Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing for the Future of Work Series at Singapore Institute of Management

Published Date: 20 September 2022 09:00 AM

News Speeches

Ms Euleen Goh, Chairman, SIM Board of Directors
Mr Seah Chin Siong, President and CEO, SIM
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

A very good morning to all of you.

1. First, let me congratulate SIM, on the inaugural Future of Work Series.

2. Since its founding in 1964, SIM has grown to become a key player in the private education landscape today.

It has continually innovated to meet our learners' and industry's needs through updated offerings and learning models.

  1. SIM has gone beyond its traditional offerings of degrees and diplomas and established itself as a facilitator of lifelong learning.
  2. Last year alone, SIM helped 11,000 professionals to upskill through over 460 executive and business programmes.
  3. SIM's rebranded tagline – 'Learn for Life, Thrive for Life' – reflects the ambition to be a leader in the lifelong learning space, and a key partner for students, workers, and industry.

"3 Beyonds" for the Evolution of Work

3. With us today, we have captains of industry from various sectors. You will know better than anyone else how fast the nature of work is evolving.

4. Without over-simplifying it too much, the following are some clear trends we are already seeing:

  1. For workers, knowledge alone is increasingly commoditised. Workers who demonstrate creativity and can collaborate effectively across borders and disciplines to create value, will be in greater demand.
  2. For industries, the speed of evolution is key. Talent and skills are the real enablers, and not credentialism. The emphasis on relevance and currency of skills, experiences and connections will only continue to grow. The competition for jobs is not based on geographical location or the physical concentration of manpower per se. The competition for jobs and the creation of good paying jobs is increasingly based on one's ability to aggregate talent, mobilise capital, and protect intellectual property through a talent network across borders, time and space.
  3. I will come back to this thesis subsequently in the speech.

5. And to meet these challenges for the future of industries and work, we must re-examine our own systems at both the individual, industry, and institutional levels – to achieve what I call the three "Beyonds".

Individuals: Beyond yesterday's solutions to yesterday's problems

6. The first "Beyond" – at the individual level. For our education and training system to work, individuals and industries must go beyond learning yesterday's solutions to yesterday's problems. It is also not enough to learn today's solutions to today's problems. I shared this at the MOE Workplan Seminar last week: We need our students and our learners to anticipate and understand tomorrow's challenges, frame them properly and seek the solutions for tomorrow's challenges ahead of time. Hence, it is not about answering yesterday's challenges with yesterday's solutions, which will not give us the premium in the labour market.

7. The rapidly changing business models and technologies mean that no amount of frontloading will adequately prepare workers for the ever-evolving work environment.

8. The individual's ability to learn, unlearn and relearn is more important than just the acquisition of prior, known knowledge.

  1. The ability to frame new problems and seek new solutions ahead of time commands a premium.
  2. The ability to create new solutions through connecting and collaborating with others also commands a premium.
  3. While individuals acquire domain depth which will provide confidence, they will also need to work in multi-disciplinary teams that pull together different types of expertise, to develop solutions for tomorrow.

Industry: Beyond Credentialism and Beyond Local-Foreign

9. But, the industry also needs to go beyond. To go beyond credentials and to go beyond a Local-Foreign mindset. Because in the past, and maybe even now, some companies are still trapped in a credentialism mindset, where they look at degrees and diplomas as proxies of skills, instead of focusing on the relevance and currency of skills.

10. The workplace has traditionally recognised degrees or diplomas as proxies for competencies and skills. This in itself is not irrelevant. But, it has to go beyond that. Today, qualifications continue to have a place, as a signal of proficiencies in specific domains. But broad degrees and diplomas are no longer adequate to signal relevance and currency for specific skillsets.

11. The skills and knowledge of employees will need to be "topped up" regularly. While relevant, degree and diploma qualifications must increasingly be complemented by modular courses that can plug skills gaps in a timely manner.

12. Today, such courses are becoming increasingly commonplace. They address immediate skills needs on a just in time basis. Many confer micro-credentials and can stack towards a full qualification, should the adult learner wish to do so.

13. This is what we emphasise in Singapore – the concept of continuous meritocracy, where one's position in life, and one's contribution in life, is never determined by a single exam or qualification alone. Instead, it is the continuous process of improving oneself and developing the appropriate skillsets that keeps us relevant. Beyond just searching for the right person, companies must increasingly look at developing the right person to strengthen its own talent pipelines.

