Why Must You Upgrade?

Why Must You Upgrade?

In a competitive job market, you must understand that the labour market demands a greater alignment between education and training now more than ever before.
By Ananya Mukherjee

After a somewhat painfully extended period of financial downturn, Singapore’s economy has finally rebounded from the global economic recession. The first half of 2010 witnessed a GDP growth of 17.9% year-on-year. Many jobs have been created and unemployment is low. Today, most Singaporeans and foreign workers are looking forward to better wages, more overtime and higher bonuses this year. However, risks in the world economy remain, especially in Europe and the US and if the global economy plunges again, Singapore will be buffeted.

The Singapore government, is therefore, urging employers all across the island to understand the need of the hour, and the significance of growth with a sustained effort now more than ever before. This is the time to invest in people, upgrade the existing infrastructure and improve productivity.

“Every student must be keen to learn and go as far as you can. Every worker must master the knowhow and skills to be productive and competitive. Every manager must train and motivate his staff to maximise their contribution and potential. Only then can Singaporeans do better jobs that our economy will create, and enjoy higher incomes, brighter opportunities, and more fulfilling lives,” Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Message this year.

The government, he confirmed, will support Singaporeans in this, by developing a first class education system for the young, and a comprehensive Continuing Education and Training (CET) programme to upgrade the workers.

Beyond improving the education system, the government is investing $5.5 billion over five years to do this. Two CET campuses in the East and West of Singapore are being built, and many schemes and incentives to help companies and workers improve their productivity are being introduced. “I am glad employers and unions strongly support CET, because their support is crucial,” Prime Minister Lee observed.

The right step forward
Skills upgrading is important for maximising human capital from both the employee and the employer perspectives. When human resources are well used, the benefits are obvious. “In Singapore, we have seen evidence of this: a good
education system, a disciplined and well trained workforce has given us the living standards that many envy. Now, it is about being relevant and continually re-skilling and up-skilling to meet changing market demands. Take the case of healthcare, the demands are different: we see an aging population with different challenges and also new emerging diseases.

Healthcare employees would have to reskill and up-skill to be more familiar with the demands of an aging population, fight new and emerging diseases arising from different lifestyles etc,” Elizabeth Martin Chua, HR expert and principal consultant, Elizabeth Martin Associates, noted. Another example that is very apparent is the results of globalisation. People are travelling more, gaining different exposures, thinking differently. For example, people in the service industry will have to cope with more discerning customers. Saying that it is not done here is not good enough. Up-skilling and reskilling to learn more is not only necessary but is a mindset of continuous education. People should view learning as fun and staying with old knowledge as boring, Elizabeth observed.

Needless to add, from an individual standpoint, one must always sharpen and update one’s skills to stay relevant and employable. “Companies would want to hire and retain staff that has relevant skills. The onus is also on the staff to ensure this happens,” Bentley Williams, principal consultant, Bentley Williams Consulting said. Once, employees get this mindset, it is not about the company anymore, it is about using one’s own potential to the fullest and enjoying it. Whether you are working in a MNC, SME or even for yourself, it is about your own self, you want to grow it, not waste it.

Organisations’ approach
Many organisations are investing heavily in training. Some organisations have impactful training or Learning and Development units set up. The biggest companies even have their own ‘academy’ or ‘university’. Not to forget, the government also has several schemes which businesses and individuals can tap to defray the cost of training. For example, the Singapore Service Star provides workshop and seminar training to retail establishments, F&B outlets and nightspots estimated to cost around S$4,400 per employee annually. Businesses are even able to tap this scheme to send their employees on subsidised overseas learning trips.

If you are doubtful about the benefits you might have after undergoing an upgrading programme, think again. “While we cannot discount the working experience and the performance components, employees who seek to upgrade themselves will stand a better chance of being more employable. Going for work-related training and networking sessions such as those organised by the Singapore Service Star helps to keep workers in tune with the latest trends and allows them to learn from some of the best in the industry,”Bentley attested.

And is it possible to upgrade your skills on an individual basis? Yes, there are numerous courses you can sign up for to upgrade various technical and soft skills. At the same time, there are many public run of courses offered by various institutions that staff can get their companies to sponsor.

What’s behind the training masterplans?
Amidst all these initiatives, the Ministry of Manpower and Singapore Workforce Development Authority will develop two CET campuses in Paya Lebar and Jurong to serve as key focal points for skills upgrading. The campuses are expected to provide about a combined total of 150,000 training places annually. This further underscores Singapore’s continuing commitment to CET and its increasing importance in augmenting economic competitiveness as well as enhancing workers’ employability. For employers, it aims to enhance quality and productivity by helping workers acquire industry relevant skills and stay ahead of industry developments. For all Singaporeans, not only it will form the fundamentals of a lifelong learning system to help workers find your niches, seize opportunities in new growth areas and remain relevant and employable, it will also enable you, including rank-and-file workers and professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) to remain employable with new and better skills. With this thrust, nearly 80% of Singapore’s resident workforce will have at least a diploma qualification by 2020, compared to 36% in 2007.

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