Skills training must improve on 4 fronts for S'pore workforce to stay competitive: Chan Chun Sing

Education minister Chan Chun Sing at the the inaugural Workplace Learning Conference on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore must innovate to help smaller companies communicate their skills training needs so that training institutions can respond quickly, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.

To this end, trade associations and chambers and professional bodies can take on a bigger role in driving skills development, he added.

Mr Chan said SkillsFuture Singapore has plans to partner these organisations to identify skills that are in demand and to develop skills-based career pathways.

This will kick off with a tie-up between the Infocomm Media Development Authority and the Singapore Computer Society and SGTech, a tech trade association, Mr Chan said.

This is one of four fronts where Singapore's skills training system must change to keep the workforce resilient and economically competitive, Mr Chan said at the launch of the first Workplace Learning Conference on Tuesday (April 26).

He cited three other areas for improvement - adult learning, partnerships between institutes of higher learning and industry, and companies' approaches towards building Singapore's talent pool.

The conference was organised by Singapore's five polytechnics, along with the Institute of Technical Education, the Institute for Adult Learning and the Singapore Institute of Technology. It was held at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar, and supported by SkillsFuture Singapore.

About 800 Singapore and foreign business leaders and educators attended talks on topics such as staying competitive and improving employee performance and retention.

Mr Chan noted that many companies want to train their workers but do not know how to articulate this need.

He said the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning (Nace), which is led by Nanyang Polytechnic, has done much to strengthen support structures for workplace learning.

"In a short span of four years, Nace has helped about 1,500 local companies implement structured training programmes and develop a stronger learning culture," he said. "I am glad to hear that of these, about 70 per cent are local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)."

Last year, Nace also launched the National Workplace Learning Certification scheme, he added. It recognises progressive organisations that have structures and processes in place for good training practices at the workplace.

On Tuesday, Mr Chan gave out nine of these certificates to organisations such as Metropolis Security Systems.

He added that while interventions such as Nace's work at the company level, there should also be system-wide moves catering to the training needs of SMEs, which employ about 70 per cent of Singapore's workforce.

"This segment of our economy is often resource-strapped and preoccupied with day-to-day demands of their business operations," he said.

"We need to find better ways to support our SMEs to ensure that there is a better match between their skills demand and supply."

This is where trade associations, chambers and professional bodies can do more, he said.

Mr Chan also spoke on rethinking adult education, noting that it is fundamentally flawed and inadequate to approach adult education with the idea that adults should go back to school, or by making minor adaptations to pre-employment training.

Instead, the workplace must be used as a conduit for continual learning, he said.

"It is also at the workplace, where learning is most authentic and relevant. The workplace setting allows for customised on-the-job learning that will directly benefit both the employee and the employer."

Institutes of higher learning can also strengthen their relationship with industry through programmes such as staff exchanges to help faculty access the latest industry knowledge, Mr Chan said.

"The exchange of knowledge between institutes of higher learning and industry will uplift capabilities for industry transformation, as well as plant the seeds for us to do better for our adult learners."

Mr Chan said these changes are crucial to keeping Singapore’s workforce current in the new economy. 

“At the Straits Times Education Forum earlier this year, I underscored that we cannot just rely on the annual pipeline of fresh graduates to meet our industry needs for emerging skills,” he added.

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