Skillsfuture Singapore Agency Bill Second Reading Speech

Published Date: 16 August 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. Madam Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time.”

2. The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the establishment of a new statutory board to drive the implementation of SkillsFuture. It will be known as SkillsFuture Singapore, or SSG for short.

3. Madam, the establishment of SSG represents yet another milestone in Singapore’s journey to build a nation of learners who have the drive to continually pursue their interests and passions, upgrade their skills, apply themselves productively, and master their craft. This is a journey which started decades ago. I see it categorised broadly into three phases.

Brief history of Singapore’s skills development landscape

4. The first phase was when we were learning to survive, broadly starting from the 1950s to the 1970s. The key imperatives were to impart basic employability skills, raise levels of literacy and numeracy, and stem high unemployment rates. The Adult Education Board, or better known as Lembaga to many Singaporeans, was formed in 1960 to train our adult workforce. Singapore Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic were established during this period.

5. In the 1980s, Singapore started to move up the value chain and contend for choice investments, and so the second phase was learning to compete. Many key elements of the supporting infrastructure for lifelong learning were born in this period. For example, the Skills Development Fund (SDF) was established in 1979 to support workforce skills upgrading. The Vocational and Industrial Training Board, which evolved into present-day Institute of Technical Education (ITE), was also founded in 1979. The German, French and Japan-Singapore Institutes, set up with the help of MNCs, were combined to form Nanyang Polytechnic.

6. By the turn of the century, Singapore’s economy had already achieved significant breadth and depth. So we entered the third phase, which is learning for life. The public education and training landscape evolved into one of many pathways that an individual may choose to pursue. We established more institutions, such as the Republic Polytechnic and the Singapore Institute of Technology. Existing institutions started to roll out various programmes – part-time and full-time, pre- and post-employment training – and across various industry sectors and career stages.

7. At the same time, the Government established the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) in 2003 and helped to accelerate a shift from an employer-centric skills adult training system to one that placed greater focus on the individual. WDA worked with private training providers to set up Continuing Education and Training Centres which offered subsidised training. Such supply-side interventions meant that training subsidies were made available directly to individuals, with or without employer sponsorship. The learning for life phase is therefore most notable for empowering individuals, and encouraging each one of us to pursue our interests and what we are best at.

8. Madam, I recount this historical process because they laid the foundations for SkillsFuture today in three ways. First, we have developed a high-quality education and training landscape, anchored by strong institutions, both in the public and private domain. Second, we have started to draw tighter linkages between work and training, by encouraging the participation of employers in skills development and ensuring the relevance of skills training programmes. Third, we have also started the shift towards greater individual ownership and empowerment.

9. So, the launch of SkillsFuture in 2014 is a continuation of that evolution process. But SkillsFuture is more than just these schemes and programmes to drive higher productivity and mastery; and it is certainly not just about the $500 SkillsFuture Credit. It is also about societal mindsets, and the way we value and recognise people of different talents, beyond traditional definitions of success.

Formation of SSG: Longer term foci and objectives

10. As its very name suggests, SSG’s mission is to take SkillsFuture forward in the long term, by:

  1. First, developing an integrated, high-quality and responsive education and training system;
  2. Second, strengthening a culture of lifelong learning and pursuit of skills mastery; and
  3. Third, fostering employer recognition and ownership of skills.

11. We are restructuring WDA into SSG and WSG, with SSG being part of the MOE family. This is not for administrative or bureaucratic neatness but it is to draw better synergies between the work of MOE and SSG. To do so, in the immediate term, SSG will focus on five key priorities:

Priority 1: Leveraging PSEIs for delivery of lifelong learning

12. First, we will better leverage post-secondary education institutions, in other words, autonomous universities, polytechnics and ITE, to deliver training and development for adult workers.

13. Under SkillsFuture, these institutions will expand their range of programmes to support skills deepening for adult learners, by offering more bite-sized and industry-relevant courses. These can be delivered through centres or units within those institutions dedicated to adult training and lifelong learning.

14. As a statutory board under MOE, SSG will coordinate and increase the range and quality of these skills-based training programmes offered by both the PSEIs and private training providers.

Priority 2: Integrating work and study for a responsive skills training ecosystem

15. The second priority is to integrate work and study for a responsive skills training ecosystem. This is something that is already in progress. For instance, WDA currently champions the SkillsFuture Earn-and-Learn Programme, in which fresh polytechnic and ITE graduates undergo on-the-job and classroom training to deepen their skills.

16. Looking ahead, SSG will work in tandem with the PSEIs to increase the scale and scope of implementation for the Earn-and-Learn Programme, facilitate more extensive workplace training, and pilot the cooperative model of education at the university level.

Priority 3: Better guidance for students and workers

17. Today, MOE is expanding and enhancing its education and career counselling services in schools and institutes of higher learning. WDA has over the years built up capacity to advise workers on career options, training pathways and assist them on their job search. This is an area that requires more work as there is a greater interest amongst adult learners now to go for training because of SkillsFuture Credit. Under the new structure, the resources will be grouped under SSG.

18. So the third priority is that as study and work grow to form more of a seamless continuum, there can be greater coordination between SSG and the education and career counsellors in education institutions, to help all learners, students as well as workers, discover their strengths and interests, chart their learning pathways and careers.

