Opening Address by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at the Work-Learn Carnival

Published Date: 15 July 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Colleagues, partners, students, Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am happy to join you today at your Work-Learn Carnival. This is our 3rd year organising this Carnival, previously known as the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Carnival. We want to make a point – to move away from using the name ‘earn and learn’. I will explain later towards the end of my speech.

2. This carnival is part of our efforts to underscore the importance of learning by doing. While formative education gives us foundational knowledge and skills, most of what we learn, including the skills we apply in our jobs today, were learned on the job.

Education-Industry Collaboration

3. Hence, we have been progressively introducing work-study programmes since SkillsFuture was launched in 2015. These intersperse academic study in the classroom with workplace learning, often within a week. Such format of learning is quite new to our education landscape, but the principles of learning by doing are not new at all. They have been around for centuries – where apprenticeships and guilds were the primary mode of learning.

4. Why do I say that learning by doing is becoming more important? Because with digital technology and automation, skills are what make a human resilient to technological disruption. Robots and computers can quite easily replace someone doing a repetitive task, but it will be much harder to replace an artisan or a craftsman demonstrating higher order skills. This is one of the key imperatives of SkillsFuture – getting everyone to learn and deepen their skills, and master their craft. That way, it will be hard for robots and computers to replace you.

5. This has significant implications on educational institutions – whether it’s the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), the polytechnics or the Autonomous Universities. They have to move away from a model of knowledge transmission through lectures, to one that involves industrial practice and accumulation of experience. You may notice how there are now internships, overseas attachments, projects, or even flipped classrooms – the entire education experience is changing because of the emphasis on experience and skills. Industries too will support a more skills-based model, to ensure that young people stepping out of education institutions can contribute almost immediately.

6. Hence, education and industry will be drawn closer together in the coming years, and industries will play an increasingly bigger role in education and training. We see that happening already.

7. If and when traditional universities are too slow to respond to the skills needs of industries, some companies will set up their own standalone corporate universities.

8. For example, the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology in England allows engineering undergraduates to develop real products and earn a salary while studying, without having to pay tuition fees. Alibaba’s Taobao University based in Hangzhou has faculty members from the company’s senior management who teach students about digital business. Ecole 42, a coding school which started in Paris, was founded on a similar concept.

9. Our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) have to evolve to ride this wave of greater industry involvement in education. There are various ways to do this, but one key initiative is to strengthen work-study pathways. Building up these pathways will take many years. We will need to build them up to be of high quality and high volume. Today, I will take stock of what has been done so far, and outline further steps that we are taking.

Progress of existing programmes

10. The SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme (ELP) was launched in 2015. Since then, we have broadened our range of work-study programmes to cover 34 sectors; spanning from diploma, post-diploma to degree levels.

11. As a result, the intake into work-study programmes has increased significantly. Last year, more than 1,800 individuals took up ELPs. Today, 8% of our polytechnic graduates go on to pursue work-study programmes at the post-diploma level. The number of employers participating in work-study programmes has also increased significantly from 46 in 2015 to close to 1,000 in 2019.

12. We have also started to track how trainees have benefited from the programmes. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has studied the wage data of the first few batches of ELP graduates, and the results are encouraging.

13. The data shows that the great majority of ELP graduates went on to work, while a small percentage – less than 4% - moved on to further their studies in autonomous universities. For those who are working, they earn an average of $2,900 six months after completing the programme.

14. This compares favourably to results from the Graduate Employment Survey for polytechnic graduates, where the median salary of polytechnic graduates in full-time employment was $2,350 six months after graduation or completing NS. The methodologies used to calculate these numbers are slightly different, but the results indicate that there is a meaningful premium if you do an ELP.  

15. Another key finding is that the wage premium of ELP graduates over polytechnic graduates is sustained, stabilising at around 10% 19 months after ELP graduation. In fact, the employment outcomes of ELP graduates compare very favourably to graduates of private degree programmes, not forgetting that students of private degrees pay high fees while ELP students earn a salary and chalk up work experience while studying.

