Speeches/Interviews

July 17, 2020

Opening Address by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at the Skillsfuture Forum 2020

A Test of Disaster Readiness

1. I am pleased to join you at today's SkillsFuture Forum, which also kicks off this year's SkillsFuture Month.

2. This year's SkillsFuture Month is distinctly different from past editions because of this new format – I thought it would be useful to have a physical event, even though it is hybrid, with both a physical and virtual audience.

3. Second, we are holding this in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated our economy for Q2, and has caused far-reaching changes to our way of life. The incomes of self-employed persons have been drastically affected, and we are seeing companies starting to retrench workers in quite sizeable numbers.

4. The disaster preparedness of every economy is now put to a stringent test. It is not just a test of immediate response and agility, but also emergency readiness that has been built up over the years. It's like when you have an earthquake and the building starts to shake, you don't start taking measures to prevent the building from collapsing. You need to design and build it differently from the outset, to withstand an earthquake.

5. Two areas of preparedness have put Singapore in a better position than many countries to face this crisis. The first is our national reserves, which has enabled us to help workers and companies tide over the most difficult circuit breaker period. The second is SkillsFuture.

6. Although it was formally launched in 2015, our system of re-training workers and supporting lifelong learning dates back decades earlier. Today, we have a comprehensive lifelong learning system comprising training centres, programmes and courses, an accreditation and quality control system, a funding system that subsidises training both for companies and individual workers, an OJT support system, an army of trainers and a network of career centres.

7. I think this is now one of our most critical economic institutions that has dual roles. In peacetime, we use it to upgrade the skills of Singaporeans to enhance expertise, raise productivity, and pursue new careers. During emergencies and crises, we use it to save jobs and help Singaporeans find new job opportunities.

National Jobs Council

8. This is now the immediate task of the National Jobs Council (NJC). The NJC drives the implementation of the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, a Whole-of-Government effort to create employment, traineeship and training opportunities for up to 100,000 jobseekers.

9. Since its formation, the NJC has set up eight SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres. They are staffed with career counsellors who will help Singaporeans access jobs and traineeship opportunities. By September, we will have SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres located in all 24 HDB towns.

10. NJC has also launched the first SGUnited Jobs and Skills Fair on 3 July. More than 16,000 jobs, traineeship and training places across the public and private sectors were on offer, spanning across different sectors.

11. Over the next few months, we will hold many more career and job fairs, pop-up events, and thematic walk-in interviews to allow Singaporeans greater access to these opportunities. From July to September, we plan to organise close to 50 events, spanning physical and virtual modes, all across the island.

Sgunited Skills

12. Besides securing jobs and traineeship opportunities, another meaningful option for jobseekers is to undergo skills training. This is a very meaningful way to invest your time while we wait for the economy to recover. The SGUnited Skills (SGUS) programme helps jobseekers upskill as they go about their job search. By strengthening existing skills and building up new ones, training through SGUS is an effective avenue for Singaporeans to access better or broader employment opportunities later on.

13. SGUS courses are full-time certifiable programmes, conducted in a modular format over six to 12 months. The courses are offered in sectors such as Infocomm and Media, Advanced Manufacturing, Financial Services, as well as Healthcare and Community Care. Courses will be industry relevant, and often co-delivered by training centres and Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) such as our polytechnics or autonomous universities, together with companies. Course fees are heavily subsidised, and trainees will also receive a monthly allowance while they are undergoing the six to 12 months of industry relevant training. Trainees will also receive career advice and employment assistance to help them in their job search even as they undergo training.

14. To date, we have launched 113 SGUS courses delivered by 13 training providers, with a total training capacity of 6,500. The response has been strong, with over 1,300 sign-ups so far. And we will build up the offerings further in the coming months.

15. Today, we will be witnessing the launch of a new and very meaningful programme. SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), the Singapore Management University (SMU) and eight industry leaders from various sectors, are coming together to deliver the SMU SGUnited Business and Digital Transformation Programme.

16. This programme is tailored to meet the needs of companies, especially SMEs. It will equip experienced PMEs from different sectors with business management, digital, and internationalisation skills, to help them pivot into new careers, roles such as Business Development Executive and International Relations Specialist.

17. Some of the topics covered in the training programme includes entrepreneurial and global mindsets, business and environmental sustainability, business innovation and digital transformation. Participants will dive deep to understand how to leverage digitalisation to transform businesses. The programme will be hands-on and highly applied, combining training, industry mentorship, and real-life business projects from the sponsoring companies.

18. I am glad to see our eight industry leaders from the Built Environment, Food Manufacturing, Technology, Financial and Wholesale Trade sectors step up to this collaboration. Trade associations and intermediaries such as E50 and Prudential are also promoting such partnership opportunities to their group of companies.

19. I would like to add one more feature that we must pay attention to. When we have all these skills programmes, the tendency is for us to set high standards – there is nothing wrong with that – and be stringent in the selection of trainees. But this is perhaps a peacetime mode of operation, and we are now in a crisis. I hope that our training centres and employers will hire those who need help, since there is no obligation to hire the trainees at the end of the programme. There are many young, well-trained, talented graduates, who have no problems finding jobs even during such times, but they may not be our target group here. We want to target groups that are more vulnerable, who need our help with retooling at this stage of their career, in this current situation. So I hope we keep an open mind and reach out to these groups as much as we can.

20. To our forerunners today, I thank you for your strong support. Your progressive approach to workforce skills development is exemplary, and I hope to see many more enterprises follow your lead.

Conclusion

21. The coming months will not be smooth sailing. Workers and companies will need to adjust, adapt, build new capabilities and seek out new opportunities. The Government will do our best to support your effort, by helping affected workers as much as we can. From a fresh graduate starting out on your career, a mid-career worker looking for new job opportunities, to a back to work parent, or a senior citizen trying to stay employed, we will try our best to help you weather this storm.

22. I wish you a fruitful learning experience at today's SkillsFuture Forum, and a rewarding SkillsFuture Month ahead. Thank you.