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Employers must take ownership of skills utilization: Singapore education minister Lawrence Wong

As fresh graduates and mid-career PMET (professionals, managers, executives, and technicians) scramble to upskill and reskill to meet the job demands of today, the responsibility of workplace learning also falls on enterprises to maintain a future-ready workforce.

“Employers must take responsibility and ownership of skills utilization. If it’s just led by training providers or universities, it will not work. Companies and employers must be an integral part of this process. Hence the importance of workplace learning,” said Singapore’s Minister for Education Lawrence Wong.

Minister Wong recently spoke at the National University of Singapore’s NUS115 Distinguished Speakers Series on Shaping the Future of Education.

“Because we all know, a lot of learning takes place on the job. It’s often from learning by doing. It’s a process of trial and error. But sometimes it’s also through feedback and tips from colleagues, or just by watching how other people do it.”

Bridging the disconnect

Singapore Minister for Education Lawrence Wong

There are differing schools of thought on workplace learning. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says workplace learning should be organized, structured, and has learning objectives.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines workplace learning as acquiring knowledge or skills by formal or informal means that occurs in the workplace. It includes both formal on-the-job training and informal workplace learning.

“Too much of this learning is ad hoc today,” said Minister Wong. “It’s not systematic. It’s not structured. It’s not even deliberately thought through. It’s just ad hoc.”

Minister Wong believes that institutes of higher learning must bridge the disconnect learners may experience between the time that they are students and members of the workforce.

“All IHL’s, especially our universities, must build relationships with your graduates. You need to build a lifelong relationship with all of your students. And it’s not just about getting them to donate as alumni,” said Minister Wong.

“It’s about supporting them after they enter the workforce, continuously engaging with them to update them on the latest trends in industry to help them grow their professional networks and encourage them to proactively upskill and reskill.”

Singapore Minister for Education Lawrence Wong speaks about employers and workplace learning.

Review of technical learning institutes

Minister Wong also announced a review of Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and the city-state’s five polytechnics to ensure that learners are prepared for the working world.

The five Singapore polytechnics are Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), Republic Polytechnic (RP), Singapore Polytechnic (SP), and Temasek Polytechnic (TP).

Minister Wong stressed that graduates should “acquire deep skills and competencies that are well-matched to their interests, and also the needs of employers and the industry.”

As Asia navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, EdTech players have also embraced opportunities to support the mindset of lifelong learning in the training and reskilling sector.

Soft skills vs robots

With the wariness of Industry 4.0 comes a mindset of possibilities for the future of work. According to a recent study by MIT, the robots aren’t coming for our jobs just yet.

“We need to develop attitudes and skills beyond book knowledge. People worry about robots taking over humans in the digital age. But there are many things that humans do which robots and machines will never be able to do,” said Minister Wong, offering some reassurance.

“So the way forward for all of us is to continue to emphasize our competitive advantage. And now human strengths of ability to build relationships with one another to collaborate and work in teams, to be able to think creatively to keep on learning spontaneously serendipitously to brainstorm and challenge one another and then develop better solutions together. These soft skills may sound like, you know, the most natural things in the world and everyone that can do them but in fact, they ought to be practiced continuously.”

LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia showcases innovation in learning in Asia. We feature stories and resources in online learning, workplace learning, adult education, EdTech, and creative solutions by teachers and trainers in learning institutions, non-profits, and enterprises that enhance human capacity and inspire communities of lifelong learners.