Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at the Launch of “A Nation of Skilled Talents” at the Marketplace, Future of Us Exhibition

Published Date: 30 December 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches


Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. It is my pleasure to be here at the launch of the book “A Nation of Skilled Talents”, authored by Dr Jonathan Loh and Mr Chadi EL Farran. Singapore celebrated her 50th birthday this year with a major National Day Parade, but the celebration will not be the same without the hundreds of ground-up initiatives. Each one of them is a labour of love for the country, by passionate individuals with a good message to send to all Singaporeans and a sincere wish for our nation.

2. All this while I was wondering why there has not been an SG50 initiative that is related to skills development. Not just because it is an MOE priority, but also because it is an important part of our nation building story. Without the skills and talents of tradesmen, craftsmen, artists and workers, we would not have the Singapore we see today. Our country is a combination of capability, efficiency, connectivity, care, service and aesthetics - all of which rests on the deep skills that we have developed.

3. But it is better late than never. Thus, I am pleased to be launching this book as we reached the end of our SG50 year. In this book, Jonathan and Chadi have documented the evolution of applied and technical education in Singapore, and featured the individual learning journeys of 50 Polytechnic and ITE graduates.

Success Stories

4. These individuals have overcome challenges and relentlessly pursued the mastery of their skills. I hope their passion and drive for learning will encourage our students to do likewise and never stop getting better at what you do.

5. Take for example Mr Izzat Ismail, who graduated in 1991 from Jurong Vocational Institute (JVI), now known as ITE College West with a National Technical Certificate Grade 2 in Digital Electronics. During his training at JVI, Izzat learnt about computer hardware and how to assemble computers from scratch. However, he wanted to also deepen his knowledge in computer software, and so concurrently pursued a Diploma in Computer Studies at a private institute. Izzat also gain practical experience by working in the IT industry. He still felt that it was not enough, because the needs of the industry were changing. So he went back to school again, by enrolling himself in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where he graduated with an Advanced Diploma in Multimedia in 1998.

6. The combination of formal education, practical work experience and skills upgrading, enable Izzat to set up his own company, to supply schools with Bahasa Melayu education materials. Today, his company also conducts educational tours and workshops for students. So maybe Izzat is going to take up a tourism course next.

7. Another story I would like to share is that of Ms Judy Wee. Judy was working in a company that offered her a scholarship to study a diploma program at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, which she joined, as the most mature student in class. Judy is also a wheelchair user, but the school included Judy in all activities and gave as much support as they could, including working with Judy to improve barrier-free accessibility within the school. After her diploma, Judy decided to further her studies at university, obtained a Masters degree in Accessibility and Inclusive Design. Now, Judy has established her own consulting company for architects and developers, so that accessibility considerations are incorporated upstream in a building’s design. Partly due to the efforts of Judy and other like-minded individuals, most of our public places in Singapore such as parks, MRT stations, HDB estates, and schools are now more accessible to persons with disabilities.

8. Izzat’s and Judy’s story are inspiring examples of identifying and seizing opportunities in one’s area of interest, maximising one’s potential, and perseverance in the pursuit of mastery. Theirs are only two of the 50 success stories featured in Jonathan and Chadi’s “A Nation of Skilled Talents”.

Committee on the Future Economy

9. These 50 stories are in turn the tip of the iceberg of the millions of Singaporeans who have benefitted from skills-based education and training over the years. It is a large part of the body of expertise and capabilities that Singapore has built up, to help earn a living and pursue our career and life goals. Developing skilled talents will continue to be a major thrust of our economic strategy. If you are smart, clever and hardworking you are a talent. But to be a skilled talent you need to discover and work on your area of expertise. Specialisation is what makes a person skilled and excellent at what he is doing. Deep specialisation makes a person creative and innovation to flourish.

10. The recently announced Committee of Future Economy (CFE) will be looking into the issue of jobs and skills for the future. It will have to grapple with some tough questions. For example, with technological advancement, changes in larger environment, and demographic changes in Singapore, how will our economic structure shift and what kind of jobs can we create for ourselves in the future? Given those jobs, what kind of skills and knowledge do we need? How can we change the way we develop a nation of skilled talents?

11. I am excited to be part of the CFE, to help address these issues. We have to tap on the views and insights of experts from the private sector, the unions, the institutes of higher learning and the Government. We need a range of opinions from people with varied experiences - from different industries; from executives as well as entrepreneurs; from those who used Singapore as a launch pad of their business as well as those who learned the ropes building businesses in foreign markets; from those who dedicated their whole career in a single trade or industry and those who made drastic switches in their careers.

12. The half century mark is a very good juncture for us to take stock of the lessons in history, and look forward and embrace the ever-changing demands and opportunities in the future.


13. Education in Singapore will continue to evolve and foster the skills and qualities in our students to prepare them for life and jobs in the future. Learning has no full-stop, and we should embrace continuous and lifelong learning. Not just for jobs and career sake, no matter how practical the motivation. But for the joy and goodness of learning, and being a better person.

14. I wish everyone here today a smooth and eventful lifelong learning journey. Congratulations to Jonathan and Chadi for putting together “A Nation of Skilled Talents”, a timely and thoughtful book, and celebrating the hard work and accomplishments of our applied and technical education institutes. Thank you and I wish everyone a happy 2016.

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