Keynote Address by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at the International Trading Professional Conversion Programme

Published Date: 28 July 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Seah Moon Ming, Chairman, IE Singapore,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. Good afternoon. As a start, I would like to thank the team for working on the International Trading Professional Conversion Programme (PCP). This is a one-year programme developed by IE Singapore and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), together with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Academy and the Singapore Management University (SMU), which leads to a Specialist Diploma. I like that it leads to a Specialist Diploma as it gives trainees the sense that they are acquiring the skills, instead of collecting qualifications.

2. We have 23 companies here without whom this PCP would not be able to take off. In 2008, although the economy was slowing down because of the global financial crisis, we had the two Integrated Resorts which became a big absorber of employment. We do not have that today. The economy is still growing today, but at a slower pace, and we do not have these big employment generators.

3. Drip by drip, we have rolled out PCP after PCP to make a difference and to bring hope and opportunity to our workforce. PCPs have been around for a long time – it is about retraining a person so that he is able to enter into a new industry, and recognises that individuals may need a few careers in their lifetime. After you graduate, in the middle of your career, you may find that the sector that you are in is no longer growing, and may even be declining, and you find yourself having to switch sectors. It is a lot about the resilience, resourcefulness and determination of the person affected. I think that programmes such as the PCP facilitate that process, but it ultimately depends on the individual to have the resilience.

4. There is often the question that while we are promoting SkillsFuture – which is about focusing on what you want to do, being passionate about what you want to do, and mastering the craft – we also have the PCP which supports individuals who are changing their careers and skills. Sometimes, I find that some may not be able to understand or reconcile the two concepts. However, the two concepts are quite similar. In my view, in order to switch careers and switch from one sector to another, individuals must have deep skills in one sector. Without having the depth in one sector, you will not be able to switch to another. You have to enter one sector, be passionate about it, dive deep into it and really learn the craft. Eventually, if the sector is no more or has declined, your new employer may then recognise your determination and resilience in that sector.

5. In line with that, we have been saying that workers need to be trained in T-shaped skills, where the vertical refers to the depth and the technical skills of the sector you are in, and the horizontal refers to generic skills which will enable individuals to change sectors. This is an unfortunate description as it implies that horizontal and vertical skills are distinct. In addition, due to the way we write ‘T’, it gives you the impression that when you learn, it is sequential – that you learn generic skills first, followed by depth. In reality, you learn them together. For example, as a trade negotiator, you gain depth when you do trade negotiation as you would have to understand the intricacies of a trade agreement and how trade works. You will learn the horizontal skills at the same time because as you negotiate, you will learn traits such as communication and ways to rally a team. You will have to learn generic skills in the context of depth in a particular vocation. I prefer describing this as an A-shaped process instead, where you start at the top and learn breadth and depth at the same time. This is how we learn. If you do that, when the time comes for you to switch industries, you will find that you have depth and breadth at the same time to be able to switch. That is the concept behind PCPs.

6. International Trading is a good area for PCPs. Today, we have over 30 PCPs and counting, and I think that the International Trade PCP is a good addition. As Ark Boon mentioned, International Trading is really the lifeblood of Singapore. I think that this PCP has much potential, and will allow you to expand into something deeper that we can become good at as a nation.

7. Most importantly, PCPs cannot work without the support of companies. Companies come forward not just to offer the places, but more importantly, it is the culture within the company and the HR practices of the company to have a system where you can allow young and old to survive together. Every CEO I know will say that they welcome older PMETs to join the company. Whether it can be done will differ from CEO to CEO in ensuring that your company is able to absorb them and have them be able to get along with the young ones. One of the key factors how this can work is to have a group of senior individuals in the company who are very deep into the industry act as mentors.


8. On that note, thank you very much once again for your support. Let’s hope we can continue to grow this PCP, master the craft of trading and continue to make Singapore the number one trading nation in the world.

Share this article: