Singapore is predicted to be short of 1m skilled workers by 2030 as a result of declining population growth and tightening rules on hiring foreigners designed to ensure the local workforce has access to more job opportunities2.
At the end of 2016, the Singaporean government established SkillsFuture, a national agency dedicated to promoting lifelong learning among Singaporeans. In 2018, around 465,000 Singaporeans and 12,000 businesses benefitted from training subsidies through SkillsFuture programmes. The Institute of Adult Learning (IAL) is a SkillsFuture institute that promotes work-based learning programmes, such as Earn and Learn.
Under this programme, fresh graduates from polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) – Singapore’s national vocational institute – get placed with employers and learn through structured on-the-job training and college-based learning. Employers can receive up to $15,000 Singapore dollars (£8,500) to offset the cost of developing and providing the structured training. Designed in collaboration with industry, Earn and Learn has been introduced across 25 sectors including aerospace, biomedical sciences, food services, games development, healthcare, hotel, infocomm technology and retail.
Mobile game development company gumi Asia has two employees on the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme. Managing director Ronnie Tan says: “As they are given opportunities to take on responsibilities as full-time staff, these students not only acquire new relevant skills, but also contribute more effectively to the company.”
Tan was inspired by his own experience during an apprenticeship with a Japanese games company and believes making employees feel valued ensures employers in turn benefit from greater productivity. "After they have upgraded completed the programme, they will contribute back to the company,” Tan says. “This benefits both the company and our industry at large.”
Lee Wee Chee, Director of The Institute of Adult Learning, said: “Employers want to see tangible benefits from work-based learning programmes, and the kind of examples we can give are things like a reduction in customer complaints or a reduction in the number of defects on the factory floor. But, actually, what we’ve noticed is it’s the intangibles that employers value even more. For example, increased staff confidence, a willingness to speak up, the ability to make decisions and take on new responsibilities.” While these benefits may not translate into profits immediately, they will do longer term, Chee adds.
IAL’s other work-based learning programmes include ‘Enhanced Internships’, which allow second or third year vocational students to improve their workplace skills through enhancements including extended employer attachments. Chee says a key element of Singapore’s success in work-based learning has been the provision of ‘workplace learning specialists’ whose specific role is to help businesses and educational institutions design and implement work-based learning programmes that work for all stakeholders.
“We’ve found that having such a person at the heart of the whole interaction with stakeholders makes a huge difference,” Chee says. “They look after the business, look after the learning provider – and that can make this whole intervention more effective.”
CASE STUDY: Aegis Building and Engineering, Singapore
People with learning disabilities are being trained to work as preventive maintenance technicians with Singaporean construction services business, Aegis Building and Engineering. Ten trainees from the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN), a social service organisation, were selected to undergo training in painting, grouting and siliconing skills as part of a nine-month programme.
Aegis has about 150 employees and specialises in providing preventative maintenance to 5-star hotels. “In Singapore we have a problem just now getting workers,” explains Aegis managing director and founder Yeong Wai Teck. “We’re currently getting workers from Bangladesh and India. But we want to attract more Singaporeans by providing them with the necessary training for the job.”
Three of the trainees have since graduated from the in-house training and are currently on six-month apprenticeships with the Shangri-La and Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza hotels. Before the attachment, all trainees undergo three months of hands-on training in school. “We built a simple mock-up of things the trainees could do to learn these skills in school for three months,” Wai Teck explains. “They were assisted by a work coach from APSN and a supervisor from Aegis. After three months, we assessed the trainees and spoke to the hotels, which is ultimately where the trainees will be seeking employment.
“The hotels – our customers – are very happy that we’re doing this. They wanted to be part of this process as they feel they’re also contributing in terms of corporate social responsibility.” The project is also part of a programme at the Building & Facilities Centre of On the Job Training at the Institute of Technical Education, Singapore’s vocational education institution. Those who complete the programme will receive a certificate accredited by the Institute and a guaranteed job at Aegis.