“Job seekers need to identify and learn the right skills to capitalise on job openings as hiring picks up” (Job Seekers Must Identify, Learn Right Skills: Workforce Singapore, Joanna Seow).
That job seekers “need to identify and learn the right skills to capitalise on job openings as hiring picks up” (ST, Nov. 30) is incontrovertible, yet what is less clear is what these “right skills” are and the extent to which job seekers are cognisant of them in the first place, as well as whether Workforce Singapore (WSG) has effectively helped to address the challenge of a skills mismatch through its programmes and services. And furthermore given that these skills are likely to be tied to the characteristics of the industries and the background of the job seekers, it may be more productive for the government – perhaps through the WSG – to specify the industries or sectors, before detailing the corresponding skills and training needed.
As it stands, are job seekers able “to understand market trends, assess the skills requirements of the jobs that they are applying for, and to actively acquire these skills, so as to maximise results in their job searches”? In addition to information asymmetries – beyond the assumption that they are able to get the aforementioned information on market trends or skills requirements – there are other problems too, such as the availability and affordability of training programmes, if older job seekers with family are able to rely on their savings while undergoing education or training, and also the gap between the training and job application (with the threat of skills obsolescence or the lack of job supply after a period of time). In other words, it takes time and money to accrue specialised knowledge or experience, and skill development may not always pay off.
Because the prospect of job searches and trainings can be daunting, in this vein, the effectiveness of programmes and services offered by agencies such as the WSG should be evaluated. How many job seekers has the statutory board successfully trained and matched, as a proportion of the overall number who look for help? How does the proportion compare over time and across different industries or sectors? And what is the success rate among job seekers who do acquire pre-specified skills – and if possible, disaggregated across types of training programmes and controlling for the background of the job seekers – in terms of whether they eventually land a job, and how long it takes time to do so? Without an exposition of the “right skills”, how current job seekers are doing, and the initiatives offered by the government, any progress or need for improvement will remain unknown.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.