Aerial photo taken on July 29, 2020 shows the morning view of Macao Peninsula in south China. (Xinhua/Cheong Kam Ka)

OPINION-Raising skills

The current health and economic conditions are challenging on multiple levels. Multiple pressure-points keep building up, and we will likely need new approaches to deal with them. Of course, we may be fortunate. In the coming few months, one or even several of the many teams working on the problem may find cures or vaccines providing long term immunization. The current tribulations may then fade rapidly, and we will go back to our lives rather swiftly.

Otherwise, we must prepare for the distinct possibility that we will live with a new endemic disease for a longer time. We need to address both the problems directly associated with pandemic containment and management, and those that arise indirectly due to conflicting health needs and their effects on medical resources allocation. The latter may result in the postponement of diagnoses and treatment for other conditions — many of which are also life-threatening or seriously well-being–diminishing — or the deterioration of services involving therapeutic and follow-up measures. 

And, beyond health matters, we must focus on ways to lessen the impacts on people’s welfare. Among the many related issues, employment and income matters are prominent and are likely to become much more pressing rapidly.

On the one hand, as they leave the education system, several thousand new persons are entering a tightening labor market. On the other hand, several of the ‘buffers’ used so far — reduced working hours and wages, compulsory holidays, temporary layoffs, and the like — will turn out to be increasingly unsustainable. Many will become permanent job losses, increasing unemployment and underemployment, and income reductions, lowering families’ incomes and expenditures. These changes will further reduce domestic demand and propel the downward trend in the economy.

Appropriately, the government has announced the intention to bring forward new initiatives to cope with employment issues. It is generally understood that Macau’s labor force lacks enough local talent to satisfy the needs of an economy with the size and sophistication that most people seem to desire. The initiatives mentioned consist mainly of qualification and training programs. 

Such initiatives are always positive, provided the trainees do get real skills matching the economy’s demands. (In the current situation, if and when such demand will be there is another issue.) Otherwise, other than helping to reduce the unemployment figures, they will add just another credential to justify increased hiring localism — not necessarily increasing the trainees’ real abilities.