Bridging the wage and skills gap in Singapore

The labour movement has called for more support to help low-wage employees overcome respect issues, stagnant wages, and limited training opportunities.
By: | October 3, 2023

Lower-wage employees in Singapore face numerous challenges, including a lack of public respect, stagnant wage growth amidst rising living costs, and limited access to training and career progression opportunities, according to a report by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

According to the labour union, while 50% of the 400 lower-wage employees surveyed expressed pride in their jobs, a quarter felt they received less respect than professionals, managers, and executives.

Another critical issue is the lack of training and career advancement opportunities for these employees. Only 45% of those in the bottom 20th percentile for wages understood the possibilities for job progression and only 25% had participated in training programmes in the past year, often citing time constraints as a major hurdle.

Lower-wage employees also faced challenges in securing flexible job arrangements, with 70% of those with caregiving responsibilities earning under S$2,500 (US$1,827) a month citing this as a significant challenge. 

Shirley Loo, Director of Economic Policy, NTUC, said, “The irony is that many of these low-wage employees are also (providing) essential services. We believe that for an advanced economy like Singapore, no employee should be left behind in the nation’s progress.”

To address these concerns, NTUC proposed expanding elements of Singapore’s Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to encompass more lower-wage roles, like machine operators and social service employees. The PWM aims to increase the wages of employees through upgrading skills and improving productivity.

READ MORE: Singapore explores enhanced support system for the unemployed 

NTUC also called for the professionalisation of skilled trades and the development of a Career Progression Model in partnership with the Ministry of Manpower, outlining specific career pathways and accreditations.

Additional measures recommended by NTUC include providing training allowances for mid-career individuals to focus on skill development through intensive training. For younger employees, the labour union wants the eligibility age for SkillsFuture Credit – a fund to improve access career transition programmes for Singaporeans – to be lowered to 23, as many young employees choose gap semesters or years to explore career interests, reported The Straits Times