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

Published Date: 05 July 2022 02:00 PM

News Speeches

1. A very good morning to all of you who are here physically with us and joining us virtually.

  1. Very pleased to join you for today's launch of the third SkillsFuture Festival, which started in 2018. In the past two years, the Festival was modified to SkillsFuture Month, with mainly online activities.
  2. This year, we are finally able to resume the festival in-person and on a wider scale.
    1. Through the hybrid modality, more Singaporeans across different ages, from fresh graduates to mid-career workers, can now participate in our SkillsFuture Festival.
    2. This allows us to further advance the objectives of the SkillsFuture Movement, which is not just about reskilling and upskilling to meet our economic needs, but perhaps even more importantly, it is about all of us as a country, as a people, developing an individual growth mindset, cultivating a passion for learning and the pursuit of skills mastery.

Celebrating Skillsfuture's Accomplishments

2. Since launching the SkillsFuture Movement, the training participation rate of our workforce has increased steadily from 35% in 2015 to about 50% last year.

3. In 2021, 660,000 Singaporeans upskilled through SkillsFuture-supported programmes, the highest since 2015.

  1. The pandemic provided individuals and employers with an opportunity to upskill.
  2. Part of this uptake also happened by design, and not by chance because our COVID-19 support measures were closely linked to active labour market policies to facilitate training and placement.

4. Under the Next Bound of SkillsFuture, we have also been strengthening the enterprise pillar of our skills ecosystem.

  1. We on-boarded more SkillsFuture Queen Bee companies to drive enterprise-led skills development;
  2. We expanded the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning (NACE) across the Institutes of Higher Learning and the Institute of Adult Learning to accelerate enterprise transformation; and
  3. We enhanced funding support for workforce transformation such as through the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit.

5. This morning, the SkillsFuture Forum will focus on "Making Upskilling Work, By the Workplace, for the Workplace", and I look forward to hearing your ideas on how we can continue to strengthen our learning ecosystem both in our institutions and workplaces.

Doubling Down on Our Skillsfuture Effort

6. So, we have done well, but we need to do much more and much better. Let me explain why.

7. At the Straits Times Education Forum in February this year, I shared that the success of our education system is not just about churning out 30 to 40 thousand students each year for the job market. It is to do that, and also support the timely upskilling of 2.5 million Singaporeans each year. Assuming each worker needs to go for significant training every few years, that makes it hundreds of thousands of adults who require upskilling every year.

8. I thought I was setting a high bar, but since then, international experts have told me that we might be underestimating our country's training needs. Countries with a high performing adult training system such as Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway have over 60 per cent of working adults learning something new every year!

9. To be able to upskill our workforce at that scale, there is more that we must do, especially in overcoming four challenges, which I will lay out today. And we will need to all join hands and put our minds together, to come up with ideas on how we can overcome these challenges to achieve upskilling at this scale.

Information Asymmetry

10. First, from the individual perspective, we need to overcome the Asymmetry of information so that we can Awaken the interests of the working adult in reskilling and upskilling. However, this is not so straightforward.

  1. Working adults are busy people, and they have to juggle between work, financial, family and social commitments as well as responsibilities all at the same time.
  2. Many tend to apply a high discount rate towards training due to the tyranny of the "urgent", and the "here-and-now". Bread and butter issues understandably occupy their minds.
  3. Given these, we have to find ways to reach the workers to activate their interest and commitment to training.
    1. This requires a whole of society effort and we cannot just depend on the individual, or the companies, or the Government alone. We have to all do this together.
    2. And given the growing uncertainties in the economic outlook, many companies may not be able to commit as much resources to training their workers. This is the feedback that we have regularly heard from companies, and we can understand that.
  4. Key efforts have been made to help individuals navigate our current training ecosystem:
    1. For example, Singaporeans of all ages can use MySkillsFuture Portal (MySF) – a one-stop online portal – to identify their training needs and suitable programmes.
    2. Individuals who need more personalised skills advisory can also sign up for the Skills and Training Advisory (STA) services that was launched since July 2020.
    3. There are plans to further improve the outreach, customise the content, personalise services, but these on their own are not enough.

