To thrive in Asean, soft skills matter too: Grace Fu

Leadership, cultural knowledge just as vital as hard skills, minister tells young Singaporeans

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said that a blend of hard and soft skills are needed for young Singaporeans to thrive and make the most out of opportunities in the region. PHOTO: MCCY

Young Singaporeans will need a blend of hard and soft skills to make the most out of the flourishing Asean economy, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.

Hard skills include data evaluation, information synthesis and critical thinking, which schools and workplace attachments have honed in many young Singaporeans, she added.

But to thrive in Asean, they will also need to pick up soft skills, she said. "These include leadership, project management skills and negotiating cultural differences, and also the ability to work well with your counterparts in a multidisciplinary, multinational team to deliver the projects you are assigned."

Speaking yesterday at the launch of a mentorship programme that aims to help young Singaporeans learn more about working in the region, Ms Fu said it is one way to connect to regional markets.

Set up by the Temasek Foundation and Young NTUC, the Lit Asean Careers programme matches 400 young people with 36 mentors from different fields who have worked in regional countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Young NTUC is the youth wing of the National Trades Union Congress.

The initiative supports recommendations made by the Future Economy Council in 2017 to deepen and diversify the international and regional connections of young Singaporeans, among other strategies. The council is chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Ms Fu urged young Singaporeans to adopt a mindset of lifelong learning as more companies set their sights on Asean, a region poised to become the world's fourth-largest economy by 2030, after the United States, China and the European Union.

This has created jobs for youth here, she added. "Our Singaporean youth can capitalise on these exciting opportunities."

One way is to make use of SkillsFuture - the national initiative to cultivate lifelong learning - to pick up specialist skills and learn more about technology and regional business, she said.

Another way is to study regional languages to deepen their understanding of the people and culture in neighbouring countries.

"As you immerse yourself in Asean and experience living and working with friends from diverse cultures, you are gaining valuable cultural competencies," she said.

More than half of some 1,200 young people in a Young NTUC survey in June said they were willing to take up a two-year opportunity to be based in an Asean country.

They cited key reasons such as better job prospects with overseas work experience and interest in understanding another culture and work environment.

Sony Electronics assistant manager Nicholas Dominic Lim, 30, who has been working in Malaysia for the past six months, volunteered to be a mentor to keep in touch with how today's youth think.

He said: "Having benefited from career mentors during my time in university, it is my desire now to give back to the community."

Also at the launch was Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student Kenneth Tee, 18, who hopes to land a job in finance in the future, and does not dismiss the idea of working in neighbouring countries.

"I want to understand more about the Asean economy. Finance is linked to the understanding of markets and what each country's competitive advantage is," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 06, 2019, with the headline To thrive in Asean, soft skills matter too: Grace Fu. Subscribe