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Opening Address by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education, at the Workplace Learning Conference 2022, Lifelong Learning Institute

Published Date: 26 April 2022 09:00 AM

News Speeches

''Workplace Learning to transform our skills ecosystem"

1. A very good morning to all of you.

2. Pleasure to join you for the inaugural Workplace Learning Conference 2022.

3. I must congratulate you on your foresight to hold the event on this particular day. I would also like to welcome the guests and speakers dialling in from overseas.

4. This conference is a clear example of how we can emerge stronger from the pandemic.

  1. In 2020, when we were first struck by the pandemic, many saw the virtual and hybrid meetings as a transient practice, and that soon we would get back to in-person meetings that we were familiar with.
  2. Many of us saw the limitations, but very few of us saw the opportunities.
  3. Now, two years on, we have embraced hybrid meetings, which allows us to scale our reach through the virtual format, and yet enjoy the physical interactions of a live conference.

Training for the Future Economy

5. Instead of harking back to the "good old ways", we need to constantly evolve to find "fresh new ways." This is how we overcome challenges and seize new opportunities in an increasingly dynamic and complex world.

6. Likewise, our companies must not look back. Instead, we have to look forward to see how we can stay ahead of the competition.

  1. To seize new opportunities, we need new markets, new business models, new production processes, new products, new marketing approaches and so forth.
  2. But underlying all these, we need new capabilities, new skillsets, and new mindsets.

7. Earlier this year, at the Straits Times Education Forum earlier, I underscored that we cannot just rely on the annual pipeline of fresh graduates to meet our industry needs for emerging skills.

  1. Each year, our education system produces just 30 to 40 thousand students, against our resident workforce of about 2.5 million.
  2. If we only bank on the flow of new graduates to turn over the skills of our entire workforce, we will never catch up. It is not a workable solution to meet the clock speed necessary for the new economy.
  3. Clearly, we all agree that we must think of new ways to retrain and upskill our workforce.
  4. So, the question is how. We all know that this is the next step, but what are the fundamental changes that we need to make to our training ecosystem, in order to reach this target of refreshing the skills of our people at scale?

8. Today, I will share four observations on areas that I think we can do better, and need to do better.

Rethinking Talent Development at the Workplace

9. First observation – we need to rethink our approach towards building our talent pool.

10. Last week, I met some folks from an international employment facilitation platform. They shared two observations with me.

  1. First, too many companies only seek to hire individuals who already have the competencies to meet their needs. Too many companies are also still using a proxy "degree" or "diploma" in their search process, rather than specifying more specific skillsets in their searches.
  2. Second, too few companies focus on training their existing pool of workers or hiring individuals who show potential to meet their needs.

11. These suggest that companies still prefer to "hunt for the perfect", rather than "develop the available".

12. If companies look only to bring in fresh graduates to inject new skills or seek out and poach employees with the skillsets they need from one another, this will be a zero-sum game that is not going to increase the overall talent pool.

  1. It will just lead to a wage spiral without new capabilities.
  2. We must all break free from such a mindset if we want to stay competitive as an economy, and as a society.

13. Our progressive companies have shown us that it is possible to do things differently, and quite a few of you are here today with us.

  1. You have shown the way by adopting a different paradigm, by complementing and combining your Human Resource functions with Learning and Development functions, to grow your own timber.
  2. Instead of looking externally, they develop in-house training to build their own people to meet new business needs.
  3. The outcomes? More loyal employees, more targeted skills acquisition, more complementary skills for their new products and processes.

14. I strongly encourage more of our companies to do the same.

  1. Think of our workforce as partners in our business development journey.
  2. A culture of continual corporate improvement must and can only come about from a culture of continual development of our people and learning at the workplace.

Rethinking Adult Learning

15. Second observation, and this has to do with adult learning.

  1. Our adults want to learn.
  2. But why is it that so many adults are not learning as much and as fast?

16. We often say that adults need to go back to school.

  1. It is also tempting to simply take our pre-employment training (PET) and make minor adaptations for adult learners.

17. However, I believe this to be a fundamentally flawed and inadequate approach.

  1. Adults have many commitments, including family and financial commitments.
  2. Time is a premium. Going back to training institutions to upskill and reskill incur high opportunity costs.
  3. We need to have a deep understanding of their situation and tailor training to meet their needs.

