Employers in Singapore upskill foreign workers amid labour shortage

Employers may need to upskill or re-skill their foreign workers, especially in sectors where local staff are hard to employ.
By: | December 15, 2020

In some sectors like construction and manufacturing, employers are increasingly finding it challenging to replace talent in the event of staff turnover. On top of that, the pandemic has made the labour crunch more pressing as travel bans have limited the pool of available foreign workers.  

For example, construction company Lian Beng Group has re-skilled workers from housekeeping tasks like clearing worksite debris to being signallers and safety coordinators, or operating machinery such as boom lifts or automatic rebar bending and cutting machines.  

Similarly, manufacturing solutions provider Grand Venture Technology has enrolled 49 operators and technicians at local institutions like Nanyang Polytechnic for courses that will enable them to advance from doing manual tasks to work on loading parts and changing tools. 

A corollary is the once these workers have obtained higher skills, they have the opportunity to convert their work permits to S Passes. This creates a win-win situation as employers need to pay less levies for S Pass holders versus that for unskilled work-permit holders.  

Upskilling foreign workers “may not be widespread – but even if it is happening, it may be in industries where they have really not been hiring Singapore for a long time,” said Sumit Agarwal, professor of finance, economics and real estate at NUS Business School.  

READ: Singapore: Technology will disrupt 90% of HR roles in three to five years

Concurring, Irvin Seah, senior economist at DBS, said the competition for jobs between locals and foreigners is more pronounced in the finance and IT sectors than in sectors like construction and manufacturing. 

Nevertheless, in the last two budgets, the government has reduced the maximum share of S Pass holders in the services, construction, marine and shipyard and process sectors, with the aim to keep such jobs for locals, said the Business Times.