Minister Tong hoped that these conversations will result in outcomes that the government will adopt in the future.
The last installment of Emerging Stronger Conversations took place on Saturday (Sep 26), involving over 150 youths, industry experts and officeholders.
This virtual session, organised by the National Youth Council, aimed to engage youths on three issues: support for vulnerable groups, jobs and the future of work, and environment and sustainability.
In his opening remarks, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong shared his hopes that these conversations will not only be a platform for youths to contribute their thoughts and ideas about these issues, but that these conversations will lead to “tangible pieces of outcomes that we can put into place”.
In attendance were industry experts such as David Hoe, founder of Project Stable Staples, He Ruiming, founder of The Woke Salaryman, and Heng Li Seng, founder of Green Nudge, who were among those who helped facilitate breakout room discussions on the three topics.
Ministers of State Sun Xueling and Desmond Tan, Senior Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad and Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua were also present at the dialogue.
Support for Vulnerable Groups
A participant said that COVID-19 has shed light on issues that vulnerable groups in Singapore face, which society may not have been aware of previously.
David shared that some of the topics that youths raised during the session were the accessibility of resources to vulnerable groups, the role of the community in protecting those who fall through the cracks and how on a personal level, individuals can avoid making discriminatory remarks about migrant workers to better foster a sense of inclusion in society.
In particular, youths highlighted the struggles faced by low-income families during COVID-19 and children with different learning needs who have struggled with adapting to home-based learning.
Youths also brought up issues that the migrant worker community in Singapore face, and noted how the power imbalances between workers and their employers may make it difficult for them to stand up for their rights.
In sharing her observations of the discussions on this topic, Minister of State Sun said: “I think we can all agree that given the challenges we see around us, and the impacts on vulnerable members of society, that we’re going to need a whole of society and a whole of government approach to dealing with the many challenges that we see.”
Jobs and the Future of Work
Youths also shared their concerns and suggestions for how they can be better supported in their careers in a fast-changing global market.
They shared how skills upgrading will most likely be a continuous process when they enter the workforce, and hope that the government will assist in making these resources readily available.
One of the suggestions included bringing forward industry exposure to younger students, such as industry internships for secondary school students.
The welfare of low wage workers was also brought up in the discussions and there was uncertainty over how the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) would address the needs of these workers.
Senior Minister of State Zaqy clarified that the wage growth has to rise in tandem with productivity growth, by tying wages to skills and work experience. Increasing wages suddenly may mean that employers would not be able to afford the increase in wages, and may let go of their workers.
“There is never a cause without effect, and therefore we always have to be mindful of how we adjust [wages] over time,” he said.
He shared that in the meantime, low wage workers in Singapore receive Workfare from the government which supplements their existing income. The government also provides ComCare and free education for the children of low wage workers.
Mr Zaqy said that he hopes that Singaporeans will work with the government to share their ideas for how to uplift low income workers.
Environment and Sustainability
Youths shared how COVID-19 has had both positive and negative effects on the environment in Singapore.
On one hand, there were lower emissions due to the sharp fall in number of people travelling and commuting to work. However, there was more waste generated because of the use of disposable masks, as well as the increased use of plastic containers for takeaway and delivery during the circuit breaker.
More than 1,300 tonnes of additional plastic waste was produced in the two-month period.
Youths also shared their ideas on how to support the local production of food in Singapore by improving the perception of local produce through better branding and by including local food security into the Ministry of Education’s syllabus for students.
Minister of State Tan said he was heartened by how action-oriented the participants were and how they readily offered their suggestions on how to solve environmental issues.
These conversations are just the beginning
In his closing remarks, Minister Tong shared that one thing that stood out to him in all the discussion groups was the care and compassion that youths want to build in society.
He highlighted that even though everyone is concerned over their own futures and well-being, especially during COVID-19, he was encouraged that youths were still thinking about how they could play a bigger role in improving the lives of others.
“No one has a monopoly on good ideas,” said Minister Tong, who encouraged youths to continue sharing their ideas and suggestions with the Ministry.
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