18. We must design our "schools" to go to our adults, enabling them to learn anything, anytime, anywhere.

  1. To capture adult learners, our institutions must develop new andragogical approaches, adopt blended and adaptive learning models, and shift towards self-paced and self-directed learning.
  2. Time spent in the physical classroom must not simply be for the transmission of knowledge that can otherwise take place over digital platforms. Our adults can access this at their own time and space.
  3. Time spent back in the physical classroom must be focused on connection, collaboration and creation of new ideas, products, solutions and processes.
  4. Training content for adult learners must also be curated to account for their working experience, and should be made bite-sized for quick and easy consumption.

19. We must not make the mistake that all adult learners are the same.

  1. Adult learners at the age of 25, 45 and 65 all learn in different ways, even for the same topic, and they all come from different backgrounds and need different learning andragogies.

20. With most of us spending most of our lives at work, it is critical that we leverage the workplace as a conduit for continual learning.

  1. It is also at the workplace, where learning is most authentic and relevant.
  2. The workplace setting allows for customised on-the-job learning, that will directly benefit both the employee and the employer.
  3. This is therefore an area of rich opportunity in unlocking the potential of our human capital. This is why the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning (NACE) is so central to our SkillsFuture plans.

Rethinking IHL and Industry Partnerships

21. Now, let me share a third observation. We must rethink how our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and industry collaborate to uplift our training ecosystem.

22. Both parties have their respective strengths.

  1. IHLs, or as I call them, ICLs – Institutes of Continuous Learning – have pedagogical strengths but they will always be one step removed from the forefront of enterprise activity.
  2. Companies may be better aware of what technology or skills are in demand, but may not have the capabilities or the capacities to develop an effective training framework to fully address skills gaps.
  3. That is why our IHLs, and industry must work hand-in-hand.

23. One way they can do so is through staff exchanges.

  1. IHL faculty can take on industry attachments, while industry experts and workplace trainers can serve as adjunct faculty in IHLs.
  2. This will enable our faculty to gain the latest industry knowledge, which they can leverage to develop relevant training courses.
  3. This is especially important for faculty training and teaching adult learners, who may themselves have a wealth of industry knowledge. Being in touch with the latest trends and technology in the industry keeps our lecturers relevant so that they can make the learning for our adult learners that much richer.
  4. For example, Republic Polytechnic (RP) recently sent one of their lecturers on a five-month attachment to a deep-tech-start-up company that specialises in healthcare Internet of Things (IoT). The lecturer was able to apply his expertise during the attachment, but most importantly, he was able to bring back new knowledge and learnings to be incorporated into his classes, to benefit many more students, including adult learners.
  5. Industry, in turn, can benefit from the IHLs' education expertise to refine and improve their workplace training processes.

24. Beyond this, there is scope for IHLs and industry to establish deeper partnerships.

  1. Industries can establish centres of innovation within our IHLs, to jointly develop new solutions, and provide the necessary training to support implementation.
  2. This can also be a way to proliferate the use of leading technologies across the broader enterprise ecosystem.
  3. One example is the Sustainability Experience Centre, which Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) launched in January this year in partnership with Schneider Electric, a company specialising in energy and automation digital solutions for efficiency and sustainability.
  4. Through the Centre, NYP staff and students will work with 100 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by 2023, to co-create and implement energy efficient initiatives.
  5. The exchange of knowledge between IHLs and industry will uplift capabilities for industry transformation, as well as plant the seeds for us to do better for our adult learners.

Rethinking the Enterprise Training Ecosystem

25. Let me come to my fourth observation. Many companies want to train their workers, but do not know how to articulate the demand for training.

26. Many smaller companies will find it challenging to aggregate the demand for new skillsets and new types of training. There is a market imperfection as without the aggregated demand signals, our training institutes are unable to supply the right products, the right training, for the right people at the right time and place.

27. We need to innovate ways to help our companies in sensemaking the demand for new skills, aggregate the demand, and trigger our training institutions to respond at speed.

28. NACE has done much to strengthen the support structures for workplace learning.

  1. In a short span of four years, NACE has helped about 1,500 local companies implement structured training programmes and develop a stronger learning culture.
  2. I am glad to hear that of these, about 70% are local SMEs.
  3. NACE has also launched the National Workplace Learning Certification scheme in 2021, based on the National Workplace Learning Framework.

29. Beyond company-level interventions, we can also look at system-level moves.

  1. NACE can strengthen its role as an intermediary by building on its network.
  2. Companies who have forged ahead with workplace learning can be encouraged to reach out to smaller enterprises and share their know-how and experience.
  3. The stronger and more capable companies can also step up to serve as SkillsFuture Queen Bees, to influence and uplift our collective workforce capabilities.

