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Thread: Singapore Also Can
09-30-2012, 11:45 PM #6580
Manpower realities: Beyond the numbers
by Tan Chuan-Jin
04:45 AM Oct 01, 2012
The recently released data on our population statistics showed that our foreign workforce numbers continue to grow, and some Singaporeans have expressed concern. This is understandable.
On the other hand, companies also remain concerned that the Government is over tightening our foreign manpower policies. Earlier this month in Parliament, we discussed the Work Permit (WP) and S-Pass stock. I explained that while the rate of rejections had increased, foreign-labour numbers were actually still rising, albeit at a slower rate.
I said that it could be seen as a "happy problem" because businesses were doing well enough to demand for more labour, in spite of the tightening.
Two of our Nominated Members of Parliament, both of whom are businessmen, came to speak to me at tea break. Like most of the businessmen we have been speaking to, they were surprised that the stock of S Passes and WP was still increasing. Many of them have been appealing for more foreign workers and feel that we are unreasonably making it difficult for businesses, even though the macro numbers and trends show otherwise.
Our tightening has certainly had an impact and is being felt by companies, but businesses are still expanding or being set up. This demand for foreign manpower is very considerable and many businesses remain prepared to pay the higher costs involved.
GROWTH HAS SLOWED
Let us take a closer look at the present numbers, and see the trend over the last few years. Our WP stock (excluding foreign domestic workers) grew by 20,600 in the first half of this year. Much of the inflow in the past few months was due to foreign construction workers.
The Housing and Development Board, for example, will need about 30,000 construction workers to meet this year's building programme. The cumulative requirement of construction workers could rise to 50,000 within the next few years.
Our Employment Pass (EP) stock contracted marginally (-700), the first half-yearly reduction since 2009 when the recession hit us. I think our adjustments are beginning to be felt at the Professional-Managerial-Executive (PME) level. However, S Passes registered strong growth of 14,200 in the first half of this year. Because of the tightened EP requirements from January, it is likely that companies are using S Passes to bring in the more junior level PMEs. We are taking a close look at this group.
Overall, the growth in foreign manpower (excluding foreign domestic workers) in the first half of this year has slowed to 34,100, which is lower than that of 36,800 in the first half of last year. The slowdown in growth of foreign manpower in sectors other than construction is more obvious: 18,600 in the first half of this year - about 40 per cent lower than the 31,200 in the first half of last year.
We are on the right track in our efforts to reduce dependency on our foreign labour but this will take time.
How much time exactly will depend on many factors, particularly the extent of our tightening measures and how fast companies restructure and improve productivity. And as you can imagine, this will definitely not be overnight.
Singapore cannot grow our foreign workforce without limits, given our land, infrastructure and social constraints. But to shrink our foreign workforce altogether will also be quite dire as many of our companies may close, relocate and with that a sharp rise in retrenchments and possibly higher unemployment amongst Singaporeans.
We must therefore rein in the pace of foreign workforce growth, but at a pace that businesses can adjust.
Our productivity effort must continue aggressively. We have often said this, and for good measure. Our rate of job creation outstripped gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the last three quarters (from the fourth quarter of last year to the second quarter of this year), resulting in negative productivity growth over the same period. Without good consistent productivity growth, the competitiveness of our companies, and hence wages will be affected.
Productivity growth must be a key driver for sustainable wage growth. One reason for negative productivity is the availability of low-cost foreign labour - which would explain why the number of foreign workers continues to grow rapidly. Low labour costs make it less urgent for companies to invest in technology and innovation.
This is simply not sustainable. I know that we cannot mechanise everything; some jobs do require the human touch. But I am not aware of any country with high productivity levels which has easy access to low-cost labour.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Focusing on numbers tend to gloss over more fundamental concerns. What kind of society do we want? And what would be the look and feel of the economy be to support that? We all agree that there is more to life than GDP growth. It must be so.
However, there are still practical needs to meet. Let me share my top-line objectives and concerns. Firstly, we need to generate enough jobs for Singaporeans - not just the number of jobs, but also quality of jobs, in line with increasing education and expectations. So how do we keep Singapore dynamic enough that we offer a range of possibilities for our people?
Secondly, we need to generate sufficient income to fund the various Government expenditures for Singaporeans. We need to look at what levels of economic growth and what type of growth will help meet these objectives.
