Success means different things to different people, in different places. Yet somehow, as a society, we tend to converge the definition of success around material possessions such as the size of the paycheck, or the property we own, says DPM Lawrence Wong in Parliament (17 April 2023).
DPM Wong suggests that we should shift our lens to collectively adopt a wider definition of success.
After all, success is really for each one of us to define, he says. We should not feel pressured to compare with others or to conform to preconceived notions.
“We should strive to be a meritocracy where everyone can be the best possible version of themselves; and where there are many ways for diverse talents to contribute and earn respect in our society.”
Mindset shifts are necessary, Mr Wong says. But mindset shifts alone will effect societal change, he adds.
“It is not enough to say we will celebrate a variety of professions. Our economic structures, remuneration, and career prospects in various professions must also be consistent with what we value.”
We will consider ways to tilt the scales, and narrow the wage gap across professions.
One specific way is to further professionalise skilled trades like electricians and plumbers: Why not enable them to attain accreditation for their skills, and set a clearer progression ladder as they take on greater responsibilities? We can ascribe the right values to such forms of labour, and grant such workers greater remuneration as professionals.
More broadly, we also want to give Singaporeans who graduate from ITE and polytechnics stronger assurance: that their wages and career prospects will not be too far below their university-going peers, and will not be permanently conscribed to be below.
They don’t have to succumb to a paper chase to secure a good salary and a viable career path. They can excel in the professions that they have trained in and have the aptitude for, be it hospitality, infocomm, social services, or others.
There are many ways to make a difference, many talents to nurture, and many forms of contributions to reward.
Take lower-wage workers for example. Many of them serve in essential services like security, lift maintenance, and cleaning. We have been doing much to uplift lower-wage workers through Workfare and the Progressive Wage Model, and we will continue to do so: increase wages, set out a skills ladder, provide opportunities to upgrade.
We cannot close the gap altogether between lower-wage and median workers, but we can certainly stop their wages from diverging too far.
Here I have a plea to all: For a new definition of success to become a reality, all of us – as consumers – must be willing to bear a higher cost for the goods and services we consume. We must recognise the important work that our fellow citizens undertake to keep our society going, and do our part to uplift and boost their wage prospects.
I know this is not an easy ask, given the rising cost of living. But we will do our best to manage the pace of change, and to help everyone, especially our lower- and middle-income families, adjust to this new environment.
I might add too: All will gain when even the most vulnerable amongst us become better off. We will become a better people, a more just and a more equal society.