Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education And Skills) at the School-to-Work (S2W) Transition Programme Get-Together

Published Date: 30 November 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Graduates and past participants of the School-to-Work Transition Programme,

Caregivers, employers and distinguished guests,

Introduction

1. I am delighted to join you here today at the School-to-Work (S2W) Transition Programme get-together to celebrate the successful transition from school to work for the young adults here. Starting on a new job, and embarking on a career is always an exciting moment in life. I wish all of you all the best, and a meaningful journey of learning and contribution ahead.

2. This place brings back many good memories for me. Years ago, this place where we are standing today used to be part of ITE, where many students went through this campus and were trained for skills. It was a very good use of this campus. Then, ITE was consolidated into three big campuses, East, West and Central. The Workforce Development Agency, WDA, took over this campus and moved in with a partner, the Nanyang Polytechnic. I was the CEO of WDA then. From this campus, lower skilled workers went through basic training such as English and basic work skills, so that with their Computer Adaptive Test results, they could apply for jobs. When WDA moved away, NTUC moved in through a company called Employment and Employability Institute, e2i. e2i helped unemployed workers who had lost their jobs through skills training and upgrading and assisting them to find a job. In 2008, we had the Global Financial Crisis and many lost their jobs. At that time, the Integrated Resorts were opening and offered about 20,000 jobs. From this campus, we ran one job fair a day to help place many people looking for jobs.

3. When I moved on from WDA to NTUC and became the Chairman of e2i, my office was located here in this campus. Unfortunately, the lease was due and e2i had to move out thereafter. Today, I am happy to see how this campus has been transformed into the Enabling Village for such a great cause – helping so many people. The spirit of helping people lives on and I am very proud to come back to this campus together with the partners who had put it to such good use to help the society, and this is something that we must continue to do.

Growth and Inclusion

4. We always read from paper about future economy and technological advancement, about how we must always upgrade and go higher value-add, trade with the world and work with MNCs. All these are to grow our economy. But our effort to build and to grow a vibrant economy must be balanced and accompanied by equal efforts to forge an inclusive society.

5. With a strong economy, we can have companies that are forward-looking and more inclusive in the way they hire people And with an inclusive society, we can produce a motivated workforce and talent base that work not just for the practical purpose of earning a living, but for broader aspirations and higher causes. That is why the best companies integrate social objectives into their core missions.

6. A good example is NTUC Fairprice. It is Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, organised as a non-profit co-operative, and a pioneer partner at the Enabling Village. A beneficiary from NTUC Fairprice’s inclusive hiring approach is Muhammad Rizuwan. After graduating from Delta Senior School, Rizuwan worked for a number of cleaning companies before enrolling in a Train and Place Programme for Supermarket Retail Assistants. He is now working for NTUC Fairprice and is able to contribute meaningfully at his work place. I asked him if he liked his work and he has said yes. In fact, when employers are being inclusive in your hiring approach, you also change the rest of the workforce. It has a positive effect on the tone and climate of the workplace as people begin to be more inclusive, friendlier, more patient and more able to look out for each other. I thank NTUC Fairprice as well as all our partners, Vanguard Healthcare, NUH, Hans, Pan Pacific Hotel and many others.

Efforts by Government

7. Government too can play a big part. In this regard, MSF has expanded its assistance and help to persons with disabilities, through setting up SG Enable, an agency dedicated to enabling persons with disabilities through enhancing their employment and employability options.

8. On the education front, MOE has ensured that all mainstream schools have accessibility features, such as toilets and ramps, for the wheelchair-bound at the first floor. In addition, about 90 schools island-wide are retrofitted with full accessibility features, including lifts, so that students with physical disabilities can move around in schools. MOE has also enhanced support for children with special needs in our mainstream schools through the provision of specialised manpower, school-based support services, and assistive learning devices so that it is a much more inclusive learning space for study.

9. In addition, MOE worked closely with Voluntary Welfare Organisations and Special Education, or SPED, schools to improve and expand the offers by these schools. Among others, we have enhanced teacher capacity in teaching and learning. We have also diversified educational pathways through efforts to enhance vocational curriculum. With the progress made in SPED schools, starting from the Primary One cohort in 2019, MOE will stipulate that all children with special needs who are above six years old and below 15 will have to attend school. This will ensure that all children who can benefit from formal education, will be able to do so.

10. But beyond SPED schools, many children and youths with special needs will in time have to pick up skills, in order to gain employment, independence and contribute to society. One of the frequent questions often posed to MOE has been whether we can widen the usage of the Post-Secondary Education Account, or PSEA, beyond SPED schools, to include skills training for persons with disabilities. Most recently, Member of Parliament, Ms. Denise Phua, and Nominated Member of Parliament, Ms. Chia Yong Yong, have raised this request to me in Parliament.

11. I discussed this with Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who is in charge of MSF, and we agreed that we should expand the usage of PSEA for persons with disabilities. Currently, the PSEA can be used to pay the fees for Singaporeans enrolled in government-supported SPED schools. From February 2017, the use of PSEA will include training courses under SG Enable to help SPED graduates gain a skill and stay relevant in the workforce.

12. MOE also took the opportunity to review the general usage of PSEA so that it better complements the SkillsFuture Credit programme. PSEA starts from young, and can be used up to the age of 30, after which it rolls into a member’s CPF Ordinary Account. SkillsFuture Credit starts from age 25 for a wide range of courses, about 17,000 courses, for the individual to enhance or pick up a skill. Between the age of 25-30, you can use PSEA as well as SkillsFuture Credit. I think it is a healthy overlap.

13. But we need to expand the range of courses PSEA can be used for, to reflect the diverse options in skills training, which SkillsFuture Credit does today. Currently, the PSEA can by and large be used for most courses leading to full qualifications, are subsidised by MOE, and conducted by ITE, Polytechnics, Autonomous Universities, and CET Centres that deliver courses leading to Workforce Skills Qualifications.

14. We will expand the usage of PSEA for the general public in three ways. First, we will extend the use of PSEA to all courses delivered by ITE, Polytechnics and Autonomous Universities, whether they are subsidised by MOE or by other government agencies. One example is the Diploma in Maritime and Offshore Management, conducted at the Singapore Polytechnic, which is subsidised by the Maritime and Port Authority. Second, besides courses conducted by ITE, polytechnics and autonomous universities, we will also expand the use of PSEA to government-subsidised courses offered by our publicly-funded Arts Institutions, namely, the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and LASALLE College of the Arts. Third, in addition to full qualification courses, we will also extend the use of PSEA to all the modular versions of full qualification courses. This is because this is the way learning will become. When we become adults, we learn in bit sizes. MOE will announce details in a separate announcement.

Conclusion

15. Society sometimes swings like a pendulum. Sometime when we have too much economic development, we neglect social development and inclusivity. Or we swing to the other extreme, where there is excessive social welfare, diluting assistance away from those who truly needed help to those who do not, causing wastage, erosion of work ethic and becoming a drag to the economy. The two must ideally be in balance, growing the economy and building the society. They are like two sides of the same coin, always progressing in tandem. When it is out of sync, adjustments will always be painful.

16. I thank SG Enable and its partners for your part in our nation building endeavor, and applaud every student here who is graduating today for your resilience and optimism. We wish you all the best, and that you will enjoy your work, and your companies will continue to treat you well and help you to develop your skills and make you confident and contributing members of our society. Congratulations to everyone who is graduating today.

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