11. In order for individuals to know what skills they need, we need to overcome three other challenges.

  1. First, we need to be able to articulate the demand for future skills.
  2. Second, we need to be able to aggregate the sectoral demand for future skills.
  3. Third, we need to then activate a supply of future skills through quality, industry-relevant training.

12. Let me elaborate on each of these.

Articulating the demand for new skills

13. First, the articulation of the demand for new skills. We all know technological disruptions and business transformations are driving the demand for new skills. Efforts to help our businesses transform will therefore create new opportunities for new training.

  1. However, individual companies may not have the ability and capacity to scan the horizons and articulate the demand for new skills.
  2. And this is particularly challenging for Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs), that are often resource-strapped, constrained by the day-to-day demands of business operations.

14. This is where the Government, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) and our Unions must come in and take the lead.

  1. For example, SSG published the first Skills Demand for the Future Economy report in December 2021. The report drew upon data from the global, regional and local jobs-skills trends and was well-received by industry, enterprises and training providers.
  2. To complement the report, the first Jobs and Skills Quarterly Insights will also be published later in July this year to point Singaporeans, enterprises and training providers to more high-tempo changes within the areas of growth and the in-demand skills.

15. With this articulation, HR must then translate the demand of specific skills into their hiring and job design processes.

  1. This will allow companies to focus more on skills and competencies, rather than relying on only qualifications such as degrees or diplomas as a proxy of the candidate's suitability.
  2. In fact, many frontier HR practitioners have told us – going forward, what is important is for both individuals and companies to be able to articulate the specific skills and competencies that we either have or need, rather than to use a degree or diploma as a proxy, because a degree and diploma cover many things, but may not cover the specific skills and competencies that are required by the specific companies.
  3. So, we have to sharpen the way we articulate the demand for new skills, and skills currency must take precedence.
    1. Full degree or diploma qualifications, while still relevant, must increasingly be complemented by just-in-time upgrading modules that can plug specific skills gaps within firms.
    2. To support upskilling in specialised areas, the Institutes of Higher Learning, for example, have been expanding their offers of modular courses in high-growth sectors. Many of these modules can also stack towards a full qualification.
    3. Overcoming the challenges to articulate the demand for new skills will require everyone including individuals, companies, trade associations, unions and the Government, to work together to scan the horizon and conduct regular dialogues to identify these new skills.

Aggregating the Sector Demand for New Skills

16. But having articulated that, we need to overcome our second challenge. And that is, how do we aggregate the demand in order to activate the supply of the new skills?

17. Now, this is particularly pertinent for industry sectors with more fragmented structures. This is where the TAC, being an important bridge between the government and employers, must step up as intermediaries.

  1. For example, SSG is introducing the Skills Development Partners framework to support intermediaries in driving the skills development agenda in their respective sectors.
  2. These intermediary partners will take a leading role to support and engage SMEs in their sectors in three areas. They will:
    1. Identify the skills needs in their companies, including in-demand and emerging skills.
    2. Facilitate timely dissemination of Jobs-and-Skills insights, and
    3. Put in place structures to accredit skills acquired at the workplace.
  3. For a start, SSG is working with IMDA to partner SGTECH and the Singapore Computer Society as "Skills Development Partners" in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector.

18. New intermediaries will also need to be developed.

  1. Unions and Self-Help Groups have greater outreach to the workers, and can act as a bridge between the Government, TACs and the workers in aggregating the demand for new skills.
  2. Queen Bee companies must also step up to transform the sector, especially for industries with more "concentrated" market structure.
    1. SSG is targeting to partner up to 40 Queen Bee companies to benefit 4,000 SMEs by 2025.

19. With the support of more and diverse intermediaries, we will improve our agility and market responsiveness to accelerate the SkillsFuture movement.

Activating the supply of future skills

20. We have talked about articulating the demand, aggregating the demand, and now I come to the third part, on activating the supply of future skills. Only when we can articulate and aggregate well, can we then activate the supply to respond optimally.

21. SSG has started on this journey to uplift our training ecosystem by ensuring accessibility, quality and impact of our training programmes. Further enablers are needed.

22. First, we must place more focus on how adult education is delivered. Our training providers and Institutes of Higher Learning must step up to the role, to combine the currency of frontier industry knowledge with the best andragogical practices for our adult learners. And we must always remember that there isn't just one archetype of adult learner. Adult learners at the ages of 25, 45 and 65 will learn the same thing in different ways.

