ABU DHABI: WorldSkills Singapore 2018 will be expanded to include university students and introduce competition areas that are relevant to industries in Singapore such as cybersecurity, SkillsFuture chief executive Ng Cher Pong said on Wednesday (Oct 18).
Mr Ng was speaking to the media on the sidelines of the 44th international WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi. Dubbed the "Olympics of Skills", the biennial competition pits youths around the world in skilled trade areas.
WorldSkills Singapore, a nation-wide skills competition for Singaporean youths, is also held once every two years. Candidates who win the local edition go on to represent Singapore at the international WorldSkills competition.
Mr Ng explained that the 2018 edition in Singapore will feature cybersecurity as it is “clearly a growing industry”.
“We see many companies, Singtel for example, investing large money into this area. The jobs are there, the opportunities are there. We think it is then useful to bring this message upstream to not just to the polytechnic, ITE and university students but also secondary school students, using WorldSkills as the platform,” said Mr Ng, who is leading the Singapore team in Abu Dhabi.
The 21-member strong team is competing in 19 skill areas such as information and network cabling, aircraft maintenance as well as health and social care.
WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 has a record high of close to 1,300 competitors from some 60 countries and regions around the world, up from some 1,200 competitors in 2015.
TIME NEEDED TO CHANGE MINDSET OF WHAT SUCCESS MEANS: ONG YE KUNG
Singapore’s Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday (Oct 16) on a four-day working visit, also lent his support to the competitors. He is the first Singapore education minister to attend an edition of WorldSkills since the nation started participating in 1995.
Apart from meeting with competitors, Mr Ong also took part in a panel discussion on how youths can cope with change in a disruptive economy.
The discussion took place at the closing plenary session of the WorldSkills Conference, which was held in conjunction with the competition on Tuesday (Oct 17).
He said time is needed to change the mindsets of parents and society to redefine what success means, a challenge faced across the world. But Mr Ong is confident that this will change as the current generation of youths grow up.
"Within our system, we have to open up pathways, spaces for them to explore what they don't know yet and, hopefully in time, they discover their passion,” said Mr Ong.
Panellists also spoke about the need to have education systems that are in line with the skills the labour market requires, and to continually engage youths so their aspirations are heard.
The six-member panel included the UAE Education Minister Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi and Russia’s Deputy Minister of Education and Science, Lyudmila Ogorodova.
PERCEPTION PERSISTS THAT VOCATIONAL DEGREE NOT AS PRESTIGIOUS
Some countries at the competition stressed the need for more time to change society’s perceptions on skilled trades.
Switzerland, perhaps the most successful country when it comes to promoting skilled trades, has trade organisations, government and companies working hand-in-hand to train their youths, of whom two-thirds enter vocational education. But according to the official delegate for SwissSkills, Ms Christine Davatz, there still remains a perception that the vocational route is not as prestigious as obtaining a degree.
“It’s always in the head that education is school and vocational education and training is not school, it’s working. This we have to convince parents and to show the careers you can do,” said Ms Davatz.
For Hong Kong, the chairman of the territory’s Vocational Training Council Clement Chen said while the pay gap between vocational education graduates and degree holders are narrowing for certain trades, a major challenge is getting companies to offer internships so students can clock enough practical experience before they graduate from vocational school.
“In Hong Kong, most companies are SMEs, so they (are) rather reluctant to hire inexperienced youngsters. They say they offer internships but at the end of day, the students go to the big international companies. In this part, I think the government can play some role to offer some incentives so small companies are willing to invest in young people,” said Dr Chen.
Mr Ng likened the process of changing mindsets to steering the rudder of a big ship.
“You need many stakeholders to be turning the steering wheel in a certain direction ... we are starting to see shifts, it’s still uneven but we are starting to see some of the gaps being narrowed. The important part is not just employers recognising the importance of skills but society in general. Consumers for example, need to value skills and be prepared to pay more for skills,” said Mr Ng.
The four-day WorldSkills competition started on Oct 15. Results will be announced on Thursday.