16. To further investigate the situation and gather comparable data, SkillsFuture Singapore will be commissioning a Graduate Employment Survey of ELP graduates later this year. 

New Work-Study Initiatives

17. We will build upon what we have achieved so far to further expand our work-study pathways, in a few ways.

18. First, we will enhance the current work-learn programme offerings. In the degree space, our AUs have started a handful of Work-Study Degree Programmes. In this coming academic year, NTU will offer six new degree level programmes, covering areas such as Materials Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Data Science, and Business Analytics.

19. For the diploma and post-diploma levels, the polytechnics will roll out another 15 new ELPs in sectors such as Infocomm Technology and Advanced Manufacturing.

20. One group who will benefit greatly from work-learn programmes are ITE students. This is because an ITE education is hands-on by nature and design, and the ITE students tend to prefer learning through practical experiences. This was why we developed the Work-Learn Technical Diploma – an apprenticeship based diploma granted by ITE and clearly differentiated from polytechnic Diplomas because of its highly applied nature.

21. Today, ITE has launched 14 such Work-Learn Technical Diploma programmes. It is working on the next slate of programmes to be launched in the coming years.

22. Second, we will start new work-study programmes. At the degree level, we will start a through-train programme which links up full-time Diploma training with university modules, leading to a degree qualification. Essentially, students entering this pathway will be embarking on a Work Study Degree Programme, but starting during their diploma programme.

23. Students will have a seamless integrated pathway that combines a full-time diploma with degree studies. It will also allow for a longer and more effective workplace learning stint with the same employer. They will start off as interns during their full-time diploma programme, and progress on to become full-time employees during the degree phase. Companies will also benefit through a longer engagement with the trainees and can better plan for their deployment and career progression.

24. The entire programme will take about five years. Because of the integration of the diploma and degree course requirements, students can graduate up to 12 months earlier than if they had pursued the diploma and degree education consecutively.

25. For a start, Temasek Polytechnic will be launching two programmes for the Building Services sector and Mechatronics sector in collaboration with the Singapore University of Social Sciences and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) respectively in April 2020. More programmes are being developed and will be launched progressively.

26. We will also extend work learn pathways into the post-graduate space. SIT will launch its first Industrial Doctorate Programme and an Industrial Master Programme in the Engineering, Information and Communications Technology and Health Sciences sectors this academic year. Students can spread out the modules taken during their studies, allowing them to tailor their learning according to needs that arise from their research work. This will strengthen applied research in Singapore.

27. Third, we will strengthen our support for companies, to help them build up their training capabilities and workplace learning systems, so that more will be able to work with our education institutions for work-study programmes.

28. The National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning @ Nanyang Polytechnic (NACE@NYP) was established last year for this purpose. NACE@NYP has since worked with about 50 companies of various sizes, to set up in-house workplace learning systems. These companies have implemented structured OJT blueprints, and established career maps to chart workers’ career progression. We will ramp up these efforts in the years to come.

29. We will also rationalise the naming convention of the schemes. Now, there are the ITE Work-Learn Technical Diplomas, the Work-Study Degree Programmes and the ELP. They are all actually similar – apprenticeship-based systems and work-learn in nature, leading to different qualifications.

30. We will therefore align the naming for all our work-study programmes, and henceforth refer to them collectively as SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes (WSP). They will be further identified by their level of qualification. As such, the ITE programme will be henceforth called the Work-Study Diploma; the post-diploma programmes under the ELP will be called Work-Study Post-Diplomas; while those run by the universities will be called Work-Study Degrees.


31. In conclusion, I would like to thank our industry partners, who have lent their strong support towards the various work-study programmes. I hope to see more employers follow your lead to grow this into a significant pathway for Singaporeans. I would also like to thank our IHLs for pressing on with this important effort and demonstrating so much heart and dedication.

32. I hope everyone will keep an open mind, and explore various pathways that are now available. The Work-Learn Carnival is a useful starting point to explore the opportunities available. Seize those opportunities and look for paths that best suit your needs. I wish you all the best in your SkillsFuture journey.

33. Thank you.

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