Speech by A/P Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education, at the Joint-Polytechnic-ITE Retail Seminar and Career Fair at Temasek Polytechnic

Published Date: 27 July 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Peter Lam, Principal, Temasek Polytechnic,

Mr David Westhead, CEO of RSH Limited, Singapore

Colleagues, students,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.


1. Thank you for inviting me to join you this afternoon. I like the theme of today’s seminar – ‘Rethink Retail’, because of all the changes there are in the retail sector, not only in Singapore, but around the world as well. It is important for us to make sure that our programs can ensure we remain relevant on a national level, so that we are able to continue providing satisfaction to customers, which is key in what they like to experience in their shopping trip.

Quickly Changing Retail Landscape

2. The retail landscape has transformed significantly over the past five years. Traditional brick and mortar shops have had to relook the way they normally do business, largely due to the impact of e-commerce. Algorithms built into e-commerce platforms today can predict what a consumer may want to buy, based on various parameters, such as his or her previously viewed items. A well-known example was how the American retail giant Target could analyse buying patterns online to identify that a shopper was pregnant, and even how pregnant the shopper was, so that they could time discount coupon offers to the shopper to encourage spending. The amount of data we generate as we shop online gives retailers information on how to market products, and increase revenue. This was information that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers did not have had access to, and is information that is shaping practices in the industry.

3. At one point, with retailers like Amazon disrupting traditional business, we thought that retailers would all move their operations online. Online shopping meant reduced costs to the consumer, as it cut the need to rent storefronts, making it more attractive to consumers. And for a time, e-commerce dominated the retail sector. And many of you young people will know this, as I know there are some of you who only shop online.

4. But today, we are starting to see a trend of retailers integrating both online and offline experiences. More and more, companies are straddling both online and real-world presence. Amazon recently acquired Whole Foods, injecting its online presence with hundreds of physical outlets in neighbourhoods all across the United States. Locally, we have Naiise, which started out as an online lifestyle retailer, expanding its physical presence through pop-up stores in malls, and, since last June, through an 8,500 square foot flagship store along the Orchard. Similarly, traditional brick-and-mortar businesses like NTUC Fairprice now take advantage of services like Honestbee to establish an online delivery presence.

5. So it is not about choosing to go online or offline, but the integration of online to offline experience, or O2O, for customers, and for retailers to understand how to find the right balance between the two. With families, if you have everything online, it can be quite boring. So you have to look at the different aspects of entertainment in shopping, because people look for a shopping experience. The offline experience becomes more important when you have a family, or children with you. It is important for you to have a right balance, and this balance may differ based on the location of your shop and the target demographics of the area of where your shop is located.

Grooming the next generation of retailers

6. We can therefore see that the next generation of retailers must possess a different set of skills. In response to this need, we launched an Industry Transformation Map for the Retail Industry last year, with 4 key prongs describing key strategies: i) increasing operational efficiency through adopting technologies both at front-of-house, and back-of-house processes; ii) redesigning and creating new jobs, iii) creating innovative retailers; and iv) building local brands to expand globally through digital channels.

7. 7. The government has partnered with industry, retail businesses, and training providers, in order to address these four prongs to transform the sector. Since the launch of the Retail Industry Transformation Map last year, our post-secondary education institutions have worked to develop new training programmes to help SME retailers attain skills that will increase their online presence.

8. Pre-Employment training offered by the polytechnics and ITE, for example, have responded to changing industry needs by revising their curriculum. For example, the Institute of Technical Education recently refreshed the curriculum in the Higher Nitec in Retail Business to include content on conducting and collating market research and understand customer preferences to implement marketing and sales plans. That is why it is important for you to have such skills, because your client base may differ, depending on the sector you are in and the location of your shop.

9. This change is not just for our younger students. The Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS-NYP), an affiliate of Nanyang Polytechnic and a SkillsFuture Singapore-supporting Continuing Education & Training Centre, has a WSQ Specialist Diploma in Retail Management, which provides fresh polytechnic graduates with the opportunity to deepen their skills and knowledge to keep up with the dynamic retail environment.

10. Our technical and vocational institutes have done well to design and deliver programmes to prepare our students for the workforce, and will continue to work closely with industry to ensure that the curriculum is able to equip students with industry-relevant skills and knowledge that would put them in good stead when they enter the workforce.

Opportunities to Learn from Industry

11. While our students may receive good theoretical education in the classroom, it is imperative that they also infuse their learning with real-world experience, and a good understanding of the economic landscape that they are entering upon graduation. This is why we provide our students with internships and opportunities to learn more about the industry. An example is how students in Temasek Polytechnic’s Diploma in Retail Management can look forward to meaningful internship programmes with Dairy Farm Group. I understand that last year, interns at Cold Storage worked with managers on digital marketing back-of-house, while rotating to work on the shop-floor to better understand consumer practices.

12. By bringing industry players on-board, platforms such as today’s career fair further support education and career guidance (ECG) efforts to help students have a better understanding of the career landscape. I understand that there will be workshops this afternoon, along with a panel discussion with industry partners. I would like to urge our students to take the opportunity to meaningfully engage our industry experts, as experience is a very good teacher. While our institutions have able and knowledgeable ECG Counsellors, it is this direct contact with industry leaders that adds a different dimension to your understanding of how to apply your training to the real world. I would like for you to keep an open mind, as this is part of your ECG process, and you should explore as much as you can. From a father’s perspective, I would like for my children to enter an area that they like and have the aptitude for, so I keep an open mind. I am very fortunate that I love my job. I would like for you to go through the same process as well, because when you love your job, it is longer just work - it becomes your life. Today, there are so many platforms for you to capitalise on, and to see what ticks for you. This is an opportunity for you to explore.


13. The real world is constantly evolving and changing, due to technological changes, social changes, and geo-political changes. What this means is that even upon graduation, it is necessary for us to keep learning so that we will remain relevant and competitive in the economy. And there are numerous opportunities for this, as MOE continues to work with training institutions to increase the number of training programmes and ensure that they remain affordable. I would like to encourage our youth to always be passionate about learning, and always think about bridging this theory-practice nexus: through applying their classroom learning on-the-job, and through bringing their real-world experiences into the classroom.

14. In closing, I would like to applaud the efforts of the polytechnics and ITE in organising such a large-scale industry-wide event. Special thanks go to Temasek Polytechnic for being this year’s lead organiser, and to SkillsFuture Singapore for working with our institutions to bring this career fair to fruition. With the Earn-and-Learn Programmes, the industry plays a very important role as well. We want to build people with the right set of skills and the aptitude to do what they aspire to do. This reaps the maximum benefits for our people. In the retail sector, our ultimate goal is to give the customers the best satisfaction. I wish you not only a great day ahead, but a great career ahead.

15. Thank you.

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