Sunday, June 20, 2004

No job after training 

In The Straits Times yesterday, it was reported that several workers who trained to become aerospace technicians ended up doing general aviation work because there were no technical jobs available.

The workers had been given government-funded training with the help of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Workforce Development Agency (WDA). According to the report, some of the workers had left technical jobs in other industries “to pick up what they believed to be more relevant skills”.

It turned out, however, that neither the NTUC nor the WDA had guaranteed the workers jobs as aerospace technicians. According to The Straits Times, both parties acknowledged that “NTUC Joblink, in its briefings to job seekers, may not have been clear enough on the employment arrangements and could have given the impression that permanent positions would be immediately available after training”.

There are two problems here.

One is that of promising too much. This usually happens with salesmen, but it can also happen with any person whose job involves selling something — even a training place — to others. The temptation to stretch the truth is always there. Or it can be a careless omission of pertinent facts — less malicious in intent but not necessarily in effect.

The other problem is the government’s economic restructuring programme. Recognising the need to retrain workers for new types of jobs coming to Singapore, the government has been stressing on workers the need to take up training and upgrading courses.

Unfortunately, training is no panacea. There are numerous training programmes available on the market, many government-sponsored, many more not. Many individuals, in their eagerness to upgrade their skills and employability, go for such courses, only to find out that employers are still not willing to take them.

Sometimes, it is because the jobs are simply not there, as in the case for the would-be aerospace technicians. While workers need training to get better jobs — or any job at all, for some — getting workers to go for training only to find there is no job available for them is a waste of their time and money.

Other factors may also make it difficult for specific groups of workers to get better jobs. Age has been a frequently cited problem. Many unemployed workers above 40 years old find themselves discriminated against by employers.

The newspapers have recently highlighted yet another factor: Discrimination against part-time degrees from private educational institutes. Also in The Straits Times yesterday, it was reported that many employers are skeptical about the quality of education received from such institutes. To address this problem, the Economic Development Board and SPRING Singapore would be setting up an accreditation scheme for private schools in Singapore, according to The Straits Times.

This is really overdue. If training is really important to Singapore’s workers and its economy, then the quality of that training must be maintained and, equally important, be seen as such.

Furthermore, the government intends to make Singapore a regional education hub. Foreigners who come to Singapore to study must be able to rely on some sort of quality assurance for the educational institutes that they go to. Otherwise, foreigners may become disillusioned with the quality of education in Singapore, which would surely have spillover effects on Singapore’s reputation as a whole.

And let’s not forget: Trainees are not the only ones who need jobs. Without the trainees, the trainers would not be able to keep their jobs too.


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