As our resident labour force is slowing, we will have to rely more on productivity growth (rather than labour force growth) to fund higher Government expenditures. What percentage of labour and productivity growth do we need to factor in? This underscores why productivity is so important. The higher our productivity, the greater space it affords us to depend less on additional labour inputs.
We are in the process of relooking the structure of our economy and the quality of growth. For example, manufacturing contributes more than 20 per cent of Singapore's GDP, and has led the economy out of recent downturns. It also provides good-skilled jobs for Singaporeans.
As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong rightly pointed out over the weekend, this is one sector where businesses can do more to beef up the industry, particularly on the productivity front. So for this sector and the economy as a whole, how can we generate sufficient good jobs to meet the job needs of locals, while keeping Singapore vibrant and avoiding excessive job creation which would have to be filled by foreigners, which in turn will add stresses to our infrastructure and social fabric? This is tricky because the economy is not simply shaped by dials which we can set.
On the Government's part, the National Productivity and Continuing Education Council has developed sector-specific productivity improvement strategies to help 16 priority sectors embark on productivity improvements and provide productivity-related schemes and funding. We have also just launched a new initiative to boost productivity: The Job Flexibility for Productivity (JFP) initiative for the hotel sector.
Local employees will get more opportunities to work across different functions, gain skills and enjoy higher wages. Foreign work-permit holders will be allowed to perform different job functions. Currently, they can only perform the specific job on their work-permit card. With the JFP, hotels can now do more with their current workforce, instead of having to hire additional foreign workers. The industry can then share the productivity gains with workers as well.
Such measures will be useful, but we cannot stop there. I think the balance of driving forces favours recalibration towards even more moderate foreign workforce inflow, to encourage companies to pursue higher productivity business models and processes and away from labour-intensive growth. We will monitor closely over the next few months and take further measures down the road, if needed.
LOOKING AFTER Singapore and Singaporeans
It is important to again emphasise that our priority is to look after the interests of Singaporeans and Singapore, not just for the present but on a sustained basis for our future.
Creating good job opportunities for Singaporeans does not come automatically because companies will come and go based on opportunities available globally. We need to arm local workers with the right skills so that they can enjoy inclusive growth in Singapore with rising real wages and a better quality of life.
At the same time, I am fully aware of the concerns of too large a foreign workforce. We will increase our infrastructural support to ease the congestion, even as we continue to find the right balance for the labour market. If needed, we will tighten foreign workforce controls further. Companies must do their part and transform.
Let us think hard and discuss this constructively with fellow Singaporeans, employers and workers alike - on how we can navigate this path where we can best provide for our people and society, while calibrating our foreign manpower framework in a complementary manner.
It is not just about numbers, it is about finding that delicate balance that will deliver sustainable wage growth for Singaporeans, growth prospects for businesses, and a societal composition that we can accept.
Tan Chuan-Jin is Singapore's Acting Minister for Manpower. This first appeared as a blog post at momsingapore.blogspot.sg yesterday.
The number of WP holders grew by 20,600 in the first half due to the rising number of construction workers. BLOOMBERG
10-01-2012, 09:33 PM #6581
Photo gallery: Tropical Marine Science Institute marks 10th anniversary
Published on Oct 02, 2012
A researcher holds up a Sea Cucumber at the Marine Biofouling facility at the Tropical Marine Science Institute St John's Island marine lab on Sept 30, 2012. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Prof Peter Ng holding up a Giant Clam at the Tropical Marine Science Institute St John's Island marine lab on Sept 30, 2012. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Seven year old, Tan Woon Yong at the touchpool at the Tropical Marine Science Institute St John's Island marine lab first ever open-house where children and adults alike can get a feel of the marine wildlife that are found in Singapore waters. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Sea Fans in the tanks of the Marine Biofouling facility at the Tropical Marine Science Institute St John's Island marine lab on Sept 30, 2012, 2012. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A sponge on display at the Tropical Marine Science Institute St John's Island marine lab. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A marine research station at St John's Island is Singapore's version of Woods Hole, the famed oceanographic institute. The Tropical Marine Science Institute celebrates its 10th year this year and has done work on land reclamation, anti-fouling paints, and even dolphins in Singapore waters.
10-01-2012, 09:39 PM #6582
All container port activities to operate at Tuas in long term
Published on Oct 01, 2012
Containers at PSA. Singapore will be consolidating all its container port activities at Tuas over the long term. The first berths will start operating in 10 years' time at the end of the completion of the first phase, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said on Monday. -- ST PHOTO: NURIA LING
By Alvin Foo
Singapore will be consolidating all its container port activities at Tuas over the long term. The first berths will start operating in 10 years' time at the end of the completion of the first phase, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said on Monday.
