Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), at the Launch of Singtel’s Cyber Security Experience

Published Date: 10 July 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Ms Chua Sock Koong

Chief Executive Officer, Singtel

Mr Bill Chang

Country Chair, Singtel

Friends, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

1. I am happy to join all of you today.

2. When I first joined the civil service as a policy staff officer in late 1991, I was posted to the then Ministry of Communications, or Mincom. I was in charge of land transport policy, which was challenging. But the project that got everyone in the ministry excited at that time was the corporatisation of a medium size statutory board called the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (TAS).

3. The commercial aspects of TAS, namely, fixed line telephony services and postal services, became a corporate entity, called Singapore Telecommunications Pte Ltd, later Singtel. A year later, Singtel was listed in the stock exchange, and shares were distributed to all Singaporeans.

4. The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall gave more space for the commercial sector to operate. Liberalising industries and corporatising and listing Government entities was the policy trend and conventional wisdom of the day. But beyond policy, the case for liberalisation made eminent sense for the telecommunication sector because of technological advancement. When we corporatised TAS, the advent of mobile phones was at its infancy. Although mobile phones at that time was the size of a brick, it shifted policy maker’s mindset on telecommunications - fixed line telephony may be a natural monopoly because of the national infrastructural network needed to support it, but wireless phone services lent itself to competition. So it would serve the public better to let in more players, and let Singtel be a commercial company and compete.

5. However, I do not think any policy maker at that time foresaw the unprecedented technological advancement and convergence that followed. It was not just voices that were being transmitted wirelessly. Soon, Internet Protocol allowed vast amount of data to be transferred via telephone wires, and the World Wide Web was born. Not too long later, those information were transmitted wirelessly too. And in the meantime, mobile phones got smaller and better. They fit into our pockets, and became computers and an electronic Swiss knife – a window to access phone services, an Internet browser, a camera, a music player, a game console, etc.

6. Today, we have a tremendous amount of information in our hands. Back in 1990, this is science fiction, but our children are born into this world with that as a fact of life, and a starting point. This process of technological advancement have turned companies and industries upside down. I therefore salute Singtel that after all these upheaval, it remains relevant and strong, and the largest company in Singapore by market capitalisation.

7. In the last few decades, your old revenue streams disappeared, but you built new ones – by venturing overseas, and developing new businesses such as enterprise software development and entertainment. I understand that now, cyber security is your fastest growing business segment. Yours is a gutsy story of adapting to circumstances, and thriving in a changing environment.

8. Changes are now happening throughout the economy, in every industry. It is again driven by technology – whether it is info-communications (ICT), artificial intelligence (AI) or robotics – the effect seeps deep into every economic activity. Now that I am in the Ministry of Education, I can see that it is profoundly changing the way we learn, and how we learn.

9. As knowledge advances rapidly, our foundation needs to become stronger. This refers to values, ethos, fundamental skillsets like teamwork, communications, learning to learn, passions and interests, enterprise, networking, negotiations, judgement, empathy – all of which robots and AI cannot replicate yet. Advanced skillsets such as craftsmanship, aesthetics and intricacies created by human hands, will continue to hold its place. We know hawker food dispensed by vending machines will never be quite the same as the real thing.

10. Technology will also change the way we learn. People are learning from videos and materials on the Internet, and schools, ITE, Polytechnics and Universities will increasingly do less in knowledge dissemination but more in offering experiences. Part of that experience is to expose students to industries and how organisations work. But that also means education institutions need the help of organisations, which can best offer those experiences. In preparing our tertiary students for work, our lecturers will not be able to keep up with the advancement in technology and evolving knowledge as fast as people working in the industries and fighting the competition.

11. From an organisation’s perspective, it needs people who know how to operate in its industry, and function well in its organisation. It must also get into the business of teaching its people. In other words, education institutions will develop our young to be strong in the fundamentals and help them discover their strengths and aptitudes. But the specifics and the highly technical stuff that are changing rapidly will increasingly have to be acquired at the workplace, through an adult learning structure.

12. So ironically, as technology advances more rapidly, we need to fall back on older educational structures to cope – which are the guilds and apprenticeships. But in this new era, guilds and apprenticeships must take new forms, with educational institutions and organizations to work closely together. I visited Swatch in Switzerland last year. The company is training watchmaking apprentices for the whole industry, and getting paid for doing so. I also visited Google’s office in Singapore. Similarly, they are training data analysts for the whole industry, and not necessarily running it as a cost centre. These companies are in the best place to develop talent for the industry, and their actions are good for the ecosystem which their successes depend on.

13. I believe organisations need to adapt to this new reality of talent development. We can look towards market leaders with a strong tradition of adaptability and resilience, such as Singtel, to take the lead.

14. Singtel has already made their presence felt with the opening of the Cyber Security Institute (CSI) in April last year. It is built as a hybrid between an educational institute and a state-of-the-art cyber range. The institute aims to develop cyber skills amongst Singtel’s senior management, technology and operational staff.

15. Singtel is also participating in the Cyber Security Associates and Technologists (CSAT) programme, a collaboration between Cyber Security Authority (CSA) and IMDA. Launched in 2016, the programme offers training and upskilling through on the job training for ICT and engineering professionals to make the switch to cyber security. Over the next two years, around 130 graduates and professionals will be trained by Singtel through the course and making the conversion.

16. These are useful starts, but I hope more companies follow suit, and do this as a matter of business competitiveness and necessity, adapting to a new environment, and recognising that how we learn, where we learn, is going to be different from before. At the same time, Government agencies can also ease off the expectations that the interns, trainees and apprentices need to be hired by the hosting organisation at the end of the training. Students too need to treat organisational stints as an extension of their education.

17. Today, Singtel is launching another initiative – the Cyber Security Experience (CSX). CSX is primarily a tool to nurture interest in cyber security. Through it, a learner can find out what a career in cyber security is like, and have a go at cyber challenges. Polytechnics and Universities can use it as a tool for outreach to secondary school students and for education and career guidance. Today, we are witnessing the signing of an MOU between Singtel and our education institutions to collaborate in this area.

18. I would like to congratulate Singtel on the launch of CSX. I hope that we can work together to build up a strong and talented pipeline of cyber security professionals that can keep Singapore safe and ready for the future. Thank you.

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