A Singapore Core of Tradesmen and Women

MP Pritam Singh

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): In April last year, I asked the Minister for Manpower whether the Ministry was looking into new strategies to improve the prospects of skilled trade jobs for Singaporeans such as licensed electricians and plumbers. It was a follow-up to my speech at the opening of Parliament this term.

The Minister replied to say that it would not be realistic to aim to grow the Singapore Core in every single occupation in view of our finite local workforce, with the ageing cohorts larger than the cohorts that are entering the workforce.

Sir, in a follow-up Parliamentary Question filed to the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, it was disclosed that of the 950 licensed plumbers in Singapore, close to 90% are Singaporeans, some 5% are Permanent Residents while the remaining licensed plumbers are foreigners. Around 70% of the licensed plumbers are above the age of 50.

The reply to the same Parliamentary Question I put to the Minister for Trade and Industry for licensed electrical workers (LEWs) was less granular.

As of end June 2022, there were close to 4,000 licensed electrical workers, of which less than 1% were foreigners from various nationalities on either S Passes or Employment Passes. The majority of the licensed electrical workers were between 41 and 80 years of age.

Unlike licensed plumbers, the number of Singaporeans who are LEWs was not directly revealed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

Sir, the House would be aware of the highly professional status of plumbers and electrical workers, to name a few trade occupations in many OECD countries. Such individuals earn middle-class wages and are an integral part of the economy.

On 9 January this year, the Straits Times reported that NTUC was looking to work with the Singapore Plumbing Society to effect a Progressive Wage Model for the plumbing sector with the NTUC Secretary-General referring to a person is in his or her mid-forties potentially earning $6,000 to $7,000 in vocational trades such as plumbing.

However, he also stressed that the Labour Movement is not the Government and does not set national policy, including the scope of the Progressive Wage Model.

Earlier last month, on 9 February, the same newspaper announced the proposed setting up of the Career Progression Model to support the skilled trades industry, covering occupations such as plumbers and electricians, with a view to better career prospects and salaries.

Apart from the strategic importance of having a strong Singaporean core in skilled trade occupations, the simple fact is that these trades do not pay as well today and are less attractive than working in an office type or air-conditioned setting.

In view of the Minister’s reply last April, can I inquire what efforts the Government intends to take to specifically target Singaporean workers into skilled trade jobs?

As a nation and society, it remains my view that a decisive shift to aggressively promote skilled trade jobs for Singaporeans would also alter our understanding of meritocracy, for the better.

Ministry of Manpower
1 March 2023


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