Dr Tan: S'pore can learn from Swiss schools

President Tan and Swiss President Schneider- Ammann reaffirmed their countries' commitments to strengthen cooperation. The Swiss President also met other ministers to discuss economic ties.
President Tan and Swiss President Schneider- Ammann reaffirmed their countries' commitments to strengthen cooperation. The Swiss President also met other ministers to discuss economic ties.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

In Switzerland, most students choose to pursue a vocational education instead of an academic route and they are supported by employers who offer them apprenticeships and training, said visiting Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann.

This Swiss model of vocational education, which has produced a highly skilled workforce in the country, was lauded by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who was with Mr Schneider-Ammann at a dialogue on SkillsFuture yesterday.

Mr Tharman chairs the SkillsFuture Council, which is tasked to develop a system that integrates education, training and job progression for Singaporeans.

He said collaboration among employers is something Singapore can learn from the Swiss.

Mr Schneider-Ammann said Swiss companies take ownership of the country's vocational education and training system, and that is why the model has worked well.

"All main stakeholders are involved, but the private sector sits in the driver's seat.

"The companies and their professional associations provide the apprenticeship places, they dispatch trainers and teachers, and they define the training content," he added.

Two-thirds of Switzerland's student population choose to do an apprenticeship after completing compulsory education.

The SkillsFuture forum was part of the Swiss President's three-day state visit to Singapore.

He was hosted to a state banquet by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday, after receiving a ceremonial welcome earlier.

After the ceremony, he called on Dr Tan and met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He also had separate meetings with DPM Tharman and Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang. They talked about economic cooperation between their countries and Singapore's developmental strategies.

At the dialogue, Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, acknowledged the uphill task in getting companies here to work together. "The ownership that employers take in education and training is an essential feature of the Swiss system," he said.

But collaboration among employers here does not come naturally "because the traditional attitude of employers in Singapore, and many other parts of the world, is you train only your own people", he added.

Employers may be reluctant to offer their own skilled workers to train a rival's workers, he said.

But it is a virtuous circle because even if a firm loses a trained worker, it may gain someone who is trained to the same standard by another, he added.

It is also a way to deal with challenges posed by technological advances that may fundamentally change industries and jobs, Mr Tharman noted.

Singapore is encouraging such employer collaboration and the Supply Chain and Logistics Academy (Scala), launched last month, is an example, he said.

The academy, driven by Mr Robert Yap of supply chain solutions company YCH Group, provides practical training to those in the logistics and supply chain industry. YCH Group offers its logistics facility in Jurong West for the training.

Mr Yap, YCH Group's executive chairman, said employers tend to take the short-term view of poaching skilled workers rather than providing industry training.

But, he pointed out, firms need to recognise that if they offer training, it uplifts the entire industry.

At the state banquet yesterday, Mr Schneider-Ammann and Dr Tan reaffirmed their countries' commitments to strengthen cooperation, as both sides mark 50 years of diplomatic ties next year.

One area is education, said Dr Tan, adding that Singapore can learn from Switzerland's academic institutions as the former restructures technical training programmes to equip students for the global economy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2016, with the headline 'Dr Tan: S'pore can learn from Swiss schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe