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Game-changing plan to create new specialities, jobs

BT begins series on how SkillsFuture will impact different professions and industries

The SkillsFuture drive has been lauded for giving every citizen the opportunity to maximise their potential - regardless of their academic or professional background.
  • Singapore

THE SkillsFuture drive has been lauded for giving every citizen the opportunity to maximise their potential - regardless of their academic or professional background.

But beyond the individual level, the SkillsFuture push - if implemented successfully - could also mean game-changing shifts for various sectors of the Singapore economy.

For one, new skills and jobs could arise out of the initiative, especially with the development of comprehensive Sectoral Manpower Plans (SMPs).

These will chart future skills needed in each industry, and will lay out a roadmap for workers looking to advance in their respective sectors and careers. The SMPs will be drawn up by the government together with employers, unions, education and training providers, and trade associations.

Already, the government has identified a handful of key sectors to get an SMP. These include sectors facing significant manpower challenges, such as retail and food services. Essential services such as healthcare, early childhood care and education, and social services have also been identified as lead sectors.

Beyond pressing manpower needs, however, the government is looking at new growth sectors as well - especially ones that can provide fresh job opportunities for Singaporeans, such as the biopharmaceuticals sector.

In his Budget 2015 speech in February, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that these SMPs would be developed and implemented in all key sectors by 2020.

Mr Tharman also chairs the SkillsFuture Council, which is a panel responsible for spearheading the long-term national movement.

During and after the Budget debate, observers pointed to the enormity of the task at hand. Indeed, Mr Tharman himself has noted that SkillsFuture is a "significant undertaking" - and not just a five-year plan.

"This is a long journey to develop expertise and mastery in every skill and job, and to become a truly advanced society," said Mr Tharman in November, when he first unveiled the composition of the 25-member SkillsFuture Council.

Despite the impatience one might feel in wanting to see the fruits of the SkillsFuture push, economists have stressed that early results will only begin to show up in five years, at the soonest.

In fact, they say the long-term span is not only necessary, but advantageous - since a lengthy gestation period would allow more meaningful transformations to take place.

Some of these changes are already becoming visible. Earlier this month, diamond manufacturer IIa Technologies opened what it says is the world's largest "diamond greenhouse" in Singapore - an investment that is expected to create new opportunities for research into the use of diamonds for technology applications.

At the opening ceremony, Mr Tharman said that IIa Technologies is an example of how Singapore's precision engineering industry is transforming into a high-tech and high value-added one.

"Today, we see more firms in the industry redefining themselves beyond their traditional supplier role. They are moving towards the design, development and manufacture of high-mix, low-volume complex equipment for the international market," he said.

Such niche specialisations create opportunities for Singaporeans to develop high skills - a point Mr Tharman said is central to the government's SkillsFuture plans.

In the following weeks, The Business Times will look at how SkillsFuture will impact different sectors and professions in the Singapore economy. We start the series today with a spotlight on another niche space - the commodities trading industry.


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