This will free up prime land occupied by the terminals in the city area for redevelopment and result in more efficient port operations, he added.
Mr Lui's announcement came at the launch ceremony in which PSA Singapore Terminals said it is investing $3.5 billion to develop Phases 3 and 4 of its Pasir Panjang Terminal.
This will be spent on leading infrastructure and the latest port technology, such as an automated container yard and unmanned cranes powered by electricity.
10-01-2012, 09:43 PM #6583
Top guns at Singapore International Photography Festival
Published on Oct 01, 2012
British photographer Stuart Franklin, 56, is best known for his shots of a Chinese protester facing down tanks in Beijing in 1989. -- PHOTO: MAGNUM PHOTOS
By Akshita Nanda
Singapore plays host to internationally celebrated photographers this month, including Stuart Franklin, the British photographer who captured a Chinese protester facing down tanks during the 1989 crackdown in Beijing and Beijing-based Wang Qingsong, who provokes the authorities with 40m-long photos.
These top lensmen will showcase their recent work and give workshops during the 3rd Singapore International Photography Festival from Friday to Nov 17.
Festival highlights include an Open Call Showcase of 414 photos from 50 shutterbugs around the world and a mobile darkroom where enthusiasts can get their hands dirty printing film.
Franklin, who shot the celebrated 1989 picture of a man defying a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square, is flying in from Oct 9 to 13, as part of the Magnum Mentorship Singapore, a new partnership between SIPF and elite collective Magnum Photos.
10-01-2012, 10:04 PM #6584
Design for all: Seminars, furniture shows and more
From seminars to furniture shows to home visits, there will be something design-related for everyone next month
Published on Oct 01, 2012
Another shortlisted entry for the World Architecture Festival is the Cloud House (above) in Melbourne by Australian firm McBride Charles Ryan. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF WORLD ARCHITECTURE FESTIVAL
In the World Architecture Festival’s shortlist: The Vanke Triple V 2 (above) in Tianjin, China, by Singapore firm
Ministry of Design and the NUS UTown Cinnamon & Tembusu Residential Colleges by home-grown firm
DP Architects. -- PHOTOS: COURTESY OF WORLD ARCHITECTURE FESTIVAL, DP ARCHITECTS
In the World Architecture Festival’s shortlist: The Vanke Triple V 2 in Tianjin, China, by Singapore firm
Ministry of Design and the NUS UTown Cinnamon & Tembusu Residential Colleges (above) by home-grown firm
DP Architects. -- PHOTOS: COURTESY OF WORLD ARCHITECTURE FESTIVAL, DP ARCHITECTS
Furniture retailer Xtra’s showroom (above) will be among many places open for design buffs to check out at Saturday in Design. -- PHOTO: SATURDAY IN DESIGN
By Natasha Ann Zachariah
Next month is shaping up to be Design October, with four major events on the architecture and design scene here taking place in close succession.
The biggie is the World Architecture Festival, considered the “Oscars” of the architecture world, which kicks off on Wednesday. It is a coup for Singapore to land the role of host.
This is followed by the one-day Saturday in Design, then 100% Design Singapore and Archifest. The first three shows are mostly for industry types such as architects, designers and product buyers, while the annual, ever-popular Archifest - a local month-long festival which looks at architecture here - has several events for the public.
The World Architecture Festival, which hands out awards in categories including housing, shopping malls and transport, is in its fifth year. This is the first time it has been held outside its regular stomping ground of Barcelona, Spain.
10-01-2012, 10:14 PM #6585
Elderly issues must be considered in National Conversation: Heng Chee How
by Saifulbahri Ismail
Updated 06:02 PM Oct 01, 2012
SINGAPORE - Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How said the National Conversation that the country is embarking on is very relevant to the elderly.
The National Conversation is an effort by the Government to engage Singaporeans to shape the country's future for the next 20 years.
Mr Heng who is part of the Ministerial Committee on Ageing, is concerned that elderly issues may be forgotten as citizens and residents think about the future.
He made these points during an event at the Council for Third Age where a new logo was launched to represent infinite possibilities for seniors.
Mr Heng described the period when one grows old as an 'age of possibilities', not just something to look back and be thankful for.
They also occupy a central piece of the Government's attention.
