Stacking up India against Singapore is like comparing apples and oranges. Singapore is a small city-state, a global financial and trading hub, with a nearly $300 billion economy, 5.6 million population, $51,431 per capita income and a workforce of over 3.6 million whereas India is a nation with 1.3 billion people, over $2.5 trillion economy, an over 470 million-strong workforce and $1,850 per capita income.
Yet, at a time when India is staring at a looming job crisis, it might want to look at Singapore for some direction. India faces problems at two ends of the job market. Not enough decent wage jobs are being created for 12 million new workers (mostly unskilled and illiterate) that join the workforce annually. Also, a growing number of educated, skilled workers find their skills dated as technology and automation roil the job market in a range of industries from banking to information technology.
It is in reskilling the workforce that Singapore could offer some clues. On May Day eve, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined the challenges to the country’s continued prosperity: it “comes down to three things — jobs, jobs, jobs”. He was candid enough to say that the redundancies will grow even as Singapore’s economy grows and the country must take worker upgrading “very seriously”. Singapore is working on a three-pronged strategy — create new jobs, redeploy displaced workers and constantly upskill workers — to keep its citizens employed.
In January 2016, the government rolled out a programme called SkillsFuture Credit. It is part of the SkillsFuture movement which is a national movement to maximize the potential of Singaporeans and to enable them to achieve their potential regardless of their starting points. As part of SkillsFuture Credit, every Singaporean aged 25 and above will get S$500 to pay for a variety of courses, from cooking to photography. The government is investing $1 billion annually until 2020 on a slew of initiatives like student counseling, internships and mid-career learning.
Ng Cher Pong is the CEO of SkillsFuture Singapore under the Ministry of Education. He shares his perspective on the initiative, the journey so far and the lessons learnt in an interview with Malini Goyal.
What is the Singapore government’s SkillsFuture initiative?
Launched in 2015, SkillsFuture is a national movement to maximize the potential of Singaporeans and to enable them to achieve their potential regardless of their starting points. Set against the current global economic climate, where entire industries are being disrupted by technology and innovations, jobs will evolve and new skills will be required. A key intent of the SkillsFuture movement is to empower individuals to take ownership of acquiring new skills and to deepen their skills throughout life. This aims to enable Singaporeans to be adaptable, and develop the skills that are needed for their current jobs, and jobs of the future.
The SkillsFuture movement encompasses a range of initiatives that target various segments to support them in their pursuit of lifelong learning and skills mastery. These include SkillsFuture Credit, SkillsFuture Earn and Learn, SkillsFuture Mid-career Enhanced Subsidy and the SkillsFuture Study Awards.
What has been the learning curve?
We have made steady progress and built up some momentum in each of the key SkillsFuture initiatives. As a result of these initiatives, more companies and individuals have participated in some form of training. The training participation rate, which is defined as the number of training places funded by the government, increased from 8,30,000 in 2015 to about 9,20,000 in 2016. One of the keys intended outcomes of SkillsFuture is to drive a mindset change among individuals, employers and training providers towards lifelong learning and skills mastery. This is a long-term effort that requires a close partnership with employers, unions, and individuals. For SkillsFuture to be successful, individuals, employers and the government play an equally important role. At this stage, we are focusing on building awareness for SkillsFuture and its specific programmes as well as building a national culture of lifelong learning.
Any advice for Indian policymakers who are trying to find ways to train and upgrade skills of its workforce?
From our experience, the development of a country’s education and training system is very context-specific and must meet the needs of employers, individuals and training providers. While we are pleased to share our experiences from implementing SkillsFuture, we would caution against transferring the programmes and initiatives wholesale to another country.
What are the other initiatives of the government to help its workforce stay aligned to market needs?
To anticipate market needs and help its workforce stay aligned to the demand of the market, the government has rolled out a $4.5 billion Industry Transform Programme. It will integrate different restructuring efforts, taking a targeted and industry-focused approach to address issues and deepen partnerships between the government, firms, industries, trade associations, and chambers. Under the programme, Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) will be tailored to the needs of 23 industries. In developing these ITMs, the government will examine the industry landscape, future trends and needs to set out a suite of initiatives to systematically raise productivity, develop skills, drive innovation and promote internationalization. Each ITM will have a growth and competitiveness plan, supported by four pillars: productivity, jobs and skills, innovation and trade, and internationalization.
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