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Opening Address by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the SkillsFuture Festival 2023, Lifelong Learning Institute

Published Date: 04 July 2023 09:35 PM

News Speeches


Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Good morning to all to you. I am pleased to join you for today's launch of the SkillsFuture Festival. SSG has been holding this Festival annually since 2018. It allows us to take stock of our success, enhance skills mastery and upskilling, and make lifelong learning a way of life for all of us.

2. The SkillsFuture movement is gaining momentum and traction.

  1. The training participation rates of individuals and companies have grown since 2015.
  2. Last year, about 560,000 Singaporeans and 20,000 enterprises participated in and benefitted from SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG)-supported programmes.

3. Our Continuing Education and Training (CET) ecosystem enabled the nation to reskill and upskill during the pandemic, allowing us to bounce back as soon as the global economy recovers. We will continue to build on this progress and shift SkillsFuture to a higher gear, seeing how our world is changing.

4. With frequent tech disruptions, shortened half-life of skills and knowledge, and new job roles emerging everyday – our workforce must retool, at scale and at speed. And in the current fragmenting world, upskilling or reskilling to ensure our people's relevance and Singapore's competitiveness becomes more important than ever before.

5. In a fragile global economic order, we need to create new economic opportunities for our businesses to support their business transformation so they can seize new opportunities in new markets. And amidst this fractious world, skills upgrading must also enable our society to achieve social mobility, productivity and wage growth, without which many countries and societies have seen their social fabric being torn apart.

6. What would shifting our SkillsFuture strategies to a higher gear look like? Let me offer three points this morning:

  1. First, our ecosystem has to be more agile and responsive to the needs of the individuals and enterprises.
  2. Second, we must continue to broaden our reach, paying attention to specific groups that are more vulnerable and at risk of falling behind. It is not just about the number of participants we are concerned with, but who the participants are.
  3. Third, we must empower individuals and enterprises even more, to participate and contribute in their own ways to the SkillsFuture movement.

7. Let me explain how.

An Agile and Responsive Ecosystem

8. First, to achieve agility and responsiveness, we are strengthening our skills demand-supply coordination. SSG will continue to improve its capabilities to sense the skills needs of our labour market, leveraging on technology and data. But identifying skills in demand is not enough in this dynamic job market.

  1. For example, last year, we saw high demand for "solar photo-voltaic energy assessment" as a new skill, which is unsurprising given our national drive towards a greener economy.

9. What does this really mean? We need industry experts to unpack the skills so that training providers can develop and deliver the relevant content.

10. Enterprises on the other hand must recognise the new credentials and certifications in their hiring. While it sounds simple, it is not so simple because you need a taxonomy of skills, you need someone to unpack it, and you need someone to translate those skills into training modules. Finally, you need a body to certify and be recognized for your certification. This is the entire value chain of training. It takes many hands to bring this about.

11. To this end, we will strengthen our partnerships with Trade Associations & Chambers (TACs), unions and professional bodies so that our cycle speed - in order to articulate demand for future skills, aggregate the sectoral demand, and activate the supply of quality training - can be ramped up to meet the needs of an increasingly dynamic job market. This is why we are growing a network of Skills Development Partners, SkillsFuture Queen Bee companies (SFQBs) and Jobs-Skills Integrators (JSITs) to constantly and rapidly refresh training content, especially in emerging, high growth areas, and in specific sectors that are more fragmented.

12. A key enabler is our Training & Adult Education sector, comprising our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and quality private training providers. Together, they cater to the heterogenous needs of adult learners, and provide capacity to train large swathes of our workforce yearly.

13. To make skills training more accessible and timely, the sector is undergoing a digital learning transformation to better deploy the use of technology and online learning. Our aim is to raise the quality and industry relevance of training. To achieve this, we are investing in the professional development of adult educators and andragogy research to spur CET programme innovations.

  1. For example, the Institute for Adult Learning will be launching a Masters programme scholarship, Master in Boundary-Crossing Learning and Leadership, or MBX, that targets adult educators and adult learning leaders, including our Polytechnics and ITE staff. In order to train the trainees, we have to first train the trainers.

14. Let me share how we have coordinated our demand-supply responses, using the digital skills and ICT industry as an example. This is a key area of focus because the impact of digital disruption will be prolific.

15. While some jobs will be displaced by automation, new tasks and jobs will emerge. The challenge lies in ensuring that our workers can move from declining occupations to the jobs that are expected to thrive.

16. Locally, digital skills such as Product Development and Customer Experience Management, Big Data Analytics and AI application, are in short supply across all sectors. Our learning and skills ecosystem must therefore respond through broad base digital upskilling, so that we have a skills surplus and not deficit.

17. Within the past few years, we have radically stepped-up provision of digital upskilling programmes, working with IMDA, IHLs and quality private training providers to meet a range of training needs and digital proficiency levels for existing workers in the ICT sector, as well as mid-career workers looking to join the sector.

  1. The IHLs offer a range of training programmes – from bite-sized modules for skills top-up to full qualifications for more substantive reskilling.
  2. SSG's SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme (SCTP) and WSG's Career Conversion Programme (CCP) further support mid-career transition to sectors with good hiring opportunities, providing employment facilitation and salary support.

18. For companies and individuals interested to build foundational digital skills required at the workplace, SSG launched a two-day training programme under the SkillsFuture Digital Workplace (SFDW) initiative in 2017. Over 125,000 individuals benefited from SFDW till date.

19. Building on its success, SSG will launch SFDW 2.0 at today's Festival. The programme will be updated to include emerging skills, focusing on automatic, cybersecurity, data analytics and in-demand digital tools. SFDW 2.0 will also focus on sectors such as Built Environment, Manufacturing and Transportation to help businesses in these sectors boost digital transformation.

20. You can see that we are applying many different models, to reach many different sectors. Some of you might be asking, why is it that we have so many different models, why can't we have just one simple and straightforward model? The reason is very simple. The more we get into the SkillsFuture movement, the more we understand the complexity and diversity of skills demands. There will be no one model that will fit and meet all the needs of the various industries. Each industry will need to develop their own models – be they the JSIT models or any other models.

21. This is where we need the TACs to work closely with the unions and the IHLs and training providers to provide the necessary training for other people in a diverse setting. Never believe that one model can solve all problems. In fact, even within the same industry, the industry must keep evolving a variety of models, to cater to not just the variety of skill sets that are required, but also the variety of adult learners that are coming on board.

  1. For instance, an adult learner at 25 years old will learn in a different way and have a different background from someone at 45 years old or 55 years old learning the same thing. Even if the subject matter is the same, their backgrounds and their learning styles are different. This is why we must continue to explore a diversity of models to meet the demands of our diverse population.

Broadening the Reach of SkillsFuture

22. Let me move onto the second point on broadening the reach of SkillsFuture. While the SkillsFuture movement has gained good traction, we must continue to broaden our outreach. I will highlight two groups, in particular, with greater needs.

First, Mature Mid-Career Workers in Their 40s and 50s.

23. We need to help them preserve their human capital and employability, as they face higher risk of skills obsolescence and retrenchment. Existing programmatic interventions such as SCTP and CCP are showing early signs of success.

  1. Last year, close to 2,500 mature workers participated in these programmes.

24. Today, SSG will release the SkillsFuture Job-Skills Insights for mid-career workers who wish to join the digital economy. This can better guide their training decisions.

25. Mature workers face high opportunity cost when they pursue long-term substantive reskilling. In recognition of this, we will enhance our support measures, and consider providing SkillsFuture Credit top-up and training allowance to help partially offset opportunity cost incurred by our mature workers.

Second, SMEs – the backbone of our economy.

26. The second group we need to broaden our outreach to are people in our SMEs, the backbone of our economic system. SMEs may find it challenging to participate in training, given the day-to-day demands of business operations. They also lack the scale, the time and the resources to do so.

27. We are trying different approaches to facilitate SMEs' participation in skills development and training.

  1. For example, we announced the Workplace Skills Recognition Programme (WSPR) earlier this year.
  2. This is a tie-up between the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning (NACE) and NTUC to equip SMEs with basic workplace learning capabilities and fast-track the certification of skills that their workers acquire on the job.

28. To further empower SMEs to take charge of their own skills development, SSG collaborated with JobKred to roll out a digital tool known as Skills Profiler. With this, SMEs can harness advanced skills profiling technology to identify skills gaps. This enables them to make informed decisions on their investment in skills training through recommended training programmes.

29. The service aims to benefit 400 SMEs for a start. They can receive 12 months of complimentary access to the Skills Profiler platform. More than 200 SMEs have registered for the service since SSG launched it in May this year.

Empowering Individuals and Enterprises in Lifelong Learning

30. Ultimately, the objective of SkillsFuture is to empower individuals and companies to redefine what they can achieve, throughout their lives. Individuals and companies must take ownership of their own training, but we cannot take a prescriptive approach, given diverse training needs as I described.

31. SSG, as a national skills authority, will continue to provide skills advisory and signposting through their annual Skills Demand for Future Economy report and Job-Skills Insights, to help individuals and enterprises make informed training choices.