Turning to the issue of plans for more nursing homes being built in the heartlands, Mr Heng said it is in society's self-interest to support this effort.
He believes that majority of residents are supportive, and urge them to speak up more to say that the building of nursing homes are not for selfish aims.
Mr Heng said: "If you look at our senior population, it is a growing segment of the population. So if something is a growing segment of the population, then clearly the views and aspirations and the building of the consensus must involve this group and it's a very important source of inputs and consensus building."
10-01-2012, 10:18 PM #6586
Average age of working adults pursuing part-time degrees at UniSIM falls
by Monica Kotwani
Updated 09:04 PM Oct 01, 2012
SINGAPORE - Working adults opting to undertake SIM University's (UniSIM) part time degrees are getting younger, according to the university.
The average age of UniSIM's students has gone down from 31 in 2007, to 28 last year.
About 70 per cent of its total applications are from those between the ages of 21 and 30.
UniSIM attributed this to the availability of more Government fee subsidies, and a higher number of polytechnic students pursuing degrees straight after graduating.
President of UniSIM Professor Cheong Hee Kiat explained: "Previously they had to work longer and save up money before they can contemplate coming back to university. But now with fee subsidies, it's become much more affordable, and they can come in much more early.
"As we get students who are a bit younger, those who are 21, 22 and so on, we might have to get them a bit more acclimatised to work conditions, but by and large, most of them come in at about 26 to 28, and I think there's enough there."
Twenty-seven-year-old Khairul Rusydi Khamaruddin is among the 1,800, who will be graduating with a UniSIM degree over the next three days.
He worked for a year with the Ministry of Education as a corporate support officer, teaching secondary school students basic aircraft knowledge-gleaned from his diploma in aeronautical engineering.
In 2008, he decided to further his studies and enrolled in UniSIM's Bachelor of Engineering in Aerospace Systems.
Khairul now works at a local company that specialises in unmanned aerial vehicles.
"If I had worked for four or five years before getting my degree, I would probably be either a technician or an engineer on an aircraft, and my career progression path will just be there. There is not much of an other path that I can choose.
"Whereas with a degree, I actually have other options in areas like civilian unmanned aerial vehicles. I gained a lot of knowledge through UniSIM during this period of my studies," he said.
UniSIM is slated to become Singapore's sixth publicly funded university, and will offer both part-time and full-time degree programmes.
10-01-2012, 11:42 PM #6587
New S$15-million grant for research into communicable diseases
04:45 AM Oct 02, 2012
SINGAPORE - The Government is pumping S$15 million into a research grant on communicable diseases over the next five years, to encourage researchers to study topics related to such diseases with major public health impact for Singapore.
The grant, called the Communicable Diseases-Public Health Research Grant (CD-PHRG), was announced by Minister of State (Health) Amy Khor at the opening of the first Singapore International Public Health Conference yesterday.
Dr Khor said the new grant will help fund research to support public health preparedness and response to major disease outbreaks or crises. It will focus on evidence-based public health risk assessment, intervention and policy formulation for communicable disease control.
The Ministry of Health will also work with the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore to build and develop research capability to support Singapore's public health policymaking. This includes strengthening the country's infectious diseases capability for outbreak prevention and management, and mitigating the impact of chronic non-communicable diseases on the economy and society.
There are plans to also develop the school as a key hub for training public health leaders in Asia.
Since the school was launched in October last year, it has embarked on public health research in collaboration with well-known international and local medical professionals, clinicians and academic researchers. CHANNEL NEWSASIA
10-01-2012, 11:47 PM #6588
New SMRT chief takes train on first day of work
04:45 AM Oct 02, 2012
SINGAPORE - Riding the train with commuters on his first day of work, SMRT's new President and Chief Executive Desmond Kuek yesterday outlined his key priorities for the company.
"What is certain is that we are first and foremost a public transport operator. This is the core business that we are responsible for and must excel in," said Mr Kuek, 49, who took over from Ms Saw Phaik Hwa, who resigned in the wake of the two major train disruptions last December.
In a media statement yesterday, Mr Kuek said his "emphasis" going forward is to "strengthen our operations, engineering and maintenance capabilities; build up our capacity for organisational growth; and instil a strong customer service and safety culture in all our people".
Acknowledging that SMRT faces challenges such as an ageing rail infrastructure, increasing ridership and staff morale that has been hurt by the past year's difficulties, Mr Kuek, a former Chief of Defence Force, said the company will work closely with stakeholders, including the Land Transport Authority and commuters, to ensure a "reliable, efficient and safe transport system".