14. Companies will also need to shift their HR practices to benefit from this, to motivate their HR practitioners to look for specific and relevant skillsets rather than just broad credentials in the form of degrees or diplomas.

15. And for companies and even countries, our real challenge is no longer just the balance between the local and foreign workforce composition in a specific locality. While that itself remains an important consideration for the management of many social issues, it is not the biggest challenge for companies and countries.

16. Instead, our bigger challenge is how wide and how deep a talent network a company or country can command, to determine our speed of evolution to outrun the competition. This is because the nature of work, especially for high value add work, is no longer confined to a specific geographical locality.

  1. Let me share the story of one of our multinational media companies, which I visited a couple of years ago when I was the Ministry for Trade and Industry. They are in the animation business, and their work spans across the globe on a 24-hour cycle. How do they compete for work? They do not win jobs because of how many people they have in Singapore, but because they are able to command a global network of talents to contribute to the production of their animations. They do the job in 8-hour blocks. After Singapore is done, they pass the work on to the UK, and on to America. 24 hours later, it comes back to Singapore. That is the transnational nature of work nowadays.

17. So, the real matrix of success for Singapore is not how many jobs we create for Singaporeans in Singapore per se; but it is really about how many good opportunities we create for Singaporeans in Singapore and beyond through our ability to combine our talents with those from around the world.

Institutions: Beyond Education Institutions to Lifelong Learning Partners

18. Now I come to the third "Beyond" - for institutions to go beyond being an education institution to being a lifelong learning partner. Previously, many of our education institutions might have seen themselves as a partner for students for a finite number of years Increasingly, our institutions should see themselves as lifelong learning partners to our learners. And that is why in many of the Commencement speeches at the universities, I jokingly – and seriously – told the graduands, "May you never graduate." May you never graduate because we want you to see our universities as your lifelong partner, where you come back regularly to recharge and refresh.

19. As the work-learning continuum changes, education institutions must also evolve in their role as partners to the learners and companies.

20. First, our institutions must nurture the culture of lifelong learning in our learners from early on, to sensitise our students to shortened career cycles, and the need to constantly upgrade themselves.

21. I have shared this before. In the past, the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company may be 50 years. Today, the average lifespan is more likely to be 15 years, and even within 15 years, the entire product range of the surviving Fortune 500 companies might have changed entirely.

22. Second, our institutions must also partner industry in their transformation journeys.

  1. And this is not about a one-way transmission of knowledge from the institution to the students or the companies. Instead, we are trying to close the gap between frontier industry practices and academia. The faster we can close this gap, the better we are able to produce the graduates ready for the industry. And in this process of combining the best of academia and industry, we can also accelerate the speed of evolution for our companies to stay competitive. So, it is a two-way flow of knowledge from both academia to industry and industry to academia.

23. Third, I always say that our institutions must be partners in our industry's transformation by providing just in time, specific training modules for workers to enable the industry transformation to take place. And it works both ways. If we drive industry transformation well by closing the loop between industry and academia, adult learning will come naturally. On the other hand, if we train our workers well, they themselves can be the catalysts for some of the industry improvements and transformation.

24. And we need to do this at speed and at scale. If we only depend on the annual flow of 30,000 to 40,000 graduates from our education system, we are only renewing the workforce at a rate of one to two per cent a year. What we need to do in order to remain competitive is to be able to refresh the entire workforce at scale and at speed, which will require a stretch goal of having 20 to 30 per cent of our people learning something new every year. This not a farfetched concept. Some Scandivanian countries have done even better to achieve a training rate that is higher than 40 per cent, and this is what we should aspire towards.

Lifelong Learning as a Whole-Of-Society Movement

25. Finally, in closing, I would say this: Lifelong learning is a whole of society movement. The competitiveness of our nation and the competitiveness of our company will be determined by our speed of evolution and enabled by our ability to harness a global network of talent.

26. We will need individuals, industries and institutions to go beyond the basics of solving yesterday's problems with yesterday's solutions. Instead, anticipate and frame tomorrow's challenges and find tomorrow's solutions. Go beyond credentialism to look at relevance and currency of skill sets. Go beyond the concept of local and foreign workforce in Singapore, to tap into the global talent network that we have in Singapore and beyond, that will determine our competitiveness. Go beyond just partnering our learners for a few years of their life as institutions of learning, and be transformative institutions for lifelong learning.

27. On that note, I wish you all the very best in your discussion.

28. Thank you very much.

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