Opening Address By Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at the MOU Signing Ceremony for the Power Engineering Sector

Published Date: 13 January 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Ng Wai Choong, Chief Executive, Energy Market Authority

Mr Clarence Ti, PCEO of Ngee Ann Polytechnic

Polytechnic principals, friends

Industry partners

Distinguished guests, students

Ladies and gentlemen

Introduction

1.  It gives me great pleasure this morning to witness the signing of this MOU, which will see our polytechnics and ITE collaborate with the Power Engineering industry to develop talent in this sector. 

Power Sector: Significance & Opportunities

2.  One of the great advancements of humankind which we may take for granted is the electrification of power, and Singapore is a big beneficiary of that advancement.  So today, electricity has become our main source of power, and such a big part of our lives – charging and powering lights, appliances, trains, our smart phones. 

3.  Thankfully, Singapore’s power system is one of high reliability.  The System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) measures the average duration of power interruption or blackouts per customer in a year.  I had wanted to cite our excellent record compared to other cities, but decided not to so that we will not jinx it.  But rest assured we are doing very well, and this is testament to the excellent work of all workers, management, everyone in the Power sector.  So I think rather than citing the numbers, let’s just continue to quietly work on the system, and make sure it’s always as reliable as possible.  Thank you everyone for all the hard work.  You all deserve a round of applause for it.

4.  The power system today is a complex one, with deep expertise to ensure its smooth running.  And the system will get bigger, more complex and smarter.  We will see new uses for electric power, such as electric vehicles.  We will witness greater inter-disciplinary overlaps, such as with IT, data science and other engineering disciplines.  With the momentum of the climate change agenda, there will likely be a move towards cleaner fuels and energy sources to produce electric power as well. 

5.  There has to be a new generation of Power sector experts to take this living system forward.  The urgency to do so is compounded by the fact that in 10 years’ time, 40% of our technical workforce in this sector will be near retirement age. To maintain the high standards we have achieved and keep the sector progressive and competitive, we need to attract more talent to the sector and more importantly, develop them.

6.  I am thus glad that with the support of EMA and WDA, the polytechnics and ITE are working with the industry to provide meaningful skills development opportunities and education and career advancement pathways for the Power sector.

SkillsFuture: Enhanced Internships

7.  Because power is a living, operating system that is always on, gaining practical experience while learning about the discipline is important.  For students, this will be done through internships.  Internships are important to impart to students practical working experience. They get to meet people working in the sector and understand how the real world works, how the industry really is.  It is what some describe as a make-or-break moment for both the student and the host company decide if they are indeed suitable for each other. 

8.  Take 2014 Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate Boey Sin Yee for example.  During the first two years of her Electrical Engineering course, apparently she wanted out of engineering.  But she changed her mind after her internship experience at the EMA Power System Control Centre.  So well done to EMA – you changed her mind.  Sin Yee saw dry theories come to life, and learnt new things such as how to commission new power substations.  But what she says sealed the deal for her were the amazing colleagues and the mentor she had.  Sin Yee’s mentor took the time to explain to her how power systems work, guided her, and reinforced the concepts she had learnt in school but from a practical viewpoint this time.  Unsurprisingly, Sin Yee joined EMA after graduating from NP.  Her internship mentor is now her Reporting Officer.  Sin Yee aspires to be an engineer and is now pursuing a part-time degree at NTU.  This is thanks to a meaningful internship, and more importantly, a very good mentor.

9.  Tay Kang Zheng is another good example.  Kang Zheng always knew he enjoyed hands-on work, so he took up a Nitec in Electrical Technology at ITE, and he went on to an internship at Siemens.  There, Kang Zheng learnt how to install motors and pumps, and perform various maintenance tests.  He also got to observe his colleagues doing repair work – they were very accurate and very fast, but this was only after many, many hours of training.  Kang Zheng says that it was at that moment that he realised the importance of skills.  I think that experience inspired him, because he then went on to do a Diploma in Electrical Engineering with a Power Engineering specialization at NP, and is now an engineering assistant at CPG Consultants.

10.  We will enhance the experience of internships for the Power sector.  This means extending the experience to six months, putting in a better structure, and making sure there is good mentorship and guidance, and that this is a norm and less the luck of the draw.  With the launch of enhanced internships in the Power sector, I hope many more students can have experiences that match that of Sin Yee’s and Kang Zheng’s.  More importantly, we hope to use enhanced internships to spark in students the interest in and passion for the sector.  It is a move that is mutually beneficial to students and the industry.

SkillsFuture: Earn and Learn Programmes

11.  Today, we are also launching the Power sector Earn and Learn Programme, in short, ELP.  ELPs are not for students, but for polytechnic graduates who are ready to step into the workforce.  Under the ELP, polytechnics will match fresh polytechnic graduates with jobs in the relevant sector.  In the course of the programme, the participants (or maybe we should call them apprentices) will build up their skills and knowledge through a mix of on-the-job training and institution-based learning. And at the end they will receive an industry-recognised certification at the end. This is a very meaningful head-start in their chosen careers.   And I should add that it’s not just industry-recognised, but also recognised by universities.  And so with that you can articulate further and pursue a degree if you meet the entry requirements of the university.

