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Respecting mastery of skills is the heart of an inclusive society: Tharman
SINGAPORE: Learning to "cherish and respect the mastery of skills", and "the knowledge, practice and passion that goes into mastering these skills, no matter what the job" - that has to be Singapore's ethos as a society as the Republic moves into a new phase of its development, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Speaking on Wednesday (Sep 17) at the opening of Singapore's second Continuing Education and Training (CET) campus, Mr Tharman said this ethos lies at the heart of an inclusive society: "We must be a place where everyone has an opportunity to build their strengths, develop the skills that enable them to maximise their potential, earn their own success and contribute to society. We want to help everyone develop the skills relevant to the future and we must build a future based mastery of skills in every job."
Mr Tharman outlined three areas where changes should take place in order for this mastery to happen. Firstly, individuals will have to take ownership of their learning and development. Secondly, employers need to take ownership of developing their workers and valuing their contributions based on skills. Finally, Singapore's education and training institutions will also need to take ownership to provide high-quality training to prepare students for work and life.
To that end, a new SkillsFuture Council will be set up to drive initiatives aimed at giving every Singaporean the opportunity to develop themselves to the fullest. There will be an emphasis on mastery of skills, across the board, even for degree-holders.
The council will be a tripartite committee chaired by Mr Tharman, and comprise Government, employers and unions. It will develop an integrated system of education, training and progression for all Singaporeans. It will also look at ways to promote industry support and social recognition for individuals to advance based on their skills.
This was announced at the launch of Singapore's new CET masterplan - known as CET 2020, it will support efforts to restructure the economy and build a career-resilient workforce. The masterplan follows on the heels of the recently-released Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) report, which seeks to give every Singaporean the opportunity to progress in life, whatever his starting point.
The ASPIRE Committee's proposals aim to ensure that fresh polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates have relevant and deep skills that lead to good jobs that pay well. CET 2020 follows through to address the needs of working adults.
Bringing all the pieces together will be the SkillsFuture Council. Mr Tharman said the council will look at ways to help Singaporeans master skills relevant to the future, adding that the good jobs of the future will involve both thinking and doing, and constant learning "in every field and up and down the line". "We must aspire to move beyond competence and doing regular jobs, towards mastering skills," he said. 
The most challenging part of SkillsFuture is probably changing employment practices, he said. "Changing the way in which industries recognise skills and working together amongst companies so as to be able to have a credible system, a credible skills framework that employees can identify with and employers and companies know it is worth something - it is not new to us but this is an area that requires development."
Efforts will be "future-oriented" as the Government works with employers and unions to identify the skills needed for specific industries.
Mr Tharman elaborated: "It involves firstly, identifying the skills and manpower needs of each sector, not just identifying the existing gaps, skills gaps or mis-matches but also anticipating future skills that are going to be needed - given advancements in technology, given the way global competition is shaping up and given new business models. So identifying skills and needs is the first task.
"Second is to articulate clear progression pathways for workers to advance based on skills in each sector. So Singaporeans can see rewards for them in developing their skills and advancing."
He also touched on concerns by some employers who are reluctant to invest in training, for fear of losing their trained staff. This in turn leads to workers leaving their jobs, because they feel their bosses are not developing their capabilities.
Mr Tharman said this "vicious cycle" must be broken. He said a sectoral or national skills framework will ensure a ready supply of skilled workers across the board and this in turn, will benefit employers.
"We have got to raise the water level, so even if you lose your people, you raise the water level of skills for all your employees, in the industry, so that all boats are raised. You might not keep all your employees but when you hire new people, they too come with skills because some other employer has invested in their employees."
He said the Government will provide support, resources and even funding. Key to all this is also a broadening definition of success - where Singaporeans can achieve "meritocracy through life".
Mr Tharman said: "Not a meritocracy based on what you achieved at 18 or 24, but a meritocracy through life where you are assessed on your performance at each stage of your life regardless of where you came from, what you started with.
"That is true meritocracy and we must aim to develop that meritocracy and we can because we have the culture, we have the resources and we are going to work together to achieve this.
The CET 2020 Masterplan has outlined three areas of focus - valuing skills at the workplace; helping individuals make informed learning and career choices; and enhancing the quality of CET courses.
By 2030, it is projected that two in three Singaporeans will be professionals, managers and executives (PMEs). An increasing number of mid-level jobs will be replaced by machines, with technological advancements. Those most vulnerable will be mature workers above the age of 40, who face the highest risk of losing their jobs and greater challenges getting new ones.
The masterplan aims to keep the workforce relevant and to meet the needs of industries so that Singaporeans will remain employable. A key strategy is in ensuring the supply of right skills - skills that are sought after by employers.
To do so, companies will play a bigger role in training and development. The Workforce Development Agency (WDA) will work with sector-lead agencies, employers and the unions to develop sector-specific manpower and skills requirements over a five-year period. It will look at initiatives to attract, develop and retain talent. Details of the sectoral manpower strategies will be announced at a later date.
Mr Ng Cher Pong, chief executive of WDA, said: "The starting point will be about industry development, it will be about business challenges and from there, we can talk about how those industry trends - what are the implications for skills and competencies. Then we can talk about how the different stakeholders can come together and then develop different solutions for this.
"The game changer is that the relationships will have to change. The roles of each of the parties involved will have to be different. Employers will have to step forward now and be more actively involved in defining the skills we need, defining the manpower requirements and also being involved in rolling out interventions. These include measures to attract, retain and develop their talent. Likewise for individuals and training providers."
The Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) framework - a national certification system that recognises individuals for their skills - will be expanded across sectors. It will underpin the development of skills progression pathways, for both fresh graduates and adult workers.
Manpower and training support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will also be enhanced. Currently, there are five centres that provide advisory services to SMEs.
To help individuals, there will be an online national education, training and career guidance portal. This will incorporate personal assessment tools, information on courses, as well as the national jobs bank. More career coaches will be deployed at career centres.
And to enhance the quality of CET courses, ITE, polytechnics and private educational providers will play a bigger role in offering CET courses. There will also be more structured workplace-based learning through Place-and-Train programmes, and more online learning resources to make learning flexible and mobile.
Source: - CNA/xk/ac 

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