Bringing skills, jobs into focus

By the end of this year, Singapore will have two new statutory boards.

The new SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) will spearhead the national drive for skills upgrading and comes under the Education Ministry, while the new Workforce Singapore will focus on jobs, under the Manpower Ministry.

They are largely spin-offs from the Workforce Development Agency (WDA), although the SSG will also absorb the Council for Private Education that regulates private schools.

Statutory boards are autonomous bodies set up to perform specific roles. They are created through statutes passed in Parliament. There are more than 50 of them in Singapore, from household names such as the Housing Board to lesser known ones like the Singapore Accountancy Commission.

The creation of the two new boards signals a renewed push in the national training and productivity drive. There are several advantages to using statutory boards to implement policies.

The first is empowerment. They are fully empowered by Parliament to perform certain roles and the backing ensures that they get the financial resources they need as their budgets are approved by the House that created them.

Statutory boards also enjoy autonomy in how they carry out their roles. While they report to ministries, it is only to ensure that their roles are in line with policy goals.

There may be some initial confusion and even scepticism over the move. Some might question the need for two statutory boards to do the work that the WDA has been doing competently.

In the last two years, SkillsFuture has grown to be such a major national drive affecting students and workers that splitting the WDA is a logical move.

In the long run, the sharper focus and greater autonomy of both new bodies will ensure that skills upgrading and the productivity push start as early as in schools and continue as the students join the workforce.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Bringing skills, jobs into focus'. Print Edition | Subscribe