Training of workers changes along with tech revolution

New initiatives include tie-ups between training providers and employers for workplace learning

As the manufacturing sector rides the wave of emerging digital industrial technologies, or Industry 4.0, the training of its workers is also going beyond the traditional classroom setting. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

As the manufacturing sector rides the wave of emerging digital industrial technologies, or Industry 4.0, the training of its workers is also going beyond the traditional classroom setting.

A slew of initiatives announced yesterday will, for instance, allow training to be taken to the workplace by way of online modules. Meanwhile, a new robotic lab will let companies test robotic solutions.

Behind these moves is the belief that a skilled, nimble and prepared workforce lies at the heart of Singapore's manufacturing strategy, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon yesterday.

Singapore wants to make sure that workers are the ultimate beneficiaries of the technological revolution, rather than being left behind.

"A successful Industry 4.0 in Singapore is only possible with worker 4.0," said Dr Koh.

Industry 4.0 is the current era of industrial change marked by the arrival of networked technologies, robots, artificial intelligence and 3D printing to the factory floor.

Speaking on the second day of the Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific trade show, which ends today, Dr Koh highlighted that one key initiative is SkillsFuture Singapore's new continuing education and training (CET) strategy for advanced manufacturing.

The strategy, launched yesterday, emphasises partnerships between training providers and employers in order to groom talent, said SkillsFuture Singapore.

Local engineering firm Univac Precision Engineering, for example, teamed up with Singapore Polytechnic (SP) at the trade show to develop a customised set of training plans for the company to upskill its workers and supervisors.

But instead of the trainees heading to SP to attend courses, the training plans focus on workplace learning through online modules.

Univac's employees have been offered 10 modules to prepare them for Industry 4.0. They will need to spend just 15 minutes each week, for three weeks, to complete a module. Univac's supervisors will also be trained in coaching and workplace learning.

SP's senior director in the engineering cluster, Mr Loh Yew Chiong, said such a plan is ideal for manufacturers, which would otherwise have to grapple with disruptive downtime each time they send workers back to school.

"This is the first time we are doing this and, if successful, we hope to push workplace learning out to CET for other industries too," he added.

Another partnership struck yesterday was between Temasek Polytechnic and China's Harbin Institute of Technology Robot Group, which will see a new robotic training lab within the polytechnic's campus. The lab can be used by small and medium-sized companies to test-bed robotic solutions.

Said Dr Koh, who is also deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress: "This is not just about learning at a single point of time. It is a continual process, a mindset change."

A panel has been set up to coordinate training efforts.

Headed by Dr Koh, it will look into the progress of the Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index, a self-diagnostic tool that companies can use to evaluate their own industry readiness and devise strategies to fix any shortfalls.

In his speech, Dr Koh also touched on the importance of public-private partnerships to harness the potential of manufacturing-related technological advances.

He noted that 17 firms, including automotive manufacturer Rolls-Royce and local firms, have begun collaborating with the Industrial, Internet of Things, Innovation platform developed by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

The platform seeks to develop and accelerate the adoption of smart manufacturing technologies such as sensors, industrial data analytics and cyber security.

Three research projects focusing on manufacturing technologies were awarded a Singapore-Germany grant, which will also support research collaboration between the two nations' public and private institutes and organisations, said Dr Koh.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2018, with the headline Training of workers changes along with tech revolution. Subscribe