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Mindset change needed for ASPIRE's recommendations to work

From 2016, Place-and-Train programmes will be piloted in some sectors to help polytechnic and ITE graduates rise up the career ladder. For these initiatives to work, stakeholders must see the potential of multiple pathways to success, say ASPIRE Committee members.  

SINGAPORE: If implemented well, new programmes that integrate work and study for fresh polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates could be a game-changer in Singapore. The key is getting employers, parents and students to buy into the idea that one does not need to take the academic route for career advancement.

Such programmes are among the recommendations from the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee, released on Monday (Aug 25). Under a Place-and-Train programme, for example, an ITE graduate who joins the workforce as a technician could take up courses with work experience, eventually rising up the career ladder to become an engineer. He could receive potentially higher pay upon the completion of his apprenticeship, and receive a certificate recognised by his employer. Such courses could even be converted to credits that are recognised by a polytechnic or university, for a diploma or degree programme. 

The Government will work with various industries to develop sector-specific skills frameworks that clearly map out what needs to done in order to advance in one's career. From 2016, Place-and-Train programmes will be piloted in sectors that employ a significant number of polytechnic and ITE graduates, such as hotel and restaurant management, aerospace and logistics.

Mr Choo Chiau Beng, a senior advisor to Keppel Corporation and a member of the ASPIRE Committee, stressed the importance of parental support for the initiative: "Do not just go for the paper chase. Do not just encourage your child to be a lawyer when there are not enough jobs for a lawyer. I think it is important that we give many pathways to all Singaporeans - that there is no glass ceiling if you do not have a degree. There is no glass ceiling if you are not a scholar."

OTHER INITIATIVES IN THE PIPELINE

Polytechnic graduates will also have more opportunities to take up post-diploma qualifications once they start working - courses will be made more flexible, by being offered as either as part-time or shorter full-time ones. Subsidies will also be increased from 85 per cent to 90 per cent of course fees for those taking their first post-diploma certificate in selected courses, two or more years after they graduate from polytechnic, or after completion of full-time National Service (NS) for men who enlisted immediately after graduating from polytechnic.

In line with proposals by the Committee to Strengthen National Service, suitable NS vocations will also be identified so that they can obtain industry-recognised accreditation. This means NSmen will be better placed to join the industry they are trained for, after they finish their full-time NS. The polytechnics and ITE will work with the Defence Ministry and Home Affairs Ministry on this.

MINDSET CHANGE NEEDED

The ASPIRE Committee said all these developments will require a fundamental change in mindsets. “There will be some things which will always need degrees. If you are going to do law, medicine or you are going to be an engineer who certifies structures, you do need that content,” Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, who chairs the ASPIRE Committee, acknowledged. “But just because you do not have a degree, does that mean that you cannot climb up the ranks? Let us deal with outcomes, what do people look at? Salary, promotion prospect, and this one is the intangible one – status, how you are seen in the eyes of society.”

The recommendations geared towards improvements in these areas include the Continuous Education and Training programme and the post-diploma courses that encourage learning on the job and obtaining additional qualifications like a Technical Diploma or a Specialist Diploma, she said. “Each of these gives you a chance to move up and hopefully reach the outcomes that you want. That is why we talk about multiple pathways.”

As for the question of “how do people see you”, Ms Indranee said: “The committee feels it is really important to value everyone, value every job, because these are important to Singapore and Singapore society as a whole, and we will not be able to progress without it."

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat underlined the point: "It is not a matter of one qualification versus another, but the right and relevant qualifications and the right and relevant learning experiences that enable individuals to build skills and expertise and to be able to then excel at the workplace."

The committee has acknowledged that it will take time for the changes to bear fruit. To drive this effort at the national level, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has been appointed to chair a tripartite committee made up of Government agencies, employers and the unions.

SKILLS PROGRESSION NOT JUST FOR BLUE-COLLAR SECTORS 

It is not just blue-collar sectors that can benefit from a focus on skills progression either. Advertising agency Tribal Worldwide Singapore has been running a self-described "university programme" for the past decade. Every year, for about two weeks, the organisation goes on a semi-hiatus so that all staff can go for training under a programme called Catalyst. 

The company identifies the trends that are likely to impact the industry and develops a curriculum to “future-proof” the agency, said Tribal Worldwide Singapore's president, Jeff Cheong. The firm also identifies skills needed for its staff to progress and trains them accordingly. Key Performance Indicators are task- and target-oriented, and every employee has an equal chance of moving up, no matter what their paper qualifications are.

Polytechnic graduate Ellyna Rahim, for example, was equipped with soft skills like leadership, presentation and negotiation. She was promoted in her second year of working for Tribal Worldwide Singapore and is now an account manager. "There are a lot of us here who do not have degrees and I do not think it is a problem. I get all the training that I can,” she said. 

Mr Cheong is himself a polytechnic graduate who started out as a graphic designer and then worked his way up. It took time, he admits, but he is living proof that it can be done. "I hope most organisations will embrace this cultural change, that they will be able to look at rewarding their people based on their contributions,” he said. “What we have here is: (Generating) ideas do not fall just on the creative department, because this is what we embrace as a creative organisation, and whoever can contribute will be rewarded accordingly."

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