 300,000 professionals, managers and executives in Singapore.
By Eileen Poh, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jul 2015

About 300,000 professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) can expect more customised assistance, as part of growing efforts by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to help the sector.

PMEs now make up about 30 per cent of Singapore's labour force, and their numbers are expected to grow.

In a media briefing on Wednesday (Jul 29), the Labour Movement said this is because PMEs have more diverse needs compared to rank-and-file workers. PMEs also require more help in areas such as job placement and career progression, beyond job protection.

Said NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay: “They are very diverse PMEs because of life stages, gender, different needs, sectors and industries. So I think the key thing is we probably have to do not just more of the same, but many more of the many different things."

In the area of career progression, close to 170,000 PMEs received training through Labour Movement initiatives such as courses by e2i, NextU and the U Associate Programme.

To help companies better understand PMEs, NTUC has also set up a PME Resource Group that builds up capabilities and expertise in recruiting and engaging PMEs at the workplace. On changes to the Industrial Relations (IR) Act which took effect in April this year, NTUC said it has trained about 1,600 union leaders since 2014 to help them understand PMEs' needs and equip them with the know-how to better serve PMEs.

The changes to the IR Act will allow for instance, PMEs to be collectively represented as a group by rank-and-file unions. Previously, PMEs were allowed to be represented by the same unions on an individual basis, and for limited matters.

PMEs can also turn to unions for representation if they face re-employment issues after the amendments. According to NTUC, about 150 union branches from 20 unions have said they are looking into expanding their representation of PMEs, or have committed to do so.

Mr Tay said changes have been made for the better protection of PMEs in the past few years. For instance, the Employment Act, which was last reviewed in 2014, now covers PMEs earning up to S$4,500. He added that the Fair Consideration Framework has also levelled the playing field for PMEs in Singapore.

Looking ahead, NTUC expects legislation to be introduced in the next few months for the setting up of an Employment Claims Tribunal. PMEs earning more than S$4,500 monthly and not covered by the Employment Act can turn to the tribunal to settle their employment claims and disputes.

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