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Wanted: A S'pore ethos that values one's mastery of skills

Govt to be 'enabler' under a masterplan for working adults to deepen job skills

[SINGAPORE] The government will revamp the existing Continuing Education and Training (CET) system so that Singaporeans, regardless of their qualifications, can build and deepen their skills throughout their careers.

The new masterplan, CET 2020, comes hot on the heels of the Aspire (Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review) committee's report, which unveiled a raft of proposals to give polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education graduates the best opportunities to progress in life.

Spearheaded by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), CET 2020 will support the government's ongoing efforts to restructure the economy and build a career-resilient workforce.

Crafted to address the needs of working adults, the masterplan will also support the work of a new tripartite committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. This committee, first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally in August, is called the SkillsFuture Council and will comprise people from the government, employers and unions.

Mr Tharman, speaking at the opening of the new Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar on Wednesday, said the council will strive to help every worker develop skills relevant to the future.

As Singapore looks to build a future based on the "mastery of skills" in every job, he said that every stakeholder - individuals, employers, educators and trainers - had to take responsibility and play their respective roles.

In a 50-minute speech to more than 200 guests including Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and labour chief Lim Swee Say, he said that the government will be an "active enabler" in these efforts.

Mr Tharman, who was education minister from 2003 to 2008, said the government would invest in hiring professional career counsellors for schools, tertiary institutions and career centres.

There will also be funding for small and medium-sized enterprises and others that need help in investing in their employees.

He called on the people to move beyond mere competence and doing a regular job towards mastering their skills. The ethos of Singapore's society has to be one where people cherish and respect one's mastery of skills, regardless of the job.

Mr Tharman also made the point that developing deep skills cannot be achieved overnight. He advised workers to stay in their field - even if it is with different employers - so as to gain experience and deepen their expertise over time.

He painted a vision of Singapore supporting "meritocracy through life", where people are properly assessed at each stage of their lives, regardless of their background and educational qualifications.

"That's a true meritocracy. We must aim to develop that meritocracy and we can, because we have the culture, resources and we have to work together to achieve this," he said.

On a broader level, he spoke of how education and the development of human capital had been at the heart of Singapore's transformation over the years.

"More and better education for all has led to remarkable social mobility over the last five decades. It has enabled better jobs, higher incomes and improved standards of living for all Singaporeans," he said.

Singapore is now moving into a new phase in its development, both in education and as a nation, he noted.

The Republic already has a school and tertiary education system that is well regarded around the world. In this next wave of development, the government will build a "first-rate system" of CET to enable people to learn throughout their lives.

He added that while Singapore is no longer a developing economy, it is not yet an advanced economy with the skills, productivity and incomes equivalent to those of the world's leading nations.

"In our next phase, we will make Singapore an advanced economy and a society with opportunities for every citizen to develop themselves to the fullest," he said.