The new ethos of lifelong learning

The Government has been moving copious resources, as it should, to help bring about a sea change in the general approach towards the acquisition of skills and knowledge - both current and future - needed in fast-changing workplaces. A static and self-satisfied mindset would clearly be ruinous for the economy because of the potential of occupational upheaval wrought by competition and technology.

The setting up of a robust educational system and productivity efforts, dating back to the 1970s, have laid a sound base. But that is not enough now. Competence in different areas is well and good but what will make the crucial difference is a team approach where everyone cherishes and respects the mastery of skills. Importantly, all must be willing to help each other acquire "the knowledge, practice and passion that goes into mastering these skills, no matter what the job", as Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam put it.

This new phase must be less hierarchical and less characterised by a paper chase. Getting to the apex of a pyramid might be the all-consuming focus of an individual but organisations need the entire team to pull together to beat the competition. That is why zeroing in on relevant skills and constantly raising the bar must be a group concern.

The schooling provided by institutes of higher learning can never be specialised enough to perfectly fit the varied needs of a vast number of value-added jobs. Hence, the important role of both on-the-job training and individual efforts to learn new skills which can be creatively applied in different situations.

As the change catalysts, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and vehicles like the Lifelong Learning Institute have designed comprehensive plans for continuing education and skills acquisition. The intent is sound, the road map is marked out. Now for the implementation, almost always the hard part.

Crucial parts of on-the-job learning are often informal and take place within the interstices of an organisation. This can be fraught with uncertainty as alongside impediments, like the reluctance to spare employees for training or fear of losing highly-trained staff, there are facilitators like experienced staffers who willingly serve as mentors to lift the group's performance. The tilt of emphasis will hinge on the extent of the cultural shift within workplaces.

The SkillsFuture Council can play a part in encouraging bosses to value and reward workers who are insatiably curious, eager to improve and innovate, and seek self-improvement programmes of their own accord throughout their lives. For collective efforts to bear fruit, the prerequisite is a common determination to better enable workers to keep learning long after they have left school.