Mr Desmond Kuek, the new President and CEO of SMRT, said the company will work closely with stakeholders to ensure a reliable, efficient and safe transport system. PHOTO COURTESY SMRT
10-02-2012, 03:47 AM #6589
UniSIM to set up a dedicated office for work-study programme
Published on Oct 02, 2012
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President of SIM University (UniSIM). He said SIM University which will roll out its full-time degree courses over the next few years and will set up a dedicated internship office that will prepare students for work attachments and source opportunities for them. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
By Sandra Davie
SIM University which will roll out its full-time degree courses over the next few years, will set up a dedicated internship office that will prepare students for work attachments and source opportunities for them.
But the office will not simply match the students with work attachment opportunities.
"The students will have to compete for them, the way they compete for jobs in the real world. We will put up the list of positions available and they will have to apply for them and go for interviews," said UniSIM president Cheong Hee Kiat on Tuesday when he gave out more details of its work-study programme that will be part of the degree courses it will run.
The government had announced in August that UniSIM along with the Singapore Institute of Technology will expand its programmes and offer more university places, enabling one in four Singaporeans of an age group to head for university.
10-02-2012, 09:10 PM #6590
S'pore mountaineers scale and name virgin peak in China
Published on Oct 03, 2012
Mr Lim at the top of Sangay Ri. At 6,000m, it is the highest virgin mountain scaled by any South-east Asian mountaineer. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF DAVID LIM
By Pearl Lee
A 6,000m-tall mountain in China's Qinghai province that previously had no name is now called Sangay Ri - or Lion Peak in Tibetan - in honour of Singapore.
The name came from two Singaporeans - veteran mountaineer David Lim, 48, and Mr Mohammed Rozani Maarof, 45, a climbing and safety specialist - who were the first to reach the peak on Sept 23.
It is the highest virgin mountain scaled by any South-east Asian mountaineer.
It is traditional for climbers of virgin peaks to name them and register the names with the local authorities.
10-02-2012, 09:13 PM #6591
MP Grace Fu chats with elderly in 1st dialect community dialogue
Published on Oct 03, 2012
Ms Fu (in green blouse) chatting with some of the Yuhua residents who attended the community dialogue conducted in Hokkien at the Jurong East Street 24 market and food centre on Tuesday. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
By Toh Yong Chuan
Some 150 elderly aunties and uncles had coffee at the Yuhua hawker centre with their Member of Parliament Grace Fu on Tuesday afternoon.
It was the first community dialogue linked to the Singapore Conversation to be conducted mostly in the Hokkien dialect. It involved residents of Yuhua ward, an ageing Housing Board estate in Jurong East of mostly three- and four-room flats.
They sat with their friends in small groups at the hawker centre and poured out their worries to Ms Fu, who is also a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office. She went from table to table to, as she put it in Mandarin, "eavesdrop".
Among the participants was housewife Lim Ang Muay, 76. Madam Lim said in Teochew: "I am not a talkative person and I won't attend official dialogues, but I don't mind having others listening in to my chats with friends, if it helps the Government better understand us."
10-02-2012, 09:40 PM #6592
More mixed unions, remarriages based on latest marriage data
Special report: Marriage in Singapore
This story originally appeared in The Sunday Times on Sept 30.
Published on Oct 02, 2012
Mr Carlito Evangelista Cinco and wife Gerlen registered their marriage in Singapore in 2010 and later held their wedding celebrations in the Philippines. -- PHOTO: CARLITO EVANGELISTA CINCO
By Theresa Tan
Love conquers all, even formidable obstacles such as racial differences and previous failed unions. This picture emerges from Singapore's latest marriage data, released in July.
The trends suggest that Singaporeans are becoming more liberal in their choice of mates, with more marrying outside their ethnic groups or tying the knot with divorcees.
Academics and counsellors expect some of these trends to continue, promising more diverse families.
Take, for example, mixed marriages with partners of different ethnic groups. Last year, one in five marriages (19.8 per cent) was an inter-ethnic union, up from one in eight (12.6 per cent) in 2001. There were 5,388 such marriages last year, almost double the 2,814 in 2001.
This sharp rise was largely driven by Singaporeans marrying foreigners rather than Singaporeans of a different race - and these numbers are likely to keep rising with globalisation.
And if parents object? Well, most now have less say in whom their children marry.
