In Fall 2021, the Singapore Policy Journal organized two policy discussion events. The first, titled “Gahmen Say One: Public Consultation and Contentious Policymaking in Singapore,” was held via Zoom on 23 Oct and was attended by students from universities in Singapore and the US. The second, titled “COVID’s Lost Generation? Youth Unemployment and Future of Work in Singapore,” was held in person at Harvard on 18 Nov and was attended by both graduate and undergraduate students in the Boston area.
We thank our participants for attending the sessions, and for the open and constructive dialogue on the issues that were discussed. The blurbs for the events are appended below.
COVID’s Lost Generation? Youth Unemployment and Future of Work in Singapore
Amid an unprecedented global pandemic, broad structural forces are fundamentally reshaping the nature of work in Singapore. Rapidly emerging trends like remote employment, the “gig economy,” and shifts in desirable skill sets have affected the job prospects of young people. The Ministry of Manpower found that more than one in 10 youths were unemployed in 2020—a figure higher than the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and SARS pandemic in 2003—while four in 10 found themselves in temporary jobs or contract work.
Singapore already has notable workforce programming in place. A signature initiative is SkillsFuture, a program that offers government-subsidized job training programs to all Singaporeans above 25 years old. SkillsFuture also offers temporary, part-time, and traineeship work opportunities that facilitate connections between employers and jobseekers, and bridge gaps in professional experience that may hinder full-time employment prospects.
These programs, however, are only partial solutions to broader structural challenges in future-proofing the Singaporean labor market. For example, automation is reducing the need for jobs in the F&B industry previously held by young workers beginning their careers. The increasing prevalence of freelance and gig employment also raises questions about the adequacy of existing social safety nets, which were designed when full-time work was the norm.
How does Singapore’s existing policies help youths adjust to these structural trends? How can the government better future-proof Singapore’s existing and future workforce? What lessons can Singapore learn from new policy approaches emerging worldwide?
Gahmen Say One: Public Consultation and Contentious Policymaking in Singapore
Recent events have sparked outcry about insufficient stakeholder consultation in decisions of national import. The passage of the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) just three weeks after the bill’s First Reading, for example, saw calls in Parliament for the appointment of a Select Committee to scrutinize the proposed legislation more closely. Likewise, Yale-NUS students decried the effective closure of their college in a move that blindsided even college administrators—their sentiments best captured by the “#NoMoreTopDown” slogan used as a rallying call for members of the Yale-NUS community.
Even so, there has been an increasing recognition of the importance of public consultation within the government, especially in the face of more complex policy challenges and a maturing and diverse citizenry. Movements like Singapore Together have mainstreamed the language of co-creation and citizen engagement. Public agencies are opening up more spaces for Singaporeans to step forward and contribute their views—in modalities as diverse as public hearings held by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, engagement sessions like the Emerging Stronger Conversations after the “circuit-breaker” period, and co-design workgroups like the Citizen’s Jury for the War on Diabetes.
How can public opinion co-exist with technocratic expertise in policymaking, and are there circumstances where one should be prioritized over the other? What has made it difficult to close the gap between the rhetoric and practice of public engagement? What might inclusive and purposeful Government-led consultation that cuts across traditional institutional and sectoral boundaries look like?