Friday 7 November 2014

SkillsFuture Council begins work: Driving national effort to develop skills for the future

Shorter, more relevant training plans for workers
New council looking at ways to develop deep skills among Singaporeans
By Amelia Tan And Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 6 Nov 2014

TRAINING programmes for workers will be shorter, more manageable and relevant to the industry as a national effort to develop deep skills among Singaporeans gets under way.

But the journey will be a long one and both employers and educational institutions must lend their support, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

Speaking to the media after the first meeting of a new national council that will drive programmes to develop deep skills in workers, he laid out three areas that the council will work on.

One is that training courses need to be kept bite-size and modular, to encourage workers to go for them. By keeping training modules short, the hope is that workers will be more willing to make the sacrifice and may even decide to enrol in more courses.

Second, companies must invest in talent and reward workers for their mastery of skills. More importantly, there should be guidelines on the kinds of skills that workers need to advance in their respective industry and careers.

Employers are a critical part of this equation and they will need to promote career advancement based on skills progression.

"Individuals feel that investing in their skills will develop their careers within the firm as well as the industry, and pays off," said Mr Tharman, who is also the chairman of the 25-member SkillsFuture council.

Third, the council agreed that the transformation of Singapore's workforce will be a long-term effort. "This is a long journey... but we have to take early steps and get some momentum into this process," said Mr Tharman.

To start the ball rolling, the council, which includes representatives from the Government, unions, employers as well as training and educational institutes, will introduce schemes targeting students, fresh school-leavers and companies next year.

The polytechnics will enhance internships in sectors such as early childhood education, hospitality, retail, construction as well as marine and offshore engineering. Some schools will also get education and career guidance officers.

Fresh polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education graduates entering industries such as logistics and food and beverage can also take part in new place-and-train schemes.

Mr Tharman also said that the private education sector is under review. But he declined to give details, saying that it was premature to talk about specific measures.

"The only way in which we can stay competitive, as well as to help Singaporeans develop themselves to the fullest and achieve their aspirations, is by developing mastery in every field," he said.

Council members said that they supported moves to provide more internships and develop long-term training programmes for workers.

Mr Oscar de Bok, Asia Pacific chief executive of DHL Supply Chain, said: "Training programmes for students, even short ones, are useful. They are familiar with our work and this helps companies become more efficient."

One challenge for the council is changing mindsets about the importance of skills versus paper qualifications, said executive director of engineering at Keppel FELS Aziz Amirali Merchant.

"The various government agencies will have to work with the institutes of higher learning to educate parents that skills are important, because that's what will relate to good jobs in the future."

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