Wednesday 20 August 2014

NDR 2014: More Opportunities for Non-Graduates

Panel to implement work & study path on national scale
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Aug 2014

To help Singaporeans succeed regardless of their paper qualifications, the Government is implementing a work and study path on a national scale. However, this requires a culture shift and involves multiple stakeholders, so a tripartite committee involving the government, employers and unions will be set up to drive support for this.

For the second year running, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally Speech on Sunday (Aug 17) at the ITE College Central. He explained that this is partly because one of his themes this year is on opening up pathways for ITE and polytechnic students.

Helping Polytechnic and ITE students find jobs well-suited to their skills, helping people progress and upgrade after they have graduated and started work, as well as developing structured career paths for them - these will broadly form the recommendations to be announced by a committee led by Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, tasked with looking at how to create this work and study path.

However, Prime Minister Lee said implementing this on a national scale will not be easy. He noted that the natural agency to take the lead is an expanded Workforce Development Agency, but acknowledged that it will need strong support from other agencies, like the Education Ministry and the Manpower Ministry, employers, and unions.

To drive support for this initiative, a tripartite committee involving the government, employers, and unions will be set up. It will be led by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. Mr Lee said: "It will develop an integrated system of education, training, and progression for all Singaporeans, and promote industry support and social recognition for individuals to advance, based on their skills."

In that respect, Mr Lee said the Public Service is doing its part, offering fulfilling careers to non-graduates. He cited the Singapore Armed Forces as an example of an institution which offers many paths upwards for non-graduates and military experts. He said this shows that beyond academic qualifications, the SAF also recognises leadership and abilities.

Another example is in the nursing profession, where many senior nurses started their careers without a degree, and worked their way up, said Mr Lee. He then pointed to recent enhancements to improve the pay and career development of those in the profession.

Even so, Mr Lee reassured Singaporeans that the Public Service can and will do more - for example, by giving more weight to job performance and relevant skills rather than qualifications, and promoting non-graduates more quickly to what used to be considered graduate level jobs, once they have proven their capabilities.

Mr Lee emphasised that two strategic factors are needed for everyone to achieve their potential - economic growth, which will create opportunities for workers, and a cultural change in how people are valued. "We must have growth in order to look after our people well. So we have to be hard-headed in order to be good-hearted," he noted.

"Singapore must always be a place where everyone can feel proud of what they do, where you're respected for your contributions and character. Anyone can improve his life if he works hard, and everyone can hope for a better future," Mr Lee added. With the right support at work, said Mr Lee, a person can achieve career advancement - whether or not he is a graduate.

Rising up Keppel’s ranks without stellar academic qualifications
PM Lee shares success stories of several staff who advanced via training, skill acquisition
By Tan Shi Wei and Laura Philomin, TODAY, 18 Aug 2014

Graduating from Singapore Polytechnic, Mr Abu Bakar joined Keppel Shipyard as an assistant safety officer in 1990. Today, he is the chief executive officer of Nakilat-Keppel Offshore and Marine, a Keppel joint venture in Qatar.

His story was one of several told by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Keppel staff who have risen through the ranks through training and acquisition of new skills, though they did not have stellar academic qualifications.

Mr Abu Bakar recently graduated from Singapore Management University with an Executive MBA, which was made possible only after former Keppel chief executive Choo Chiau Beng wrote him a testimonial — as he did not have any degree qualifications.

The Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee hopes to help more polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates tread the path charted by Mr Abu Bakar, with more emphasis on mastering skills and gaining relevant qualifications along the way.

In his National Day Rally speech, Mr Lee said: “There are different ways to deepen one’s skills and knowledge, by learning on the job or going for higher qualifications as you work, progressively, or both. You should look for the best ways to learn. Learn what is relevant and apply that. Don’t go on a paper chase for qualifications or degrees.”

Mr Lee pointed out that Mr Abu Bakar did not need a degree to be promoted to a colonel as an operationally-ready National Serviceman, commanding an infantry brigade.

