Tuesday 12 September 2017

Thousands of jobs opening up in healthcare sector

Half of 9,000 jobs for PMETs, and many are suitable for mid-career workers: Amy Khor
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2017

The growing healthcare sector will provide thousands of jobs in the coming years, including many suitable for older mid-career people who might have no experience in the field, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor.

The Sengkang General and Community hospitals opening next year, and five new polyclinics in the next three years, will need 9,000 more people - half of them professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), she said.

Dr Khor is overseeing efforts to match Singaporeans to jobs in healthcare, one of five sectors identified by the Government as being affected by disruptive technology but which also have significant potential for growth. The other industries are infocomm and media; wholesale trade; professional services; and financial services, and efforts are under way to help workers make the switch to these sectors.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Dr Khor said the Government sees the healthcare industry as part of the solution to the rise in long-term unemployment, especially for older people and PMETs.

PMETs, who represent half the workforce, have been hardest hit by the tepid job market. They made up almost two-thirds of people unable to find a job within six months of becoming unemployed.

And the number of people facing such long-term unemployment rose by a third, from 12,700 in 2015 to 17,000 last year.

Older people, who form more than two-thirds of the unemployed, face greater difficulty in finding a job, with thousands of those in the long-term unemployed group being PMETs aged 40 and older.

Dr Khor said: "We're particularly interested in the 40-plus (age group) simply because they have a harder time making a career switch. We want to make the transition a little easier."

Fresh graduates entering the sector need not worry that mid-career people will deprive them of jobs. "Even with improved technology and workflow processes, the overall numbers are still positive," she said.

The variety of job openings in healthcare includes therapists, care coordinators and centre managers, although the bulk will be in nursing. Much of this growth is due to the ageing population.

Dr Khor admits a drawback in workers wanting to switch to healthcare is the long training needed. Nurses spend two years in the classroom and two years training on the job.

To make it less painful, the Professional Conversion Programme to help workers make a mid-career switch gives them an allowance of up to $2,420 a month, depending on the job and their work experience. The course fee, which could top $40,000, is either heavily subsidised or fully funded.

While this would be less than their last-drawn salary, it would not be fair to pay them the full salary of someone who is working full time, she said. On the plus side, they would get a steady job in a sunrise industry where the demand for their services will remain significant in the foreseeable future.

She said the number of people converting to nursing went up from 21 a year over the last three years, to 34 in April this year.

Aside from helping job seekers learn skills for available roles, she will also work with employers on funding support. Incentives for employers who provide workers with on-the-job training could top $4,000 for up to six months. An employer who takes in a registered nurse for two years of on-the-job training is given $16,000.

Ministry of Health to invest $12 million to develop community care workforce
By Daniel Ong, The Straits Times, 5 Sep 2017

There will be more scope for those interested in a community healthcare career, which includes disciplines such as social work and speech therapy.

The Ministry of Health is investing close to $12 million over the next four years to grow this workforce - through the Community Care Manpower Development Award.

This new award is a consolidation and expansion of the Agency for Integrated Care's (AIC) scholarships and awards. The agency oversees the community care sector here, which includes nursing homes, senior care centres and day rehabilitation facilities.

Under the new award, a wider range of healthcare disciplines will be covered. In addition to degree and post-graduate programmes, the award will now also cover entry-level qualifications. Furthermore, it has been extended to staff from all community care organisations, including private ones.

The $12 million boost to the sector was announced by Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor on Tuesday (Sept 5), at a ceremony to present the award to the pioneer batch of about 30 recipients.

More than 70 other recipients of AIC's previous community care scholarships also received their awards at the event at the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital auditorium.

Said Dr Khor: "Building future skills at all levels of the community care workforce is critical to addressing the changing needs of an ageing population.

"From clinical areas like geriatric nursing and mental health to non-clinical areas like IT and community engagement, the demand for new skills will rise."

Dr Khor said recruitment efforts have resulted in more than 450 locals successfully finding employment in the sector over the past year.

She highlighted other programmes to support community care staff in enhancing their skills and careers.

The Institute of Technical Education will be offering a Work-Learn Technical Diploma in Rehabilitation Care from next April. Trainees in this programme will be able to work and study at the same time.

The Community Care Traineeship Programme provides on-the-job training for new support care staff.

And the Senior Management Associate Scheme allows professionals to make a mid-career switch into community care in managerial roles in areas such as operations, administration and information technology. This scheme welcomed its second batch of 27 associates in June, said Dr Khor.

She also stressed the need to improve productivity, given tighter manpower constraints amid rising demand for healthcare services.

She said that the ministry has been working with providers to enhance work processes, leverage technology and adopt shared services.

As of March, more than 60 community care providers have tapped the Healthcare Productivity Fund and undertaken more than 100 productivity improvement projects, said Dr Khor.

"With good training programmes for new entrants, and greater opportunities for existing staff to pursue further studies and develop their careers, seniors will benefit from better standards of care. I hope to see more individuals choosing to join community care, and more employers joining us in our efforts to grow and develop the sector."

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