Fostering a skills revolution

The SkillsFuture programme is based on fundamental realities that many nations, at all levels of development, have acknowledged in shaping a national skills strategy. These are that better jobs will increasingly hinge on the level of skills that a nation is able to cultivate in a range of fields; productivity improvements can flow from higher skills; and inclusive growth is a function of broad-based skills development.

With shifts in economic trends and greater global competition, lifelong learning is a necessity. For this to take hold here, a cultural change will be needed across society. Starting with the individual, there must be an enduring impulse to take full charge of his or her own learning journey through life, acquiring and honing skills for better economic prospects as well as for personal satisfaction and self-renewal. For employers, the push for skills can represent a competitive edge and better returns on investments. It is in their interest, therefore, to give full support to the movement, as a shared responsibility.

Established firms ought to contribute to the SkillsFuture Jubilee Fund, while smaller enterprises should do their bit to help workers acquire skills. Government-supported schemes like Earn and Learn for fresh Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic graduates can assist companies to train a larger pool of skilled workers. For the young interns, this offers the means to develop industry-relevant skills while being paid a decent salary, with the prospect of a permanent job at the end to boot. Other schemes like SkillsFuture credits, study awards and fellowships will give all workers opportunities to stay abreast of changes or make mid-career switches.

For Singaporeans who have long set great store by paper qualifications, a key cultural change will come from viewing education as "a meritocracy of skills" rather than "a hierarchy of grades earned early in life", as Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam put it. Such thinking should infuse hiring and on-the-job development processes, too. Here, the Government, as the largest employer, and government-linked companies can lead the way by not placing undue emphasis on scores alone or on the pedigree of the universities attended by a candidate. Some have even asked candidates for details of examination scores at O and A levels.

Indeed, global companies like Google are adroit in determining the skills that can make a difference to an organisation over the long run. Old-school bosses, by contrast, are less inclined to see employees as assets to be developed and more as factors of production - the cheaper, the better. A society that truly celebrates skills will be less hung up on status and value the special contributions that all can make.