Priority 4: Expanding skills-based progression pathways

19. The fourth priority is to expand skills-based progression pathways by facilitating the inter-operability of qualifications. As far as possible, what you learn under one qualifications system can be recognised by other qualifications systems. This will better ensure every training achievement is a step forward in a system where there are no dead ends.

20. For example, graduates from Singapore Polytechnic’s Earn-and-Learn Programme leading to an Advanced Diploma in Applied Food Science will now be able to progress to SIT’s Bachelor of Food Technology with Honours, with exemption from the 28-week work portion of the Integrated Work Study Programme.

21. In the coming months and years, SSG will drive the advancement of such arrangements, and bring about inter-operability of qualifications across the education and training landscape, at a systemic level.

Priority 5: Integrating accreditation and quality assurance frameworks between WDA and CPE

22. The fifth priority of SSG will be to harmonise the accreditation and quality assurance systems of WDA and the Council for Private Education (CPE).

23. Today, WDA and CPE are separate statutory boards that run different quality assurance and regulatory frameworks for the adult training and private education sectors respectively.

24. With the establishment of SSG, the regulation of the private education sector will come under SSG. The considerations for regulating adult training and private education are somewhat different, but we can rationalise and streamline wherever we can to reduce duplication and for better efficiency.

25. As a first step, SSG will cross-recognise registration and accreditation requirements for selected training providers that are currently subjected to both WDA’s and CPE’s requirements. These changes can take effect by the time SSG is formed.

Explanation of the SSG Bill

26. Madam Speaker, I will now turn to the Bill and outline the key Parts and clauses.

Part Two – Establishment, Functions and Powers of Agency

27. Part Two establishes the SSG Agency and details the functions and powers of SSG.

28. Clause 5 under Part Two outlines the functions of SSG. In the performance of its functions, SSG will address the current, emerging and future workforce skills requirements, ensure a responsive system of education and training, and look into increasing workforce productivity and Singapore’s international competitiveness. I will now describe in detail some of the key functions of SSG.

29. First, SSG will facilitate skills acquisition and lifelong learning through planning and developing policies, programmes, and services that provide or support the provision of adult and further education; promoting a national approach to such education and general enthusiasm for lifelong learning; undertaking research relating to such education; and identifying the key skills and competencies needed by the Singapore workforce.

30. Second, SSG will facilitate the improvement of quality of courses in adult education or further education provided in Singapore. This can include accrediting or facilitating accreditation of providers of adult or further education.

31. Third, SSG will foster and ensure the collaboration between SSG and the Workforce Singapore Agency where there are areas of synergies. This SSG function will be enabled by a specific clause in the Bill on cooperation and collaboration with the WSG. This same clause is also mirrored in the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (Amendment) Bill.

32. Clause 6 describes the powers accorded to SSG to allow it to carry out the stated functions, which I have just described.

33. Other general powers of statutory boards, such as the power to enter into agreements and enact financial decisions etc., are also included.

Parts Three to Six

34. I will now deal with Parts Three to Six of the Bill, which set out the corporate structure and governance of SSG, and the personnel and financial provisions.

35. Part Three provides for the appointment of the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and other members of the governance board of the SSG, their tenure, remuneration, conditions for qualification, as well as conflict of interest disclosure requirements.

36. Part Four sets out the procedures for meetings of the governing board. Clauses 34 to 36 under this Part provide for the appointment of committees for purposes which are better regulated and managed by committees. The SSG can delegate the performance or exercise of any of its functions or powers to such committees, amongst others.

37. Part Five covers personnel matters including the appointment of the Chief Executive, employees, the treatment of employees as public servants for the purpose of the Penal Code, the need for preservation of secrecy, and the protection from personal liability for performing, in good faith and with reasonable care, functions under this Bill.

38. Part Six of the Bill provides for financial provisions of the SSG and contains the standard provisions found in the Acts of other statutory boards. SSG will have to prepare annual estimates of income and expenditure for each financial year, with separate estimates for the Skills Development Fund, which will come under the charge of SSG.

Part Seven – Administration and Enforcement

39. Part Seven deals with the administration and enforcement powers of SSG. The powers are largely similar to those provided for the performance of functions under WDA today.

Part Eight – Transfer of Undertakings to SSG

40. Part Eight of the Bill concerns the transfer of undertakings from CPE and relevant parts of WDA to SSG.

41. Specifically, Clause 66 defines and provides for the transfer of relevant assets and liabilities of CPE and relevant parts of WDA to SSG.

Part Nine – Consequential and Related Amendments to Other Acts

42. And finally, Part Nine deals with consequential and related amendments to other Acts.

43. This includes the setting up of a Committee for Private Education under SSG to undertake its powers and functions under the Private Education Act.

44. As the administration of the Skills Development Fund will now come under SSG, consequential amendments are being made to the Skills Development Levy Act. This is done through Clause 74.

45. With the establishment of SSG, there could be overlaps between the stated functions of SSG and ITE, as well as between SSG and the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (SPRING). Clause 76 makes consequential amendments to the ITE Act to simplify it and remove the duplication. Clause 77 does likewise for SPRING.

46. Madam Speaker, in conclusion, this Bill provides for a new organisational structure within the Government to further the efforts of SkillsFuture. This will ensure a responsive and industry-relevant system of education and training, in which every person is a lifelong learner in pursuit of skills mastery.

47. Madam Speaker, I beg to move.

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