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Partnering the young and the not so old

Speech by Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry at the Committee of Supply Debate 2021

Introduction

  1. Mr Chairman, Minister Edwin Tong shared how we are forming a cohesive Singapore tapestry. I will focus on three threads of this tapestry, our youths, our culture of care and our identity.
  2. This Thursday, 11 March, will mark one year from the day the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. 
  3. While no one has been spared from the effects of the pandemic, our youths have felt its impact particularly keenly. They are coming of age into a world which changed, just as they are beginning to make sense of it.
  4. As one of our youths shared passionately, 

    a. And I quote, “COVID-19 you have taken away many conveniences and deprived us of physical contact with our loved ones, but through this adversity you have steeled our resilience, resolve and determination to see to it that we rise above it all.” 
  5. Our youths are not strawberries in the pandemic. They are emerging from the pandemic more resilient and aided in part by the unprecedented support measures by our Government, they have thrived. But the storm is not yet over and the future is uncertain and our youths are asking the question, “what next?”
  6. Mr Chairman, I have plenty of time a lot of time with our youths this past year and we have wrestled with this question together. Let me share how we’ve been journeying with them to confront the question of  “what next”.

    Opportunities for youths to thrive amidst and beyond the pandemic

  7. When I chat with our youths about their hopes and worries amidst COVID-19, they tell me that they care deeply about four issues. First, jobs. Second, mental well-being. Third, support for the vulnerable.  Fourth, environmental sustainability. Let me first share about the jobs and mental well-being aspects.

    Diverse jobs and skills opportunities
  8. Now our youths want good jobs and they want to learn new skills.
  9. Last year, our Government launched the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package to provide traineeship opportunities. We are enhancing this package including raising stipends for Diploma and ITE SGUnited Traineeship positions.
  10. MCCY and the National Youth Council (NYC) are also complementing these national level efforts to help our youths be future ready.
  11. As the honourable Darryl David mentioned, youths are digital natives, learning on the fly and keeping a furious pace with and even setting tech trends. As they do this, NYC is creating opportunities for them, such as through our YouthTech Programme, where up to 1,000 youths will develop digital skills, including content creation, digital marketing, and data analytics. They will apply these skills in the real world, by working on digitalisation projects in organisations.
  12. And our students from Institutes of Higher Learning can join our Youth Corps Internship Scheme (YCIS), to gain work experience in the social and community sectors, develop leadership and project management skills, while giving back to the community.

    a. For example, Muhammad Danish, who interned with Brahm Centre as a volunteer coordinator working on volunteer management and training. Danish liaised with community partners to match volunteers to their needs, forged friendships with members of the community and gained a deeper understanding of the social service sector. 

    b. Now he has extended his internship with Brahm Centre while waiting to be enlisted to NS, and he plans to continue volunteering with them.
  13. Our youths can also prepare themselves for the future by broadening their horizons, such as through our Asia-Ready Exposure Programme (AEP), which provides them with short-term overseas exposure opportunities to gain cross-cultural skills. But due to COVID-19, AEP has shifted online.
  14. So I urge our youths to take up these opportunities, prepare themselves for the future of work that has arrived sooner than expected due to COVID-19.

    Support for youths from low-income backgrounds
  15. Dr Shahira Abdullah asked about job-support measures for youths from low-income backgrounds, some of whom may have lost their jobs or may be facing other family issues. She also raised concerns over schooling youths who need to work, and youths who have caregiving responsibilities.
  16. I shared how we are helping our youths prepare themselves for employment. The initiatives I mentioned earlier are available to all youths, including those from low income backgrounds.
  17. Nonetheless, we recognise that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted youths from low-income backgrounds, and we are working with partners to provide more support. 

    a. For example, we are strengthening access to mentoring opportunities. We believe that guidance and mentorship can help our youths better navigate challenges and opportunities. And so MCCY and NYC partners with youth sector organisations like Access to empower them to make informed career and life decisions. 

    b. Employment Support Service Providers such as Bettr Barista and YMCA are also providing job matching and placement services, training and support. 
  18. And for schooling youths who need to work, schools proactively identify and engage students who are disengaged or at-risk to help keep them in school. 

    a. There are academic, socio-emotional, after-school and community support, as well as financial support through MOE’s Financial Assistance Schemes and school-based financial assistance.
  19. We also understand that youths with caregiving responsibilities face additional stresses and are providing them with caregiver, financial and emotional support. 

    a. For caregiver support, youth caregivers may approach the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC). 

    b. For financial support, they can contact our Social Service Offices. 

    c. For emotional support, they can tap resources such as Fei Yue’s online counselling service.
  20. And we are working with these partners to raise awareness of support schemes among our youths.

    Safeguarding youths’ mental well-being
  21. Youths also care deeply about mental well-being and they want an inclusive and caring society where no one struggles with mental health alone.
  22. And this requires a whole-of-society effort, and Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua and MOS Sun Xue Ling talked about our Youth Mental Wellbeing Network, which is key to this effort.
  23. Now tech companies are important partners. We are working with Facebook and TikTok to enhance community support resources on their platforms for users facing distress, and using these platforms’ wide reach to foster open conversations and to raise awareness about mental health and cyber wellness.
  24. But youths themselves are equally important partners, as they often turn to their friends for peer support and we are exploring more ways ways to equip more youths with peer support capabilities, so they can look out for their friends who may be facing mental well-being issues, and provide a first line of support.

    Navigating challenges and opportunities
  25. So to help youths identify and navigate the myriad of opportunities to them, the National Youth Council launched Youthopia, an online site to provide youths with resources, content and opportunities around jobs and skills, mental well-being and financial literacy.

    a. Youthopia connects youths with coaches for career guidance, or trained professionals and helplines for mental health support. 

    b. Youthopia has garnered over 480,000 visitors and 810,000 page views since we launched it in October.
  26. And we will continue to work with youths and the wider community, so that youths, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have the opportunities to thrive during and beyond the pandemic.

    Empowering youths to be heard and be the change

  27. Now our youths also tell us that they want to have a voice and to play an active role in shaping their Singapore. As we work with them to do so, our government cannot just be here to listen; we must also listen to hear.
  28. And their diversity of ideas is a strength we must respect, cherish and steward.
  29. Mr Darryl David and Ms Hany Soh will be pleased to know that we have been doing more to engage our youths and empowering them to take action on issues that they care about. Let me share how.
  30. We are actively engaging youths online – where there are – so they can participate, contribute their ideas, and share their views.

    Support for vulnerable groups
  31. For example, at a pre-Budget 2021 conversation that Minister Indranee Rajah and I hosted in January, our youths shared that supporting vulnerable groups is one of the top priorities that our Government should address.
  32. And last year, we engaged youths as part of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) and Ministry of Law’s (MinLaw) review of the sentencing framework for hurt and sexual offences. The youth that we spoke to generally agreed that while rehabilitation was an important principle in sentencing, it should not be the dominant consideration in cases involving adult offenders who commit hurt or sexual offences.

    a. And MHA and MinLaw took their feedback into consideration and delivered a Ministerial Statement on the outcome of the review here in this house last Friday.
  33. And in our conversations with youths on Singapore Women’s Development, they shared that they wanted more support for vulnerable women groups like single mothers or low-income families. They also raised concerns and aspirations about women-related issues in schools, at home and the workplaces. 

    a. And we value their views and will ensure they are considered in the White Paper that will be submitted later this year.
  34. Beyond sharing their views, youths also want to start ground-up initiatives and make a difference in society. We are helping them do so with funding, mentorship and connections with industry partners through our Youth Action Challenge (YAC). 

    a. And our youths have started 16 YAC projects focused on helping our vulnerable, including families or individuals heavily affected by COVID-19; seniors, as well as persons with disabilities. So we’re working with our youths to turn their ideas and voices, into action.

    Environmental sustainability
  35. Our youths also care deeply about environmental sustainability and they want to address issues like food security and moving towards a zero-waste society.
  36. They want to partner us in policy making. We thus started Youth Circles for youth leaders to engage Government agencies on specific policy issues and to come up with recommendations. 

    a. For example, 8 members of a Youth Circle with Ministry of Sustainability and Environment (MSE) engaged stakeholders on measures to reduce food waste. This is aligned of course with our SG Green Plan 2030 to reduce waste and pursue sustainable living. 

    b. This month, this Youth Circle will submit a report on a possible Good Samaritan Law that promotes food redistribution, for MSE to consider in future legislative changes. 

    c. And this is really a good example of how our youths are playing an important and impactful part in influencing policy-making.

    Updates on Somerset Belt and youth hub at Kallang
  37. We are also partnering our youths to shape physical spaces in Singapore. At our Somerset Belt, groups have put up interactive exhibits and organised physical and digital programmes such as skate clinics and livestreamed music shows.
  38. We will also continue engaging our youths to share their ideas for the upcoming youth hub at Kallang, where they will get to design a vibrant space to bond and explore interests beyond sports.

    Partnering whole of society to create a more caring Singapore

  39. So I’m really encouraged that our youths are leading the way, and showing us how we can collaborate and make a difference. We can draw from their energy and embody the Singapore Together spirit to shape this place that we call home.
  40. And there is no better place to start than to care for one another. Our culture of care is the heart of what makes Singapore home.
  41. And due to COVID-19, we launched the Emerging Stronger Conversations (ESC) to better understand how our citizens want to deepen this culture of care in the new normal.