Mr Leng Chin Fai, director of Fei Yue Community Services, said: "Parents may discourage their children from finding a partner of another race, but they seldom object to their child's choice. Parents do respect their children's wishes now, unlike in the past."
Another phenomenon likely to stay is the growing number of re-marriages.
One in four marriages (25.5 per cent) last year involved at least one partner remarrying. This is up from one in five marriages (19.7 per cent) a decade ago. There were 6,943 such marriages last year, an almost 60 per cent jump from the 4,385 in 2001.
Counsellors say the stigma of divorce has also weakened considerably, and with many divorcees still only in their 30s and 40s, more are taking the plunge again.
The statistics also show that the trend of Singaporeans delaying marriage has persisted.
Last year, the median age for first marriages was 30.1 years for grooms and 28 for brides. This is more than a year older than the 28.8 for men and 26.2 for women in 2001.
Accountant Chloe Hong, 34, is representative of this trend. After "five or six" failed relationships, she wondered if she would go through life alone. But she did not want to marry for the sake of it.
About three years ago, she met the man she would marry, a 36-year-old auditor, through a dating website. The pair wed in July after a two-year courtship.
"I feel very comfortable with him as he accepts me for who I am and he has a very good temper," she said.
"When he proposed, I felt he was someone I could rely on and live with for the rest of my life."
Last year set a record for marriages, with 27,258 unions, the largest number registered since independence in 1965, a Sunday Times check found.
But hold the champagne. The marriage boom has been fuelled largely by nuptials between foreigners, who are also the reason Singapore's population has shot past 5million over the past decade, academics say.
Last year, there were 1,914 marriages where both bride and groom were not Singapore citizens or permanent residents. That was more than double the 790 a decade ago.
Meanwhile, the general marriage rate for Singaporeans and permanent residents has dipped in the past decade, as more residents are remaining single.
For every 1,000 unmarried male residents aged between 15 and 44, there were 43.7 men who married last year, down from 47 in 2001. And for every 1,000 unmarried female residents in the same age group, 41.4 women married last year, down from 46.3 in 2001.
Among foreigners who wed here were Mr Carlito Evangelista Cinco, 29, and his wife Gerlen, 27, from the Philippines. They met while they were working in a Manila hotel.
He came here in search of better career opportunities five years ago. She joined him after finding a job as a management supervisor in a restaurant.
Mr Cinco, a hotel assistant manager, said: "My pay here is two or three times what I can earn in the Philippines."
The employment pass holders married in 2010 and hope to apply for permanent residency.
A small number of foreigners who hold their weddings here do not even live or work here. They choose Singapore for convenience, said marriage solemnisers.
For instance, Sikh community leader Jasbir Singh has solemnised marriages for some couples whose relatives had trouble getting entry visas elsewhere.
One was an Indian national whose Indian bride lived in Australia. Her parents were unable to get visas to Australia, so the wedding was held here.
Academics say that with more couples marrying at a later age, they are likely to have fewer or no children - dismal news for a baby-starved Singapore.
Other aspects of the marriage picture indicate that more families will deal with issues of step-children, step-parents and "blended" families where couples with children from previous marriages go on to have children of their own. Family ties will get more complicated.
As Institute of Policy Studies demographer Yap Mui Teng described it: "The family of the future is evolving and it's going to be more diverse."
10-02-2012, 10:12 PM #6593
A generation of the post-boom years
by Tay Ek Kiat
04:45 AM Oct 03, 2012
Two weeks ago, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam shared research findings suggesting that young adults working here will be able to retire comfortably.
As a young adult, I found this interesting and significant, and it called to mind a recent article with a provocative title: "Generation Screwed", by American sociologist Dr Joel Kotkin, which appeared in the July 23-30 issue of Newsweek.
Dr Kotkin was referring to the "millenials" - those aged 18-35 - in the United States, and employed a suite of social indicators to show that they face increasing unemployment and indebtedness in spite of higher education; deterioration of family life; downward social mobility; and even perhaps the emergence of an underclass among young-age households.
His sombre message was that American millenials might have to lower their expectations and accept "the new normal" of muted growth, high unemployment and a future less bright than the boomers before them.
What about here in Singapore? How do our youths fare in comparison?
IN A BETTER POSITION, FOR NOW
In contrast to the US, Singapore does not have a large national debt to repay. The Government's careful fiscal management has made that possible. Savings rates are high here in comparison to the US and Europe, even if some of it is forced savings in the form of the Central Provident Fund.
