Workers have to be ultimate beneficiaries of industrial change: Koh Poh Koon

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon announced a slew of workforce development initiatives in his speech, on Oct 17, 2018. PHOTO: A*STAR

SINGAPORE - A skilled, nimble and prepared workforce lies at the heart of Singapore's manufacturing strategy because, without such workers, Singapore cannot ride the wave of emerging digital industrial technologies, or Industry 4.0, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon on Wednesday (Oct 17).

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 on Thursday, Dr Koh announced a slew of workforce development initiatives in his speech.

One key initiative is SkillsFuture Singapore's new continuing education and training (CET) strategy for advanced manufacturing, aimed at attracting, retaining and developing talent in the field.

The strategy, launched on Wednesday, emphasises partnerships between training providers and employers in order to groom and grow these talents, said SkillsFuture Singapore in a fact sheet.

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, which is the usual practice in CET today, the training plans focus on workplace learning through a series of 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 Loh Yew Chiong said such a plan is ideal for manufacturers, who 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," said Mr Loh.

Another partnership struck on Wednesday 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."

To this end, a new training executive committee has been set up to coordinate the implementation of training efforts.

The committee, headed by Dr Koh, 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 companies, including automotive manufacturer Rolls-Royce and local firms, have begun collaborating with the Industrial Internet of Things platform developed by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

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 also awarded a Singapore-Germany grant, which will also support research collaboration between the two nations' public and private institutes and organisations, said Dr Koh.

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