23. To collectively strengthen our institutions' ability to deliver adult education well, the Institute of Adult Learning (IAL) is bringing together leading institutes and industry stakeholders.

  1. Such collaboration will better recognise and develop best practices, allow for innovation on new techniques of training, and help our adult educators to upgrade and improve.
  2. And I want to emphasise this point – we very often talk about helping our adult learners learn, but the first step to helping our adult learners learn is to help our adult educators learn and transmit their knowledge and experience to the adult learners. There cannot be an effective adult learning system without an effective cadre of adult trainers.
  3. To this end, I am pleased to announce today that IAL will sign two separate Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the Polytechnics and NTUC Learning Hub.
    1. This marks the start of an exciting journey to further enhance capability development in our training and adult education sector.
    2. It is a worthwhile journey, because if we do this well, workers and enterprises across all sectors of our economy will benefit from these investments.

24. Second, refinements will be made to SSG's funding framework to better support training with manpower outcomes.

  1. We currently spend about $700 million a year in SkillsFuture training subsidies for Singaporeans and companies.
  2. As we continue to invest in our people and companies, we must also ensure that the training is continuously refreshed to meet the objectives of job placement, skills deepening, and career advancement for the individual; as well as job redesign and business transformation for the enterprise.
  3. Refinements to SSG's funding framework will be made to achieve this. SSG will follow up with further announcements and details today.

25. Workplace learning will play an increasingly important role in enabling the working Singaporean to reskill and upskill. Our Queen Bee companies can provide the training as the lead.

  1. For example, Microsoft Singapore has partnered with SSG to develop the Microsoft "Let's Skill Up" Programme as part of the SkillsFuture Queen Bee programme.
  2. Under this programme, SMEs such as Nanyang Tech are able to work directly with Microsoft to identify the skills gap in their business and curate a customised training program and learning plan for their employees.

26. Digital platforms must also become a mainstay in our training ecosystem together with workplace learning.

  1. Instead of the "back-to-school" model, we need to enable adult learners to learn anytime and anywhere, while attendance in-person back in the classroom is reserved for making connections, learning to collaborate, creating new products and services, or coming up with new ideas.


27. In short, we have done well in the last few years, and we have made good use of the opportunities presented to us by COVID.

28. The number of Singaporeans taking up new skills and learning new things every year has gone up steadily.

29. But we still have some way to go in reaching where the frontier countries currently are at. For us to remain relevant as a country, economy and people, we will have to spare no effort in pushing frontiers to help our people learn continuously and, just as importantly, to develop a growth mindset

30. In short, to train our workforce at scale, we have to close the 4 "A"s loop that I talked about:

  1. Companies have to articulate their skills needs, with support from the Government, TACs and Unions.
  2. Intermediaries are needed to aggregate the demand of new skills from SMEs and drive the sectoral skills development.
  3. Training providers including the Institutes of Higher Learning have to activate the quality supply of new skills, supported by new andragogical approaches and innovations.
  4. Only then can we awaken the interests of the learners, and overcome the information asymmetry and high opportunity costs to learning.

31. And with that, we will be able to match the best-in-class systems across the world, to help our industry and workers keep pace with global demands. It is not a numbers game, and it is very important for us to work together to achieve these targets that we have set for ourselves

32. On this note, I will conclude by saying two things. First, competition and survival is about the speed of evolution.

  1. Whoever can help our workers and businesses evolve faster and organise their systems more efficiently will emerge the winner. It is not about the size, it is not about the resource base, it is about the speed of evolution.
  2. And to achieve that speed of evolution, we will need your ideas and help. Everyone in this hall and in the virtual conference can do something. None of us will be able to do this all by ourselves.
  3. But, I always believe that if any society can get their learning system right by combining the best individual talents, industry ideas, institutional programmes and processes, then Singapore must be one of them.

33. I look forward to hearing your ideas on how we can do this better in service of our people and our nation, and I thank you for your participation and contributions to our learning ecosystem, so that we can continue to keep our workers and industry relevant and at the frontier of the economic competition.

34. Thank you very much.