30. System-level initiatives can be particularly impactful if they are able to cater to the needs of our SMEs.

  1. SMEs account for nearly half of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employ about 70% of our workforce.
  2. Yet, this segment of our economy is often resource-strapped and preoccupied with day-to-day demands of their business operations.
  3. We need to find better ways to support our SMEs to ensure that there is a better match between their skills demand and supply.
  4. This is why it is important for us to have a mechanism to aggregate sectoral skills demand, and match these to training opportunities.

31. Industry intermediaries such as Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) and professional bodies have close connections to companies and are well-positioned to understand their needs.

  1. Hence, they are ideal candidates to step up as demand aggregators for new skills.
  2. They can work with training providers to curate or even design training interventions at speed, to minimise time to market for supplying in-demand skills.
  3. They can also work synergistically with NACE and companies, to deliver such training through the workplace.

32. There is scope for such intermediaries to play an even bigger role in driving the skills development agenda in their respective sectors.

  1. SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) has plans to partner TACs as "Skills Development Partners" to do this.
  2. These partners will identify in-demand and emerging skills and facilitate timely dissemination of Jobs-and-Skills insights.
  3. They will develop skills-based career pathways for their sectors, based on industry-recognised certification and micro-credentials, and establish industry structures to accredit skills acquired at the workplace.
  4. This will help companies to better plan for their workforce upgrading and improve the job mobility of individuals. This will also break away from the traditional concept where skills can only be acquired when people go back to school. Instead, the school and the workplace will be combined into a learning environment.

33. For a start, SSG is working with IMDA to partner the Singapore Computer Society and SGTECH in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

  1. We will continue to experiment and nurture such models of collaboration in our ecosystem.

Celebrating the award recipients

34. I have outlined four areas that need rethinking in our skills ecosystem.

  1. To successfully bring about this change is not simple, but we can draw energy and inspiration from leaders who have blazed the trail ahead.

35. Today, we will be recognising nine such forward-looking companies.

  1. They will be receiving the National Workplace Learning Certificate for achieving excellence in workplace learning.
  2. These companies have shown commitment to adopt best workplace learning practices and cultivate an exemplary workplace learning culture.
  3. Collectively, they have supported over 12,500 employees in developing their competencies.

36. One such example is Metropolis Security Systems Pte Lid.

  1. Metropolis is an SME that advocates workplace learning, and in fact sees it as a key thrust of its business strategy.
  2. The company has adopted the National Workplace Learning Framework and has identified key competencies required by its employees through the use of the Skills Framework for Security and the Progressive Wage Model for Security.
  3. They have also tapped on NACE's expertise to conduct an analysis on their training needs and developed On-the-Job Training blueprints for workplace learning.
  4. This has helped Metropolis implement systems and processes to retain tacit knowledge. Their frontline security officers are better equipped with the relevant competencies to create a service-oriented experience for their clients.
  5. Effectively engaging employees in the workplace learning process also helped improve motivation and commitment and reduce attrition rates.
  6. Metropolis credits the implementation of workplace learning for helping the company secure 100% of the projects that they have submitted bids for. This is a very positive testimony for how we grow our own timber.

37. I also congratulate all nine recipients for making strides in workplace learning and adopting a progressive mindset towards supporting the growth of their employees.

  1. Metropolis, as well as Active-SG, Jones Lang LaSalle Singapore, SBS Transit Rail Pte Ltd, SMRT Trains Ltd, SICK Product Centre Asia Pte Ltd, ST-Airport Services Pte Ltd, ST Healthcare Pte Ltd, and ST Logistics Pte Ltd.

38. Let me also take this opportunity to encourage other companies to follow the lead of these recipients and embark on their journey of workplace learning.


39. Finally, talent is fundamental to Singapore's success.

  1. Therefore, we must be steadfast in investing in our people and enabling them to achieve their aspirations, and support the growth of our companies to seize the new opportunities in a post-COVID environment.
  2. The way we have done this through growing our own talent pool, has been fundamental to how we have overcome many challenges in the past and will continue to serve us well going forward.

40. Likewise, the best companies and organisations are those that view their employee as their greatest asset and invest in them.

41. As we face future challenges and opportunities together, it is important that we join hands to give our companies and workers the maximum support in uplifting their skills and capabilities.

42. Together, let us make every workplace a workplace for learning.

43. I wish everyone a fruitful conference. Thank you very much.