Sunday, 20 September 2015

Immigration, job prospects among issues raised at Polytechnic Forum 2015

By Francis Law, TODAY. 19 Sep 2015

The impact of immigration and their chances of getting a job were very much on the minds of polytechnic students during a dialogue with Senior Minister of State (Law and Education) Indranee Rajah yesterday.

The dialogue — part of the annual Polytechnic Forum with the theme Extraordinary Choices — was meant to give the 300 students present a better understanding of national issues.

On the topic of immigration, one student, pointing to the 6.9 million figure mentioned in the 2013 Population White Paper, wanted to know if there are measures in place to maintain a Singaporean majority.

Another student suggested stepping up efforts to encourage Singaporeans to have more children, rather than relying on immigration to boost the population.

Others were also concerned about the adverse effects immigration had on the preservation of Singapore’s national identity, such as its “hawker culture”.

Ms Indranee noted that even with the influx of foreigners into the country, building a “Singapore core” will still be the Government’s priority.

She added that immigrants are important to alleviate the effects of Singapore’s ageing population in order to avoid an “inverted pyramid”, a situation in which younger Singaporeans have to support a larger elderly population.

Concerns about National Service (NS) were also raised at the dialogue, which was held at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

One student proposed shortening the period of mandatory NS to one year as a means of boosting the economy.

Ms Indranee said the NS period should depend on the length of time it takes to produce “a functional soldier”. “How long it takes depends on technology, it depends on circumstances,” she added.

The biggest concern among the students at the dialogue was their job prospects.

One student was worried about losing out to degree-holders in the job market.

Some wanted to know how employers felt about SkillsFuture, a national initiative to provide Singaporeans with opportunities to upskill, and remain competitive and employable.

Ms Indranee, recounting her time as chairman of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee, said she had received feedback that “people felt ... that getting a degree was the only way you could actually get a good job”.

“At the same time, the employers were telling us, ‘actually I just need people who can do the job, I don’t need somebody with a degree’.

“The idea behind SkillsFuture is that, assuming you don’t want a degree, you should be able, in your job, to actually progress,” she added.

Other issues raised included the students’ concerns about civil liberties and freedom of speech, and support for marginalised groups, such as single mothers and homosexuals.

Ms Indranee told the media later that she was impressed by the level of thinking the students had displayed during the dialogue.

“I asked them what their main takeaway is ... and they realised they have to take into account different views.”

She added: “I was also struck that they had a lot of questions on identity and Singapore’s future ... they were very conscious of Singapore’s future as a country.”

Indranee: Building economy while keeping Singaporean core a "tricky balancing act"
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 18 Sep 2015

Building a strong economy with the help of foreign labour while keeping a Singaporean core is 'a tricky balancing act', said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.

With low total fertility rates and an ageing population looming in the near future, the city-state may have fewer working individuals to drive the economy and support more seniors, Ms Indranee told some 300 students who attended the annual Polytechnic Forum held at Ngee Ann Polytechnic on Friday afternoon.

"If you don't have enough of your own people, then you have to ask people from outside to come in," she said. "And that is a very tricky balancing act to do, because you must not have so many people coming in from the outside that your own local, Singaporean core is eroded."

She also acknowledged there are sectors that Singaporeans are not keen on working, such as construction. "So that is one area where we will still need to have people from abroad to help out with," she said.

Ms Indranee said the Government had been tightening up on foreign labour in the last five years, but it had to be a gradual process. She cited the F&B sector, which faces a lack of waiters and waitresses.

"So for us in the Government, we've got to make sure we finely calibrate it," she said. "But as far as possible, wherever Singaporeans can take up those positions, that's what we want."

The Polytechnic Forum, which started in 1996, is organised annually by the five polytechnics. It provides a platform for students to gain a deeper understanding of national issues through activities, discussions and dialogue with industry and government leaders.

During the two hour-long dialogue on Friday, students from all five polytechnics raised issues such as university education and National Service. A common concern was on permanent residency and citizenship.

Ms Indranee noted that foreigners do not automatically qualify to become Singapore permanent residents or citizens. "If we add to the Singaporean pool, (they) must be people who identify with us, share our values and can contribute to Singapore," she said.

Urging Singaporeans not to be xenophobic, Ms Indranee added: "We should be willing to allow people to join the Singapore family."

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