    SG Together Alliances for Action
  42. Mr Mohammad Fahmi asked about opportunities for Singaporeans to continue contributing ideas and taking action. As Minister Edwin mentioned, we have set up the Singapore Together Alliances for Action (SG Together AfA), for our people to be involved.
  43. First, as part of the SG Together AfA on Emerging Needs and Volunteerism, citizens prioritised helping seniors gain new skills to help them better navigate a post-COVID-19 landscape. 
  44. For example, RSVP Singapore partnered CapitaLand Hope Foundation and Singapore Pools to establish a “Smart Seniors Applied Learning Centre”, to help seniors pick up digital skills. 

    a. So we’d like to encourage our community partners to join us to design programmes and technology platforms for our seniors. 
  45. Citizens also recognised how donations-in-kind, such as masks and sanitisers, met community needs in a timely manner at the height of the pandemic. For example, Gift for Good, which is a ground-up initiative, created a matching platform to match community resources and community needs. 
  46. Second, we will launch the SG Together AfA on Corporate Purpose, to work with private sector companies and partners on a National Blueprint and Framework on Corporate Purpose. This will give businesses a roadmap to measure their progress and impact as purpose-driven businesses.

    a. I’d like to invite corporates to join us and join this SG Together AfA to help build a corporate sector in Singapore where purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.
  47. But we are only just getting started, and there is more to do. 
  48. Mr Chairman, I will speak in Mandarin, please.
  49. 文化、社区及青年部一向致力于与国人携手同心,一起打造一个更有爱心和包容性的新加坡。今年,我们将推出两项新的新加坡群策群力行动联盟计划(AfA),继续与国人、社会组织和企业合作,推广关怀和奉献的精神。
  50. 第一,有关新兴需求与志愿服务。我们会加强对精神健康领域的支持、为年长者提供创新学习的空间和机会、以及更有效地分配赠品给有需要的人士。
  51. 第二,有关企业社会责任。我们将和企业共同制定一项国家蓝图,让企业在追求利润的时侯,以企业社会责任为中心,回馈社会,造福国人。
  52. 我想在此鼓励各社区及企业伙伴踊跃参与这两项计划,为社会和人民尽一分力。
  53. 当然,这只是个开始。文社青部将与国人同舟共济,奋勇向前。我们会继续支持由国人所发起的社区项目,一同打造一个更美好的家园。

    Reflecting on who we are as Singaporeans

  54. Mr Chairman, even as we shape the Singapore we want to see, let’s also worth reflecting on our identity as Singaporeans. Like an anchor in the stormy sea, our identity, heritage and history keep us grounded. It is also the compass to help us chart our course ahead and a key thread in our Singapore tapestry.

    Update on Singapore Citizenship Journey
  55. Last year, a Citizens’ Workgroup comprising a diverse group of Singaporeans, explored what it means to be a Singaporean and deliberated on how to refresh content for the Singapore Citizenship Journey, a mandatory induction programme for naturalised citizens. MCCY will incorporate the Workgroup’s recommendations, and our formal response is on our website.

    Shaping culture and heritage with citizens
  56. In May 2020, the National Museum of Singapore launched its Collecting Contemporary Singapore initiative, which will build a collection of objects and stories to remind us of Singapore’s history.

    a. The inaugural theme focuses on COVID-19 and Singaporeans have responded to the public call for contributions, which is extended now until June this year. 

    b. To date, the National Museum has received about 200 online submissions and they will focus on different themes over the next few years, to encourage Singaporeans to contribute objects that best represent life in Singapore in recent times. 
  57. And as part of the development of the Founders’ Memorial, our National Heritage Board will also launch a public call in the third quarter of this year, for artefacts and stories related to key milestones in Singapore’s independence history and founding values. 
  58. And these items will contribute towards content for the Memorial’s galleries and gardens, and be used to build up NHB’s post-independence history collection.

    Conclusion

  59. Mr Chairman, in the spirit of our Founders’ Memorial and as I wrap up my speech about the three threads that weave our Singapore tapestry – our youths, our culture of care and our identity – I thought it apt to quote one of our founders, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, whose clarion call 25 years ago resonates even more so today.

    a. And I quote, and he said, “To the young and to the not so old, I say, look at that horizon, follow that rainbow, go ride it.”
  60. In this storm of our generation, all of us, the young and the not so old, are coming together to forge forward and to build a better Singapore, so that when this storm finally passes, and a rainbow emerges, we will be ready to follow that rainbow and ride it towards the next chapter of our Singapore story.
  61. Thank you.

Last updated on 08 March 2021