Need to bridge gap in how ‘head work’ and other types of work are valued: DPM Wong

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s economy places too much of a premium on cognitive abilities, and does not sufficiently value those engaging in “hands and heart work” such as technical, service and community care roles, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday.

This trend is seen, worryingly, in a growing divergence between the starting pay for Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnic and university graduates, he said.

The median starting salary for a university graduate is now almost twice that of an ITE graduate, with the earnings gap increasing over their lifetimes, said Mr Wong at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum.

The event was organized by the Economic Society of Singapore in partnership with the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and in support of Forward Singapore – a year-long exercise for the Government to engage Singaporeans and update various policies to strengthen the social compact.

Mr Wong said: “We must do more to recognize the value of hands or heart work across the economy. Many of these jobs tend to be in the local services sector, where productivity is generally lower than the export-oriented industries.

“So there is a need for painstaking effort, industry by industry, to look at ways to redesign jobs and raise productivity, to upgrade skills, and establish better career progression for workers.”

These efforts are already taking place in the pre-school sector, especially across government-supported pre-school centres, noted Mr Wong.

This does not simply mean having better starting salaries for teachers but also a clearer skills and careers ladder for everyone in the sector, he said.

“Some may become specialist teachers in fields like early intervention for children with special needs; or those with the aptitude and capabilities might take on leadership positions – to mentor teachers, develop teaching practices, or even oversee not just one pre-school center but a cluster of pre-schools,” added Mr Wong.

“This is something we must strive to do across all sectors of the economy.”

Singapore is already tackling the wage gap between people engaged in “head work” and “hands and heart work” through various ways, he said.

For example, it has tightened its foreign worker quotas and has also over the last decade raised its local qualifying salary. A company’s work permit and S Pass quota entitlement is based on the number of local employees earning at least the local qualifying salary. The Republic has also uplifted the wages of lower-wage workers through the Progressive Wage Model (PWM).

“This has resulted in real wage growth for our lower-wage workers over the past decade, and we are working to expand the PWM to more sectors and occupations,” he said.

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