Workers in Singapore rushed to upskill during the pandemic, a trend that still continues now; career conversion courses became popular as people hurried to find new jobs amid widespread layoffs and pay freezes in the hardest-hit industries. And there have been plenty of success stories about employees making the transition to new roles, new job requirements, or even new industries.
However, numbers from Randstad's 2021 H2 Workmonitor survey indicate that after the initial rush to secure stability, many employees in Singapore haven't actually seen returns from their skilling efforts.
Only 21% of Singapore respondents said that their skills have actually become more relevant - the majority saw no real change in the relevance of their skills.
Only 14% actually saw an improvement in their income earning ability. And while 39% managed to get a promotion, this was the lowest promotion rate in the entire region.
Even employees in Hong Kong, one of the tougher markets, were more likely to get a promotion during the pandemic than employees in Singapore.
What's more, only 21% - less than two-thirds of those who got promoted - said that they got a pay raise alongside the promotion. The rest said the pay raise would only come later, and some unlucky few won't get a pay raise at all, even though a promotion will ostensibly bring more responsibilities.
Aren't people being paid for upskilling?
Previous surveys show that Singapore employers do in fact understand the value of upskilling the workforce, and are highly in favour of it...but they aren't as much in favour of paying for those skills. One Mercer report showed that as of mid-2021, only 9% of Singapore employers were planning to reward their employees for upskilling, well below the global average of 15%.
Employers also apparently prefer to push the burden of upskilling to workers or the government, with prior Randstad research indicating that only 15% of employers in Singapore had actually implemented more skilling opportunities during the pandemic despite being aware of the importance of upskilling.
So it's unsurprising that these tendencies have played out in the low rates of promotions and pay raises, or that Singaporean workers are getting disgruntled and looking for new jobs. Randstad's Workmonitor survey found that 64% of Singaporean workers feel that they are not fairly or sufficiently rewarded for their current skill sets and are therefore motivated to look for another job - and the younger they are, the more likely they are to feel undercompensated.
In the long term, this mismatch of worker expectations and employer practices will not pay off for anyone.
Jaya Dass, Managing Director for Randstad Malaysia and Singapore said: “Some companies have held off internal promotions and conducting training programmes due to hybrid work and the uncertainty of the pandemic. However, as the nation moves towards its goal of having a highly-skilled workforce to attract more investments, it will be necessary for companies to develop robust workforce management strategies to not just ensure that employees can keep up with business and market developments, but that they are also fairly rewarded for their contributions and efforts.”