Friday, 29 May 2015

Secondary school students may get more entrepreneurship opportunities

An initiative to expose secondary school students to local entrepreneurship may become a regular programme, opening up opportunities for work attachments for students, says Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.
By Dylan Loh, Channel NewsAsia, Channel NewsAsia, 27 May 2015

An initiative to mark Singapore's 50th birthday by exposing secondary school students to local entrepreneurship may become a regular programme. This opens doors for students to go for more work attachments, under the initiative.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin told Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview that he has asked the relevant authorities to look into how the programme can be extended for a longer run.


The 50 Schools, 50 SMEs initiative is a key feature of celebration and community engagement plans for SG50. Under it, secondary school students embed themselves with local small and medium enterprises (SMEs), interviewing bosses or doing short work attachments of one or two days.

Mr Tan said there is value for youths to learn about entrepreneurship, which is why he had asked for the initiative to become a regular programme. If that takes off, work attachment stints for students may become a bigger feature.

Said Mr Tan: "You build up a pool of young people coming on board and realising how important, for example, our SMEs are. They're very much the lifeblood of the nation. We also know that SMEs, sometimes, do struggle, because as they try to attract manpower, people think, ‘I should join bigger companies’."

The programme lets the younger generation consider working for SMEs as a career, or start their own firms. Already, a number of students who have been through it have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.

"Starting a business can also be integrated with helping people,” said Hwa Chong Institution student Alex Cheong. “I'm interested in social entrepreneurship, in which we can help society, while trying to function as a business."

Kranji Secondary School student Dinesh Kumar said: "Singapore is going more in depth into the aviation industry and the country is turning into an aviation hub. This has shown me that being an entrepreneur in this lucrative industry may be a viable option."

Aside from giving an entrepreneurial spark, Mr Tan said his SG50 Economic and International Committee's initiative complements the national SkillsFuture movement to help Singaporeans develop deep skills and career progression opportunities. While SkillsFuture programmes are targeted more at the tertiary level, work attachment stints allow secondary school students to broaden their outlook.

"You allow students to practically apply what they learn, and so there's not just head knowledge, but they can at the same time, learn how to apply,” said Mr Tan. “To move in this area in a more extensive way is not straightforward. But it's something that we plan to develop. We're working with different sectors, we're coming on board. Some companies are coming on board. I think we will evolve the curriculum better."

This is a core strategy for workforce development as Singapore looks ahead to the next 50 years. Mr Tan said the economy will face a number of challenges tied to changing demographics. They include stagnant fertility growth rates and an ageing population in a tight labour market. Those are signs that the workforce will not be replaced so quickly in future.


Tapping older workers is one way to overcome demographic challenges, said Mr Tan. As the workforce ages, that is looking to be an increasingly practical option for companies to take, if there is a shortage of manpower.

But there are opportunities as well. Mr Tan said Singapore is in a strategic position to capitalise on growth in Asia, with large economies like China and India as bright sparks. For the Republic to gain from the opportunities, he said Singaporeans need to retain values that helped build the country in the first 50 years.

"We need to still compete,” said Mr Tan. “We need to still feel that we need to work hard. We need to be diligent because competition is real. And we need to understand how the economics dimension figure in our own survival, and even just maintaining a certain quality of life."

Mr Tan said the Government will continue to play a crucial role in steering the country, so the system of clean governance must be kept, with corruption at a minimum, to continue to attract businesses to spur growth.


Mr Tan, who is co-chair of the SG50 Economic and International Committee overseeing events to mark the Republic's Golden Jubilee, also said Singapore is like an SME which has steered through tough times to establish itself. But the work is far from done, said Mr Tan.

As one of the SG50 Economic and International Committee leaders, Mr Tan engages the public to mark 50 years of the country's economic progress. But he said there is a need to look beyond headline economic growth figures, to companies which have driven the growth.

"The values that we find in many of these companies that have succeeded actually mirror a lot of the values, I think, that we exhibit as a nation as well,” said Mr Tan. “So I think the idea really was to celebrate our companies.”

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