THE Singapore Public Service's move to formally increase its re-employment age to 67 yesterday was not unexpected, given that it is one of Singapore's biggest employers. With about 139,000 public service officers, the government and its agencies employ about 4 per cent of the total workforce. It is fitting that the government should take the lead in launching this initiative, which the private sector may not yet be fully prepared to embrace. The need for the government to go first was reflected even in the parliamentary discussions on the Aspire recommendations last month, when several MPs advocated that the government instil those initiatives in its own human resource and organisational culture. This, they pointed out, would help catalyse a wider mindset change in adopting new approaches to hiring.
Whether the government leading the way will lead to greater social acceptance is debatable. But it is likely that these initiatives will have an impact on Singapore's workforce and economy. The entry of more students from the ITEs and polytechnics into the workforce by way of the dual vocational training programme will expand the labour pool. Retaining older Singaporeans in the labour force for two more years will also help achieve this goal, by slowing down the exit of workers from the labour force. Together, these initiatives should ease some of the tightness in the labour market with which employers have been grappling. But hopefully, it will not just be the number of workers that will increase but also their quality. More applied skills from students entering the workforce, coupled with lifelong learning and the retention of accumulated knowledge, skills and experience for a longer period of time through the extension of the re-employment age should, in aggregate, help upgrade the quality of the workforce as a whole.
Though there are several other benefits that might result from these recent changes, the two mentioned here would alone have a telling impact on the economy - notably in providing employers here with available and more qualified talent, which could also help lower their labour costs. The changes could also boost efforts to enhance productivity and innovation.
However, for this to happen, it will be essential for the private sector to embrace these initiatives as well. Although many companies recognise the potential advantages, they face challenges, ranging from the insufficiently robust performance appraisal systems and hiring metrics for student-employees, as well as budgeting for employment assistance payments should they be unable to find suitable jobs for their re-employed workers. The public sector must also calibrate its willingness to take the lead in these initiatives. They should not result in an erosion of efficiency or the creation of slack. If the government is to set an example, the new initiatives should work well and be seen as doing so.