12.  I am thus happy to share that the first two ELPs for the Power sector will be introduced this year.  Ngee Ann Polytechnic will be offering a new Specialist Diploma in Electrical Design and Operation from October this year.  Over the 12-month programme, participants will not only gain valuable industry experience, but will also acquire knowledge and skills that will be recognised in applications for the Licensed Electrical Worker (Technician Grade) certification. 

13.  Singapore Polytechnic will also be offering a new 18-month Advanced Diploma in Power Engineering, which will start taking in participants from April this year. Upon completion of this ELP, participants will be given greater responsibilities at work, and may be able to progress to become Senior Technical Officers or Assistant Engineers. 

14.  Even before the launch today, the ELP for the Power sector has already attracted interest amongst current polytechnic students.  Gary Ng is one of them.  He will graduate from Singapore Polytechnic this April, and he aspires to become a Professional Engineer.  While he could apply for a place in the universities because he has quite a good GPA, he intends to choose the ELP route, because he can gain practical relevant experience, he will get a mentor, and not forgetting he will also start earning his first paychecks while pursuing a higher qualification.  As more ELPs are developed across different sectors as alternative pathways, I hope that more Singaporeans will seize these opportunities to pursue your areas of interest.

Moving Ahead: SkillsFuture Singapore

15.  Institution-based education and industry practicum co-exist along a spectrum – a spectrum of learning.  When we inject a structured and fairly lengthy industry experience into a tertiary education programme, we call it an internship.  At a different segment of the spectrum, when we inject structured institution-based learning into a work experience, we call it an ELP.  Internships and ELPs are programmes designed to cater to the different needs of learners at different stages of their skills development journeys, but belonging to the same spectrum.  In a programme that weighs more heavily on institution-based education, we may use GPA, aggregate scores and other holistic assessments to ensure that the students can cope with the programme and will take it seriously.  In a programme that weighs more heavily on practice, the acceptance by industry of the participant becomes much more critical than aggregate score or GPA.  This is why system-wide, the polytechnics and ITE generally do not impose GPA criteria for ELPs.

16.  While both internships and ELPs fall along the same continuum or spectrum, they are currently driven by separate agencies – internships by the educational institutions which come under the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) purview, and the ELP by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) which comes under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

17.  Yesterday, we announced the restructuring of WDA and the Council of Private Education (CPE) into two new statutory boards – SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore.  SkillsFuture Singapore will come under MOE’s purview, while Workforce Singapore will come under MOM’s purview.  CPE will be integrated into SkillsFuture Singapore.  

18.  If all this sounds confusing, what it means is that all functions in WDA relating to skills development will now come under SkillsFuture Singapore, under MOE, which means all SkillsFuture functions and initiatives will now come under MOE.

19.  This is a timely move that will enable us to achieve greater synergies in the development of manpower and skills.  Education and lifelong learning will be integrated as one.  This will make us look at education differently – that it is no longer just confined to schools and institutes of higher learning, but is a personal lifelong pursuit for mastery and excellence.  This will also make us look at lifelong learning differently – that it is not just about taking a course so that I can get a job, or have a switch in career or cultivate a hobby, but it is a personal journey, about deepening and broadening the foundation we have built through the education system, and making us even better.      

20.  With this change, we can pursue skills development and support lifelong learning in a more holistic and coherent fashion, gradually erasing the lines drawn between Pre-Employment Training and Continuing Education and Training, and at the same time, with this structure, we will begin to bridge qualification systems in the academic and work skills development domains.  Taking today’s announcement as a specific example, we must be able to drive both enhanced internships and ELPs together in a coherent manner in the interests of students and industry, recognising that they are complementary components of the same academic to practice-based learning spectrum, and working with the same set of industry partners to develop these programmes.

21.  These changes are made in the spirit of making things better.  In the commercial world, companies reconfigure and re-organise themselves all the time to adapt to changes in the larger environment and industry.  The Government is not subject to such commercial and market disciplines that would force such changes.   But we will continue to exercise the discipline to do so when we see that a reconfiguration can make things better.  

22.  Notwithstanding these changes, SkillsFuture will continue to be a tripartite effort, and will still require close partnerships across Government, industry as well as unions.  SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore, ITE, the polytechnics and even NTUC’s e2i, can form a network of SkillsFuture organisations to drive the movement, with a continual exchange of talents for exposure and for learning.  This will be a new and improved engine to power the SkillsFuture movement forward.

Conclusion

23.  Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to thank EMA, WDA, the polytechnics and ITE, and industry partners for coming together to support the Power sector through the various SkillsFuture initiatives.  Each of you plays an indispensable role in developing the sector.

24.  Today’s MOU signing marks an important step up for the Power sector.  Your efforts will go a long way – not just in raising Singapore’s engineering standards and encouraging the younger generation to take up engineering as a career, but also in developing young talent and helping them fulfill their aspirations.  And as SkillsFuture Singapore enters the picture, I look forward to seeing even more of such ties being forged.  Together, we can continue to develop an integrated, high-quality and industry-responsive education and training system, where every Singaporean can learn and grow at every stage of their lives.

25.  Thank you and I wish you all a happy new year ahead

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