At the individual level, however, debt among youths has been rising due to consumption habits and, some say, school loans. This is a trend to watch - we are on secure footing at the national level but must manage the situation at the level of the individual.
Job data released by the Ministry of Manpower indicates that the unemployment rate for youths aged 15-29 stands at approximately half the global average and long-term unemployment for youths is similarly low.
At a time when many other developed countries are facing high youth unemployment, this statistic has attracted significant attention; the BBC even ran a feature in December 2011 using Singapore as a positive case study.
Higher education here still correlates with increased salaries; job prospects for youths will continue to be bright, assuming that growth remains healthy in the context of a mature economy.
In terms of families, too, Singapore compares favourably with the US. Dr Kotkin used illegitimate births and lower marriage rates as indicators of the deterioration of family life. Here, divorce rates are rising and marriage rates falling, but this may not yet be a definitive sign that the family unit is crumbling.
In fact, the National Family Council's 2011 State of the Family Report found that over nine in 10 Singaporeans still regarded family as the most important aspect of their lives.
My sense is that many young Singaporeans feel that their families are stable, and have a strong desire to form their own and have children. They are simply arguing for more help to do so.
FUTURE PRESSURES AND BURDENS
Singaporean youths may be doing well now, but what about the future?
It is worth noting that Mr Tharman's comments on a comfortable retirement were predicated on, in his words, "individual responsibility and good jobs". In this context, there is a great deal of pressure on youths to be gainfully employed and contribute to the economy when they graduate. There is no room for slack.
With the increasingly competitive nature of the global economy and rising aspirations, this pressure is unlikely to abate. A discussion is needed on how we can find jobs and build businesses good enough to meet our higher aspirations.
Is it possible to emulate the baby boomers' achievements when we no longer possess the demographic bonus and excess productive capacity that was in abundance in the 1970s and 1980s?
As evidence of this diminished spare productive capacity, costs of living have risen. An ageing population also suggests that the younger generation will have to bear a greater financial burden both within their families and nationally, in the years to come.
Asset prices have been on a steady climb since the early 1990s, meaning that settling down has become more expensive for young couples. What fat will young people have to live off and support their parents on, 20 years from now? Will this deter them from having children?
The issue of jobs and aspirations is also related to education. Increasing rates of higher education attainment adds to the pressure to create good jobs.
Warning signs have appeared in the US and other East Asian countries that higher education does not always lead to better pay or job prospects - many graduates have reported difficulty in finding jobs after completing their education. Education will inflate aspirations without actually raising our standard of living, if degree inflation takes place here.
With the Prime Minister's announcement of the opening of the fifth and sixth local universities, having more people gain more knowledge can only be a good thing for our economy and society in the long run. However, it also means that the courses made available, as well as students' selection of courses, will have to be strategic so that each offers unique and relevant skills and knowledge for the upcoming decades.
The current situation of youths in Singapore is by no means dire or desperate, especially in comparison with the US. Still, there is concern about the future.
Dr Kotkin's "new normal" has partial resonance here: Singapore's millenials are unlikely to enjoy the same rates of economic growth that our parents did, and settling down and starting a family may become more difficult over the years if costs and housing prices continue to rise.
Like our American counterparts, we need to remember that the boom years are over and adjust our expectations appropriately.
At the same time, it is important to have in place a system of indicators tracking unemployment and wage levels among youth here, as well as barometers of general sense of well-being that can capture the more intangible anxieties which lurk beneath the surface of hard data.
Tay Ek Kiat graduated from the Singapore Management University this year and is currently an intern at the Institute of Policy Studies.
10-02-2012, 10:21 PM #6594
Healthcare, cost of living top concerns of elderly
by Tan Qiuyi
Updated 09:42 PM Oct 02, 2012
SINGAPORE - Cost of living and healthcare were the top two issues on the minds of elderly Singaporeans at a dialogue in Yuhua this afternoon.
Over a hundred senior citizens came together to discuss the future of Singapore in dialect.
Participants were asked to vote on the issues on the top of their minds and the highest number of votes went to cost of living and healthcare.
"Medicine (and) things are getting more expensive. We'll just have to eat less expensive items. We don't want to trouble others," a participant lamented in Hokkien.
There were also requests for more elder-friendly infrastructure in town.
Some asked for more exercise equipment, and for pedestrian traffic lights to stay green longer to accommodate seniors who walk at a slower pace.
