Dear Editor

I refer to the article “Thousands of jobs opening up in healthcare sector” (Straits Times, Sep 11). It states that “The growing healthcare sector will provide thousands of jobs in the coming years, including many suitable for older mid-career people who might have no experience in the field, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor.

The Sengkang General and Community hospitals opening next year, and five new polyclinics in the next three years, will need 9,000 more people – half of them professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), she said.

Dr Khor is overseeing efforts to match Singaporeans to jobs in healthcare, one of five sectors identified by the Government as being affected by disruptive technology but which also have significant potential for growth. The other industries are infocomm and media; wholesale trade; professional services; and financial services, and efforts are under way to help workers make the switch to these sectors.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Dr Khor said the Government sees the healthcare industry as part of the solution to the rise in long-term unemployment, especially for older people and PMETs. PMETs, who represent half the workforce, have been hardest hit by the tepid job market. They made up almost two-thirds of people unable to find a job within six months of becoming unemployed. And the number of people facing such long-term unemployment rose by a third, from 12,700 in 2015 to 17,000 last year.

Older people, who form more than two-thirds of the unemployed, face greater difficulty in finding a job, with thousands of those in the long-term unemployed group being PMETs aged 40 and older. Dr Khor said: “We’re particularly interested in the 40-plus (age group) simply because they have a harder time making a career switch. We want to make the transition a little easier.””

In this connection, anecdotally – everytime you go to a hospital – most of the staff that you see, from the reception to the wards, pharmacy, cashier, etc – do not appear to be Singaporeans? What is the breakdown of the workforce in the healthcare sector currently – into foreigners, permanent residents (PRs) and Singaporeans? As to PRs and Singaporeans – it may be interesting to note that from 2004 to 2016 – we granted 555,659 and 228,840 new PRs and new citizens, respectively.

With regard to jobs – from 2006 to 2016 – the employment growth for locals and foreigners was 376,800 and 701,900, respectively. How many of the 376,800 locals’ jobs were S’poreans? So, how many of the “locals” (PRs and citizens) employment growth of 376,800 went to Singaporeans, since 467,659 new PRs and 208,840 new citizens were granted in the same period from 2006 to 2016?

As to “Dr Khor admits a drawback in workers wanting to switch to healthcare is the long training needed. Nurses spend two years in the classroom and two years training on the job. To make it less painful, the Professional Conversion Programme to help workers make a mid-career switch gives them an allowance of up to $2,420 a month, depending on the job and their work experience. The course fee, which could top $40,000, is either heavily subsidised or fully funded.

While this would be less than their last-drawn salary, it would not be fair to pay them the full salary of someone who is working full time, she said. On the plus side, they would get a steady job in a sunrise industry where the demand for their services will remain significant in the foreseeable future. She said the number of people converting to nursing went up from 21 a year over the last three years, to 34 in April this year” – does it mean that after all the consistent rhetoric and protestations in recent years – only 21 converted per year in the last three years?

And by the way – how many of these 21 are Singaporeans?

With regard to “Aside from helping job seekers learn skills for available roles, she will also work with employers on funding support. Incentives for employers who provide workers with on-the-job training could top $4,000 for up to six months. An employer who takes in a registered nurse for two years of on-the-job training is given $16,000” – how many Singaporeans have been employed under such “employer funding support” schemes in the healthcare sector?

Leong Sze Hian

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