Poster for a training centre, seen on a pillar along a sidewalk. Photo taken in June 2018.

For his research project, intern Sab I explored the thorny subect of upskilling of foreign workers and our hopes for productivity improvement particularly in the construction sector.

His study was based on qualitative interviews with ten workers, each with 7 – 12 years’ experience in Singapore. Half underwent upskilling courses; half did not.

Sab concludes that there are significant barriers to foreign workers enrolling in available upskilling programs – barriers erected by firms who are still not incentivised enough to invest in the skills of their transient labor force. Even when workers do upskill themselves, the benefits of their upskilling are not shared equitably between the worker and his employer.

Thus, this small study suggests that the foreign labor upskilling policy has not contributed significantly to increasing labor productivity and the productivity of the construction sector. Singapore’s aspirations appear to have been hamstrung by the prevailing structural constraints that are imposed on migrant workers from the moment they choose to work in Singapore, such as exorbitantly high agent fees or having permits tied to employers.

Sab’s paper (PDF, 7 pages) can be downloaded by clicking the link at left.