The community event was jointly organised by Yuhua Member of Parliament Grace Fu and the Our Singapore Conversation committee, which is driving a national discussion on the future of Singapore.
Ms Fu said, "Some of the local issues, we will definitely follow up because that's something within our control. But for some of the issues, like medical fees, we'll have to submit it through the Our Singapore Conversation secretariat."
The event started with a skit in the middle of a hawker centre.
Actors played out the issues on the agenda: cost of living, healthcare, social connectedness, education and new immigrants.
The participants, mainly residents from the neighbourhood, were broken up into small groups for discussion. At the coffeeshop dialogue, a variety of languages could be heard - Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, some English and Mandarin.
"This is an important group that's probably not so comfortable (with conversing in) our official language(s) Mandarin or English," said Ms Fu.
"And allowing them to use the language they're most comfortable with, and also doing it slightly differently in a skit, allows them to identify, and perhaps tell us if they agree with the views being expressed. It's giving us a convenient way of collecting their feedback."
"Dialects are what the elderly can hear and understand. Even Mandarin, some seniors can't understand it," a participant commented in Mandarin.
Organisers are not ruling out more dialogues in dialect in future, but there are no plans for now.
MP and Grassroots Advisor for Yuhua Constituency, Ms Grace Fu conversing with participants before attending a resident dialogue session at Yuhua Hawker Centre, Jurong East.
10-03-2012, 10:01 PM #6595
A step closer to SEA Games dream
by Deborah Ong
04:45 AM Oct 04, 2012
SINGAPORE - National University of Singapore undergraduate Soh Rui Yong got his first taste of winning at an international level when he won a gold medal in the 2,000m steeplechase at the 2009 ASEAN Schools Games.
"As I stood on the podium and heard the national anthem play, I thought it would be great if I could repeat this on a more advanced level," said the 21-year-old.
Little did he expect then that, in just three years, he would represent Singapore at the World Half Marathon Championships in Kavarna, Bulgaria.
Organised by the International Association of Athletics Federation, the annual event offers a top prize of US$30,000 (S$37,000) and features professional athletes from all over the globe. But it is unlikely that Soh will be in contention for the top prize.
Although he won the Army Half Marathon 2012 in a personal best time of 1hr 12min 26sec, Soh's timing was still two minutes above that stipulated by the Singapore Sports Council for World Championships qualification.
"I appealed to them to consider my application and it was successful," recalled Soh.
His trip to Bulgaria is the latest milestone in a long running journey that began when he joined his school's track and field team in Secondary 1. Since then, he has taken part in many school competitions.
But it was not until he was in Raffles Junior College that he aspired to represent his country.
"That's when I started watching the SEA Games and Olympic Games," said Soh. "I saw the pride and happiness the athletes had while standing on the podium. I thought if I trained hard enough, I could be there one day. That is my dream."
For now, his goal in Bulgaria is to set a new personal best.
"There will be a lot of challenges when competing in a foreign country. It may be difficult to adapt to a new time zone and climate," he said.
Thankfully for Soh, pre-race jitters, which used to affect him in the past, are no longer an issue today.
He is looking forward to learning from the world class athletes present at the World Championships.
That, he stressed, would be his "greatest takeaway" before he embarks on his next target - qualifying for the 5,000m and 10,000m at next year's SEA Games.
"I would have to break the national record of 14min 51sec for the 5,000m by Mok Ying Ren to qualify," he said. "My ultimate dream would be to compete in a full marathon, perhaps at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But of course, a lot of work has to be done to get there."
Soh Rui Yong aims to set a new personal best during the race in Bulgaria. Photo by DEBORAH ONG
10-03-2012, 10:28 PM #6596
NTU and NUS improve on world university rankings
04:45 AM Oct 04, 2012
SINGAPORE - The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have moved up in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
NTU jumped 83 places to place 86th, while the NUS climbed 11 spots to 29th place this year.
The World University Rankings uses 13 performance indicators to reflect a university's strengths in five areas - teaching, research, citation, industry income and international outlook.
NTU improved in scores for all five categories. Its score for citations increased by 20 points to 54.5, while its research score went up by 19.1 points to 66.9.
It also improved its teaching score by 4.3 points to 45.7 points. These three indicators are each worth 30 per cent of the overall score.
NUS said it did better in almost all the categories but did not reveal its scores. It placed in the top 50 for all subject areas, including 12th place for Engineering & Technology and 33rd for Life Sciences.
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