Other Keppel success stories Mr Lee highlighted included that of Ms Dorothy Han, an ITE graduate who rose to lead 62 people in the pipe design section of the engineering department, and Mr Roy Lim’s, a secondary school drop-out who became one of two shipyard managers of Keppel FELS. The pair together manage 12,000 workers in Keppel’s two biggest yards in Tuas.

“Keppel illustrates that you can progress by acquiring deep skills and knowledge throughout your career,” said Mr Lee. “Pathway and opportunities to upgrade and to get better qualifications will remain open throughout your career.”

At the same time, employers must value staff and develop them to take on higher responsibilities. “With the right support at work, you can advance in your careers whether or not you are a graduate. This is the culture shift which we need,” he said.

Keppel Offshore and Marine’s (Keppel O&M) campus recruitment efforts include active collaborations such as internship programmes and regular talks at educational institutions such as ITEs and polytechnics.

Structured development schemes for new employees, ranging from those who have completed N-Levels to fresh graduates with diplomas or degrees, are also in place to provide them with the knowledge and skills to have a good head start in the company.

For example, the Management Traineeship Scheme is a two-year intensive development programme that Keppel O&M has for fresh graduates with diplomas or degrees, which comprises classroom training, job rotation and networking opportunities. Keppel O&M also has an Employee Development Scheme to sponsor employees who wish to further their education regardless of their educational level.

When asked what he thought of society’s fixation with academic grades, Mr Abu Bakar said: “There are some merits, although being too focused on academic qualifications can cause us to stereotype.

“We all go through experiences in life and I believe it is these experiences that make a person complete.”

No degrees, but they succeeded in their careers
By Sandra Davie, Amelia Teng And Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2014

MS RACHEL Aw, 28, took the road less travelled when she went to work in the Les Amis Group of restaurants after completing her polytechnic studies. She went from trainee to sommelier in five years before she took a degree partly paid for by her employer.

Mr Muhammad Munir Ahmad, 29, chose to work as a trainee technician at Rolls-Royce on graduating from Temasek Polytechnic. He did so well he is now finishing a degree through night classes.

Both these young people said going out to work first helped them discover their passions and talents, and honed skills they can now take to a higher level.

Employers and job recruiters responding to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call to set up schemes to allow non-graduates to rise in their careers said that not every young person is willing to take the route chosen by these two. Many prefer the more conventional path of chasing a degree before joining the workforce.

For Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates who have always lagged behind university graduates in career prospects, Mr Lee said on Sunday they will get a boost through a tripartite committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to help match their skills to the right jobs so they can move up.

The committee will put in place an integrated system of education, training and career progression for all Singaporeans.

Currently, around 30 per cent of a cohort go on to study in local universities. Others go abroad or to a private school to get a degree.

Employers welcome the move to help more young people without degrees rise through job performance and skills, but said one thing that must change is the common belief that a degree is the only fast track to a good career.

Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm PeopleWorldwide, said: "The myth that you need a degree to be successful has to be debunked."

Job recruiters say some firms do place more weight on skills and experience when promoting staff than on paper qualifications.

In restaurants and hotels, for instance, ITE and poly graduates can work their way up to become managers, said Restaurant Association of Singapore president Andrew Tjioe.

Food and Beverage Managers' Association president Cheong Hai Poh agreed but said a degree would help for some top positions, like chief executive of a hotel group. "At that level, some further education is important to increase your knowledge of the industry."

Still, recruiters noted that bosses must be willing to pay ITE and poly graduates accordingly.

"Firms need to move them up the ranks if they perform well and give them graduate-level salaries," said Mr Leong.

He agrees with PM Lee, who said a societal shift can come about only when people respect blue-collar and technical jobs.

"This effort to educate people must start from a young age. We must ensure no jobs are scorned," said Mr Leong.

Taking the road less travelled pays off
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2014

MANY of her peers in the hospitality management course were heading straight to university after completing their diploma studies, but Temasek Polytechnic graduate Rachel Aw decided to take on a job as management trainee at the Les Amis Group of restaurants after completing her three years of study.

Now, Ms Aw, the franchise operations manager for the group, also has a hotel administration degree under her belt - from the renowned Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, no less.

