Why It Matters

Skills push on the right track

Results from an international adult skills test conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, released on Tuesday, showed a substantial skills gap between younger and older adults in Singapore.

This gap accounts for Singapore's dismal showing in the overall rankings for literacy and numeracy, which fell below the OECD average, while countries such as Japan and Finland led the way.

But the findings bear good news for Singapore when fully contextualised.

Our young adults between the ages of 16 and 34 are highly skilled - they ranked second in problem-solving, fifth in numeracy and ninth in literacy out of 34 economies surveyed.

It shows that our education system, which has improved over the years, is able to equip Singaporeans with skills that are demanded by the economy.

After all, academic qualifications are only a proxy indicator of one's skill level, and the economy is dependent on skills, rather than credentials, for productivity.

In contrast, while education opportunities in England have also expanded in the past decades, it has not translated into measurably better skills, noted the OECD's education chief Andreas Schleicher.

The poor showing of older Singapore adults in the skills test also validates the Government's move to promote lifelong learning and recognise skills through the SkillsFuture push.

It is crucial that older workers, who did not benefit from the current education system, continue to upgrade their skills, given that more people are remaining in the workforce past the age of 65.

Younger workers, too, have to remember not to lose touch with the skills they have acquired in their early years in education.

They must ensure that their skill sets remain relevant as Singapore confronts seismic change in the new global economy, which has been dubbed the fourth Industrial Revolution by some.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2016, with the headline 'Skills push on the right track'. Print Edition | Subscribe