32. I have urged SSG to go further, to personalise this information better, so that each individual can receive insights that are relevant and actionable to his or her own career context.

33. Let me paint you a picture of what I hope we can achieve one day, for all Singaporeans: You will go through the foundational school system and pick up certain skillsets – this goes into your portfolio. The schools help you to understand your strengths and weaknesses and identify your areas of interest. The first transition is when you enter our IHLs – be they the ITEs, Polytechnics or the Universities – there will be a process to help you identify your skills, your strengths, and opportunities that you may like to explore. The same methodology is working quite well today in the school system, but we need to extend this beyond the school system if we are serious about lifelong learning. Imagine, as you join the workforce and accumulate new skills, you would have continuously updated your own profile – and this would be your own personal portfolio, that would be provided to you regularly, to suggest to you what are the courses that you might have to attend in order to close the skills gap.

34. This happens not just when you are at 20 years old looking for your first job, or 25 years old looking for your second job – this would happen continuously.

35. And every now and then, as the after sales service from MOE and SSG, you will get regular messages telling you what new jobs are available, the new skill sets that are required for these jobs and to match what you have now with what you need to acquire. Once you know what you want to acquire, you should be able to be guided to the programmes that are available across our IHLs and quality private training providers to encourage you to pick up those modules. And when you have taken up those modules, that certification that you get will also be recognised by the trade associations, SMEs, MNCs and so on.

36. This must be a continuous process, where every Singapore will know what are the skillsets they have within their portfolio, and what other skill sets they might want to acquire if they are looking for career transition, or even if they're trying to stay competitive in the same job.

37. Can this be done? Yes.

38. With technology and data, we can do it much better than before. This is how we envisage a system that can continuously help fellow Singaporeans identify what they are good at, what they lack, what they should acquire, where to acquire it and how to get it recognized. If we can create this positive cycle, then our people and companies will remain competitive.

39. This is the mission we are working towards. We have a few pieces now, and we will need your help, as industries, as leaders in the adult education sector to help us realise this. If anyone can do this well, it will be Singapore, because we are a tightly knitted society and we have all the data and capabilities necessary.

40. The SkillsFuture Credit (SFC) for individuals and SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit (SFEC) for eligible companies are deliberately designed to put choice in the hands of learners and companies. They will continue to seek to defray out-of-pocket costs, after generous course fee subsidies by SSG. Together, they enhance the affordability of training so financial costs will not be a barrier to upgrading. We can round up resources for this, but beyond costs, beyond data, is mindset. We need everyone to join us in this effort. We can find the financial resources to support enterprises and workers, we can use the data to figure out skills demands – but ultimately, we will need individuals and companies to take a step forward.

41. The utilisation data show encouraging signs that more individuals and companies are taking ownership of their training and skills development journey.

  1. More than 192,000 Singaporeans utilised their SFC in 2022. This is higher than pre-COVID days, but it is still a fraction of what we want to achieve.
  2. Of the 84,000 employers, about 30% have utilised their SFEC as of March 2023 – many for SSG-funded training programmes. I have a message for all employers: 30% of you have used the SFEC, meaning 70% have yet to do so.

42. To the 70%, you may need to buck up, as your competitors will soon be pulling ahead. We can provide the resources and the data, but we need individuals and companies to take action.


43. To conclude, our pursuit of lifelong learning is akin to a relay race to bring Team Singapore forward:

  1. Training providers and industry partners must work hand-in-hand so that knowledge and skills currency are updated for the needs of the market.
  2. Instead of seeing a divide between PET and CET, we must see it as a continuum, where our work should be interspersed with periods of training and upskilling. To stay in the race and keep moving forward, Singaporeans and local companies must upskill and reskill continuously, and they must feel empowered to do so.

44. The Government will muster the resources to support you, but ultimately, as I have said, individuals and companies must take the first step forward, and must make a commitment to do so. There must be a mindset shift - training and learning starts from school as a foundation and continue throughout life. Even after we retire, we must strive to keep learning and continue contributing.

45. Many of you are already active contributors in the relay race, which is why you are here this morning. I need your help to spread the message so that more Singaporeans and local companies will come to benefit from this suite of programmes that we have laid out. We cannot be selfish, because the real competition is not between one Singaporean and another Singaporean, it is between Singapore and the rest of the world. They are going as fast as they can, to upskill the workers and help their industries stay competitive. We have our mission cut out for us, and we will keep working at it. And I hope that with your support and your ideas we will continue to evolve and refresh our training system – especially for our adult learners so that our workers, and our SMEs can all remain competitive and stay ahead of the curve.

46. Thank you very much, and may you have an enjoyable day ahead.