The 28-year-old is glad that she took the path less travelled by working for five years before heading for a degree. "Now, looking back, I am glad I went out to work first. It allowed me to hone my skills and knowledge and discover where my interest and talents lie in the industry," she said.

After just six months at Les Amis, her employers recognised her interest and knowledge of wines, and made her a commis (assistant) sommelier. Then, in August 2007, she became a fully fledged sommelier at La Strada, the group's Italian restaurant.

Just 22 then, she was one of the youngest people here to become a fully fledged sommelier. The group also agreed to co-fund her education at Cornell when she told them of her plans to study for a degree.

"By then, I knew I wanted to stay in the industry, but I also wanted to learn more so that I can do more. That's why I decided to go for a degree. The scholarship from Les Amis helped me get into one of the best hospitality schools, which I could not have afforded financially," she said.

When she came back after 21/2 years at Cornell, she was made assistant general manager of Canele Patisserie, the group's pastry arm. Recently, she was moved to the franchising business arm of the group.

She believes it is possible for young people to progress in the workplace, but stresses that bosses must provide support. "I was lucky to have started with a company that believes in investing in its people. You need that if you are going to persuade young people to stay and grow with a company."

Flying high with dream career
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2014

AFTER four years of studying computing systems at Temasek Polytechnic and not doing well in it, Mr Muhammad Munir Ahmad decided to pursue his dreams and fly high.

"I love airplanes and things associated with them, such as engines and aircraft models," said the 29-year-old who decided to switch to a course in mechatronics.

Working in the aviation industry was his dream, so when he graduated, he applied for a job at global engineering company Rolls-Royce Singapore as a trainee technician instead of pursuing a degree.

After three years, he was promoted to become a test engineer - a position usually for degree-holders - in January this year.

His job is to run tests for production engines such as the Trent 900 which powers the Airbus A-380, the world's largest passenger plane, after they are assembled.

"I didn't think I would be promoted so fast. The company really looks at our abilities and performance on the job, and our willingness to learn new skills," he said.

The company has also provided on-the-job training for him, by sending him to Derby, its manufacturing facility in Britain, for six months in 2012.

To deepen his knowledge, he has been attending night classes since August last year, about two to three times a week at the Air Transport Training College, an aerospace training school in Seletar.

He will graduate from the University of Technology, Sydney next year with a bachelor of engineering science in aerospace operations.

"In this industry, skills-based experience is very important, and that comes on the job. That's why I chose to work first. Upgrading opportunities will always be there," he said.

Cultural shift in way people are valued ‘long overdue’
MPs and observers are unanimous in asking Public Service to take the lead, saying it has much room for improvement
By Joy Fang, TODAY 19 Aug 2014

The Prime Minister’s call for a cultural change in the way Singapore values its people has been backed by several Members of Parliament and observers.

Describing such a shift as long overdue, they were unanimous in asking the Public Service to take the lead, saying it has much room for improvement in this area.

During his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 17), Mr Lee Hsien Loong said a cultural shift is needed to ensure Singapore remains a place where everyone can feel proud of what they do and is respected for their contributions and character. The Public Service will do its part, he added, such as by placing greater weight on job performance and relevant skills instead of just starting qualifications. The Public Service Division said on Monday that it will provide more information soon.


MPs and observers made several suggestions: For example, an apprenticeship scheme could be set up in the Public Service for talented non-graduates. There could also be a deliberate effort to recruit more polytechnic graduates. Institute of Technical Education scholarships or bursaries could also be offered to students interested in pursuing blue-collar jobs in the Public Service.

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng said non-graduates could be put through a period of structured training under the apprenticeship scheme. If they prove themselves on the job, they should be fast-tracked into graduate-career jobs, she proposed.

Suggesting that the Public Service does more to hire non-graduates, Mr David Ang, director of capability and business development for Human Capital Singapore, nevertheless acknowledged that there might not be many takers for ITE scholarships or bursaries as few Singaporeans are attracted to blue-collar jobs.

