TL;DR – Upgrade your skills, but do it wisely
We have been told that we ought to upgrade our skills to future-proof ourselves. We assume that if we gain new skills, be more educated, we should be able to better to hold on to our jobs, earn higher pay, and be better prepared for whatever storms that would come in the future. But is that assumption accurate? Not always.
A person’s wages will only rise if he is more productive. But not all skills upgrading training or university courses result in higher productivity. If the skills you pick up do not allow you to create more value for your employers or customers, then don’t expect to get higher wages.
After all, if you can’t help your employers earn more money, how can you justify a higher wage?
Even if the skills upgrading and higher education does lead to an increase in wages, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for the economy.
The author of the article on Skills Delusion cited above said it well. For example, if more people become more highly skilled lawyers, legal cases may be fought more effectively and expensively on both sides. But there would be no net increase in human welfare. Similarly with financial trading, where the economic consequences of having better trained, better educated financial traders are essentially zero-sum.
That is not to say that we do not upgrade ourselves. It means that if we are upgrading ourselves because we want to increase our job prospects and get higher wages, then we need to be more strategic.
Taking time out for skills upgrading and further training is an additional demand on our already limited time. It will be an immense investment. Therefore, as Minister Chan Chun Sing said, in order to encourage more people to upgrade and pick up new skills, it is important to “have a clear idea on where are the openings available”.
Indeed, there really is not much point in just telling people to go upgrade themselves, without pointing them towards the right direction of what sort of upgrading, what sort of skills. After all, in resource-scarce Singapore, we need to optimise all the talent we’ve got. We’ve gotta tell people what future skills are needed, and what skills are short.
So where are the openings that are available?
The Talent Shortage Survey by workforce solutions provider ManpowerGroup found that the five jobs in Singapore that are hardest to fill are:
- Accountants and Finance Professionals
- Sales Representatives
Why are employers finding it difficult to fill these jobs? The top reason cited is the job-seeker’s lack of experience (22 per cent), or the candidate was looking for more pay than offered (21 per cent), or there was a lack of or no applicants (17 per cent). To fill these jobs, 52 per cent of the employers here are offering training and development to existing workers, ManpowerGroup said in a press release, while 47 per cent are paying higher salary packages to recruits.
The Labour Movement is also doing its job to address this skills mismatch. It supposedly has a system in place where it gets information about the potential growth sectors in the economy. It then uses this information to advise Singaporeans about the training and courses to go for to future-proof their skill set and be better prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.
The Labour Movement is said to be in the process of strengthening this system. It aims to get even more timely and even more detailed information from other government agencies such as the Economic Development Board (EDB), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and SPRING Singapore.
We think it does make sense that for the different parties to work closely together and share information. If the government has identitied the high-growth and high-value sectors and industries for the future, then it makes perfect sense to ensure that we have the human capital to support the future economy and to fill the future jobs.
Yes, go on ahead and upgrade yourself. But do it with thought.
So. Before you rush off to spend your SkillsFuture Credit, or take time to go for whatever course, do take some time to find out what sort of returns you will get on that investment. Time is a rather sacred resource and if once spent, cannot be recovered. Ask around to see if the skills you are picking up will help you get a better job or higher pay.
A good place to start is to read this report on what Acting Minister Ong Ye Kung said at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum. Minister Ong pointed to where there are still jobs to be filled and, more importantly, where jobs will be created. They sectors are:
- 30,000 IT professionals needed by 2017
- 3,000 more jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) in precision engineering by 2020
- Demand for 1,000 rail engineers
- At least 1,200 professionals needed in finance, mostly in IT and compliance
- 4,000 more early childhood educators needed in the coming years
- 30,000 more healthcare workers by 2020
If you get the skills needed to perform well in the jobs in the list above, your future will be quite bright for quite a long time to come. Don’t say good things we never share!