Singapore eyes constant schooling for workers who feel left behind

Singapore eyes constant schooling for workers who feel left behind
Singapore eyes constant schooling for workers who feel left behind

Even as the city state's students continue to top various global bench-marking tests, employers face increased difficulty in hiring workers with a mix of soft skills better suited to an economy that has seen mainstays such as electronic manufacturing, shipyard and port work and banking hit by global disruption.

That has altered the nature of many jobs in Singapore. The city state, which passed its golden jubilee in 2015, also risks being overtaken by its larger neighbors such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, whose young populations draw the attention of investors looking to hire for new ventures.

"While education institutions have generally equipped their graduates with a broad foundation, the industry has found these graduates lacking in deep skills. These deep skills may not be easily acquired in an academic environment," said SIM's Chan.

The city state also has to move away from a growth model that is reliant on foreign manpower, whose large inflows into the country led to public backlash against expatriate workers whom many Singaporeans claim squeeze them out of jobs and promotions.

Singapore has since tightened the inflows of foreign manpower and set up the Fair Consideration Framework, which requires employers to consider a Singapore candidate for such openings.

That is why a shift in Singapore's emphasis away from grades to produce a nimble resident workforce, a process that has taken the attention of nations around the world, has become so urgent.

"Life-long learning is crucial in today's fast changing economy. Much of what we learnt in school and university become outdated over a very short time," said Professor Ting Seng Kiong, dean of Nanyang Technological University's College of Professional and Continuing Education.

"Unlike undergraduate students or fresh graduates, working adults are more motivated to study and acquire new skills as they are in a better position to know what is needed by the industry. Better preparedness also brings with it a sense of self confidence for whatever changes the future may bring," Ting added.

But old habits die hard and firms hiring in Singapore also need to open their recruitment to match the push on lifelong learning.

"It is probably the larger local enterprises, the multinationals who have been spoiled for choice over the years and the public sector who will have to reassess their definition of strategic resourcing," said Miranda Lee, director of government advisory at KPMG in Singapore.

"How can we put together a diverse workforce, from the handicapped to an older worker to a less academically qualified person and a multi-talented millennial to achieve the company's goals? It is and will continue to be a challenge for the enterprise of the future," she added.

Lim, who has since enrolled into a degree program at a private university in Singapore, however is not convinced that a change will take place soon in options to advance careers.

"The SkillsFuture movement started before I decided to quit and study. I tried applying for other jobs in both public and private sectors, but all said they can't pay me the equivalent of a degree-holder's salary even though I have almost five years of working experience. I think it's going to take many years for this norm to change," she said.

"If I had the choice to start over now, I would choose to go to university right after getting my diploma so I wouldn't be disadvantaged at work."

CNBC

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