During the rally, Mr Lee noted that the Public Service already offers fulfilling careers to non-graduates. For example, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) recognises leadership and abilities, and not just academic qualifications. Still, the Public Service can and will do more, he said.

Indeed, the MPs and observers cited numerous HR practices that the Public Service should re-examine: Different pay scales pegged according to a public servant’s academic qualifications, the use of Current Estimated Potential to determine how high an employee can rise, and a preference for scholars, among other things.


Joo Chiat MP Charles Chong, a diploma holder who rose through the ranks in the private sector, said that with more Singaporeans getting a tertiary education, a mindset change “should have taken place a long time ago”.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh said the Public Service’s emphasis on academic results is deeply entrenched. He cited the example of the uniformed services, pointing out that he had seen many good commanders who were replaced by returning scholars. “I’ve seen scholars who are poor ground commanders and yet they get promoted,” he said.

Writing on Facebook, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the SAF has “many examples of commanders without degrees or even diplomas who rose up the ranks because of the value they bring”. He cited Second Warrant Officer Bobby Lin, 43, who joined the Army 25 years ago with three O-Level passes.

He is currently the Command and Control Intel System Warrant Officer at Headquarters, Army Intelligence. 2WO Lin recently obtained a Diploma in Business and Management Studies. “But it was not paper qualifications that enabled Bobby to do his job well or gain respect, but his skills, attitude and positive values,” said Mr Ng.

Celebrate all workers regardless of how far they go
By Janice Heng, The Sunday Times, 24 Aug 2014

My sister graduated from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), and now works as a waitress.

She doesn't plan to stay in that role forever. But neither does she dream of rising to become an outlet manager, say, or going into the corporate side of the business.

I thought of her when I was listening to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech last Sunday, in which he highlighted some ITE students who have gone far.

There was Mr William Tay, a star infocomms student who is now doing a diploma in Singapore Polytechnic. And there was Madam Dorothy Han, who now supervises 62 people at Keppel Fels.

Mr Lee shared such stories to illustrate that whether or not one is a university graduate, it is possible to thrive and advance in one's career. A bright future should be possible not just via the academic route, but also by getting good jobs, becoming skilled, doing well and getting relevant qualifications in the course of work, he said.

This shift away from the idea that a university degree is crucial for success is an important move to make.

But just as important, in my view, is for our society to respect those who cannot or do not want to climb high and are content with the jobs they have.

My sister does want to upgrade her knowledge and skills. She's thinking of studying for a polytechnic diploma. But after that, she still doesn't covet a position of power. "Maybe leading a small team, at most," she told me.

Underlying her choice is not a lack of confidence, just her self-confessed easy-going approach to life.

This does not mean she has "failed" in some way. She has just chosen her own path, and even if it doesn't lead far upwards, it's a path that should be respected.

The Prime Minister alluded to a similar idea when he spoke of the need to "respect every job, every worker" in the Mandarin portion of his speech.

Later, in English, he said: "Singapore must always be a place where everyone can feel proud of what they do."

So yes, we should celebrate those workers who rose up the ranks without degrees. But we should also value those who do not end up as leaders or managers.

We should help and encourage students in all educational pathways to think big, and all workers to rise as far as they are able and willing. But there should be no shame in choosing a blue-collar job, for instance, or in never rising to a leadership role.

One way to value every worker is to see the worth in every job, and not to belittle anyone's chosen career path.

Another is simply to treat the workers around us better.

When I was a student in Britain, I was struck by how bus passengers invariably greeted the driver upon boarding, and thanked him as they disembarked.

Greetings were exchanged at supermarket check-outs, and sometimes led to actual conversations.

In Singapore, I've seen coffee- shop diners thank the cleaning staff and shoppers return a cashier's greeting with a smile, instead of simply ignoring them.

These small gestures add warmth to what could otherwise be cold, impersonal transactions. They build a culture of acknowledging those around us - not just as staff who are there to "serve us", but simply as fellow human beings.

Recognising a job's worth also means paying a fair wage. If we are serious about valuing every worker, we have to put our money where our mouth is and accept higher prices, whether for hawker food or town council conservancy charges.

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