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Five strategies to boost workers' skills

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Hopefully, Committee of Supply debates will shed light on how local workforce can acquire and utilise deep skills to be productive in the future economy

The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) has recommended helping the local workforce acquire and utilise deep skills as one of the seven mutually reinforcing strategies to strengthen Singapore's future economic standing.

Singapore's success as a skills-based economy depends on embedding a culture of lifelong learning in its workforce, and the recommendation underscored that.

The Budget statement that followed has gone some way in addressing how the deepening of skills within the local workforce will be enabled in the short and medium term, and many expect the upcoming Committee of Supply (COS) debates to shed more light on these broad intentions.

Here are five areas where we hope to see further details announced:

Promulgate broad and sector-agnostic skills

The Industry Transformation Maps and their accompanying skills frameworks will help identify how jobs will evolve within each of the 23 sectors, and the skills needed to navigate emerging trends such as digitalisation and automation within these sectors.

As the employers and the trade associations and chambers (TACs) within each sector focus on the specialised skills needed in their sectors, we must also continue to inculcate broad and generic skills, such as problem-solving, team leadership and digital literacy, which are relevant across multiple sectors.

This will smoothen the movement of the workforce across sectors amid structural shifts within our economy.

Efforts must be made to integrate the inculcation of these generic skills within early childhood, primary and secondary educational institutions.

Meanwhile, post-secondary educational institutions (PSEIs) should focus on the last-mile specialist skills needed for immediate application as graduates embark on their careers.

Shorten development cycles of training programmes

S'pore's success as a skills-based economy depends on embedding a culture of lifelong learning in its workforce.

Employers need to work closely with the TACs to develop training programmes that are relevant and up to date.

In higher educational institutions today, it typically takes two to three years to develop and commence the delivery of training content - this means that what has been developed to address nascent trends will probably be outdated by the time the courses are implemented.

It is therefore important to have specific ways to "short-circuit" the process and bring together employers, TACs, PSEIs and government agencies on an accelerated path to develop and deliver training.

Encourage SMEs to invest in learning and development

Apart from the Budget measures to develop modularised training programmes that are relevant to emerging trends and encourage business owners to send their employees for such training, schemes and funds are also available from agencies such as SkillsFuture to alleviate the cost burden on business owners.

Yet, many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) cite their lean workforce - and thus the inability - to allow time off for training, as a barrier.

To alleviate these concerns, training programmes can be designed to be delivered on a half-day or quarter-day basis.

Or, the training programmes can incorporate e-learning modules to ensure that in-class time is fully optimised.

Human resource-specific advisory by business advisers within the SME Centres can also be provided to help SMEs manage their learning and development efforts, enhance their performance management systems to recognise skills upgrading and work performance improvement as well as implement flexi-work arrangements to enable employees to attend training while attending to their daily work duties.

We also hope to see clear benefits offered to SMEs that invest in the skills upgrading of their staff, under the ambit of the SkillsFuture initiative.

Upgrade skills in mature workforce

The Budget has extended the Additional Special Employment Credit to provide more support to firms that hire older workers.

This is in tandem with the raising of the re-employment age from 65 to 67.

While the Budget has laid out efforts to strengthen key programmes under the Adapt and Grow initiative for professionals, managers, executives and technicians and rank-and-file workers in transition, we hope to see implementation details that specifically address the deepening and broadening of skills for mature workers, given their increased longevity at the workplace.

To ensure that these mature workers remain gainfully employed and possess the relevant skills, the enhancements planned for programmes such as the Career Support Programme (CSP) and Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) should address how employers are encouraged to train and retrain mature workers, who are perhaps more vulnerable to the disruptions and trends affecting the economy.

Schemes such as SkillsFuture can also be enhanced to encourage individual-initiated lifelong learning among mature workers.

Optimise job demand-supply matching

The National Jobs Bank is being made more useful for job-seekers and employers as a recruitment sourcing channel for employers to post their job vacancies.

There are also lessons to be gleaned from e-commerce giants in optimising demand-supply matching and enhancing customer - in this case, employers and job-seekers - satisfaction.

For example, the National Jobs Bank platform could incorporate these value-adding features: A job-seeker should be able to click on a job posting, get a good understanding of the skills and qualifications required with reference to the sector's skills framework and also glean insights into the reporting structures and key responsibility areas.

The individual should also be able to access a "biography-like" profile feature, to establish who he or she will report to and work with as well as assess his or her fit with the team.

From an employer's perspective, the profile feature should allow him or her to assess the candidate's background, validated skills and competencies.

The employer should also be able to lean on analytics features to establish how the individual can augment and enhance the team's effectiveness.

Budget 2017 has set the right tone and direction for how we should embrace the acquisition and utilisation of deep skills among our local workforce.

But a strategy will only be as good as its execution.

Will the COS debates bring the strategy to life and ground it in implementation? We are hopeful.

The writers are, respectively, partner and associate director for people advisory services at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP. The views are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms. This first appeared in The Business Times yesterday.