Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Skills Future Singapore Agency Bill
Madam Speaker, I recognise with enthusiasm the growing emphasis the government is placing on lifelong learning.
We started in 1979 with the Skills Development Fund (SDF) as our first training initiative at the national level.
And today, we are about to welcome a brand new agency to helm the national objective of continued learning. In this regard, I stand in firm support of the Bill.
Helping Singaporeans take ownership of their careers and stay relevant in the workplace
The job market is changing in ways and at a speed not seen in the past. It is of utmost importance to ensure that Singapore’s workforce continue to develop ‘skills for the future’, and be well-prepared to predict and plan for medium- to long-term manpower needs.
A culture of constant upskilling must be instilled among Singaporeans to help them stay ahead of changing workplace trends.
Today’s workforce is also different – as young people spend the earlier part of their career on a journey of self-discovery.
SkillsFuture will provide them with a window to explore alternative skills and career tracks, with little opportunity cost as they can pursue classes alongside their full-time jobs.
Madam Speaker, I would like to raise two points with regards to this Bill.
Ensuring that the quality of private courses is upheld
Firstly, I would like to ask the Minister if there are provisions in place to ensure that the quality of private courses is upheld.
Clause 5 (1)(h) highlights accreditation of providers of adult education. Private institutions can quickly take advantage of the influx of government funding for their courses, taking in more students at the expense of the quality of their courses.
Can the Minister share how and how often these course providers will be vetted, and their courses checked for quality assurance?
For example, if a Singaporean would like to pick up a course on filmmaking, there is currently only 1 Skills Future-approved institution and course available, although there are many similar courses in the market.
How does the government decide which private education courses enjoy accreditation, and which do not?
Will there also be checks in place to ensure that course providers do not inflate their course fees?
Furthermore, it is the students themselves who can best testify if the courses are relevant to their needs. In light of Clause 5(1)(i) to improve the quality of courses, can the Minister clarify if a mechanism will be put in place to measure the students’ levels of satisfaction for the course and course provider?
More than just a paper chase
Secondly, Clause 5(1)(f) refers to the need to instill enthusiasm for lifelong learning. I could not agree more with the importance of this function.
This ensures that we do not miss the point, that as we encourage adults to embark on self-improvement, we do not risk turning adult learning into a mere paper chase.
A certificate is not an end-all, and what this new agency must focus on is to instil a genuine curiosity for learning, a desire for self-improvement, and the resolve to take ownership of one’s career.
These are the hallmarks of a motivated, robust and highly adaptable workforce, ready to take on the rapid changes in the 21st century workplace.
Employability is measured by a complex matrix of attributes, including not just hard skills, but inherent behavioural attributes such as resilience, creativity, risk-taking and curiosity – traits which are not often considered the core strengths of the Singaporean workforce.
These are soft skills which can never be taught in a classroom, much like attempting to teach children moral values through textbooks.
As we shine the spotlight on adult learning, I urge that we continue our efforts to improve the mainstream education system, giving children space outside of the classroom to acquire soft skills, and instilling a genuine desire for self-learning and discovery from a young age.
These comments notwithstanding, Madam, this Bill can only serve the interests of Singapore’s workforce, and I stand in support of it.