Speech By Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister For Education (Higher Education And Skills) At The Skillsfuture Study Awards Ceremony

Published Date: 09 July 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Recipients of our first ever SkillsFuture Study Award,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good morning. I am very happy to see everyone here today at this inaugural SkillsFuture Study Awards ceremony. Since the SkillsFuture Movement was launched two years ago, various people have their own take on what the Movement is about. But finally, today, we have a good answer to the question ‘What is SkillsFuture?’

2. I have three answers. SkillsFuture is - Ms Noraishikin Binte Ismail. She is 29 and today, a fantastic social worker. But she didn’t start out in social work. She was first a Programme Co-ordinator in 2008 with the Singapore After-Care Association, a voluntary welfare organisation. That was her entry into the workforce with a Higher Nitec in Accounting. After some years, she recognised that her passion was in social work. We do not have to realise our passions when we are 12 years old, and we can take our time to discover what we really like to do. In her case, it was only after she finished her accounting course and started work. So she set about acquiring the skills to transform herself – skills such as para-counselling. And through experience, she learned to work with others, serve and empathize with her clients.

3. In 2011, she enrolled for the Diploma in Social Service at the Social Service Institute and three years later, a Higher Diploma in Social Service. Today Nora is a Manager at the Singapore After-Care Association – the same place she started out at, but her work is so different from when she first started. Today, she manages volunteers, develops and plans programmes for the Association.

4. Here’s another answer to the question, “What is SkillsFuture?” - SkillsFuture is also Mr Chan Kim Ying, 67 years old this year. He is the Managing Director of Thye Shan Medical Hall. Mr Chan is responsible for the overall management of the family business.

5. Mr Chan graduated from Nanyang University back in 1972. But he has not stopped learning since then. By 1990, he had completed a Master in Business Administration as part of his preparation to join his family business in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). But he also wanted to know more about TCM as a business. So he enrolled himself in a course at the Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

6. Mr Chan is now thinking of how to expand his business beyond our shores. To help him understand how companies can take their business overseas, Mr Chan applied for the SkillsFuture Study Award for Internationalisation offered by IE Singapore. He used the award to pursue the Senior Management Training Programme on Internationalisation, offered by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy earlier this year.

7. And finally, the third answer is Mr Sim Eng Cheong. Mr Sim always wanted a job with international exposure. After completing his degree in Building Science, he joined Eastport Chartering as a trainee ship broker in 2003. In his 12 years in the maritime sector, Mr Sim developed skills relevant to his work. He did not go for Masters or PhD but he went deep into the area that he has always been interested in, such as shipping and work associated to internationalisation. So he learned things such as post-fixture operations and freight negotiation.

8. Today, Mr Sim is a ship broker, and enjoys freight negotiation and work in the fast-paced international environment. He intends to pursue a Graduate Diploma in Maritime Law and Arbitration at NUS to deepen his skills and expertise even further, enabling him to assist his charterers and ship-owners in resolving disputes that arise during work.

9. So after hearing all these stories, what do we understand to be SkillsFuture? It starts with discovering and committing yourself to a trade, craft or profession that you want to excel in, which will over time define who you are. What follows is a lifelong dedication to finding meaning in your work, in yourself. It is perseverance, dedication, curiosity and courage. As Ms Nora, Mr Chan and Mr Sim have shown us, it is a very personal enterprise.

10. What do these stories teach us? Simply put, we must be on a constant quest for excellence, to do what we can do even better. If we encounter a setback, which all of us will, we do not give up, and not let one setback define us.

11. And especially for the young, never let one set of less than stellar academic results decide your future. It has to be so because it takes one year to learn something, but a whole life to master something. It is that mastery that decides your station in life, and your recognition at work and in society. And as the stories of Ms Nora, Mr Chan and Mr Sim tell us, we can always find a path ahead to improve ourselves. Our system is not designed with dead ends – far from it – there are multiple alternate paths to take, and we have a lifetime to walk them.

12. A JC student who did not get admitted to university? It is a setback but there is no dead end. Opt for polytechnic for a hands-on education. After graduation, you will be well sought after in the industry, and with good results, you can still go to university. A polytechnic student who did not succeed in getting to university? Work first, or enrol in an Earn and Learn Programme, to gain valuable experience and pick up practical skills on the job. At some point in time, if you still want to, enrol for a part time or even full time degree programme, or any programme that help you do your work better. There are no dead ends, and as long as you walk purposefully, not aimless meandering, you’d live a full life.

13. In fact, finding the best paths ahead and overcoming setbacks is a fact of life – a process that makes us stronger. Lost a project to another bidder? Learn from it, and do your best when the opportunity presents itself again. Passed over for a promotion? Understand your strengths and weaknesses better, work on the weaknesses, and leverage the strengths. If it is because of a bad boss, then decide whether you ought to leave the company and work for a better employer. Lost an election? Improve yourself, come back 5 years later.

14. Today, we honor many men and women who display the attributes that underpins the SkillsFuture movement. None of them have a smooth ride in life, but they found a way ahead to improve and have done well in their own ways. They are real life, day to day exemplars of what SkillsFuture can do.

15. As of June this year, we have offered 349 SkillsFuture Study Awards. I am sure the award recipients will steadily increase in the years to come, as the movement gathers momentum, and skills mastery become a part of our lives.

16. Each of us can only succeed with the support from people around us - our families, loved ones, and also employers. I would like to thank all family members and employers who are here today. Thank you for your support. You have supported lifelong learning and made it possible for our award recipients to continue to find meaningful paths ahead, and develop their potential. SkillsFuture is about people creating their first chance, finding their passions and the area to focus life on. It is about people making the best use of their first chance, people like Mr Sim who found out what they want to do from a young age. They seize their chances that our education and training system can offer and continually improve themselves. It is also about people creating a second or third chance for themselves because they have a whole life to do it in a system with no dead ends. While it is a personal journey, it requires the help and support of everyone around us. Congratulations to our 349 recipients! Thank you very much.

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