“On this front, Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan has been appointed to spearhead the effort to engage firms, especially small and medium enterprises” (Lee Yi Shyan To Lead SkillsFuture Outreach To Firms, Lee Yen Nee).
Traditional approaches to boost productivity in Singapore have oftentimes focused on the employers, and in particular the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are called upon by the government to do more. This time, Senior Minister of State (Trade and Industry, and National Development) Lee Yi Shyan has been appointed “to spearhead the effort to engage firms” (TODAY, Jul. 24). Yet, absent in this discourse is the role of the employee, who – to a large extent – determines the success of the SkillsFuture initiative. If the workers are not convinced of the importance of the initiative, and as a consequence use the credits or sign up for activities because they are obligatory, then any undertakings, however ambitious, will come to naught.
It was also announced that the SkillsFuture movement “has gained good ground with the implementation of several initiatives”, with examples cited from the Ministry of Education and the tertiary institutions. While the eventual indicator is whether productivity at the national level does increase, it may be useful to move these measurements beyond the employers too. Agencies for instance may share the number of multi-national corporations or SMEs which have been reached, and by implication the aggregated number of Singaporeans who have benefited, even though on the ground these figures mean little unless feedback is gathered for these endeavours. Honest perspectives improve not only how employers involve their employees, but also the way programmes are conducted.
Moreover, the engagement of employers is convenient, and at first glance seems to allow the government agencies to influence more individuals. Yet training and development in the company are frequently eyed with disdain, when programmes are foisted upon the employees. Bosses are anxious for their subordinates to be retrained or upgraded, because in the bigger picture strategic plans may call for it. On the other hand, employees may resent these additional commitments. Organise these sessions after work hours, and the collective groan would resonate more strongly. Frame these sessions poorly, and incur the wrath of disgruntled employees who do not necessarily appreciate the value in the future.
Securing the buy-in from workers may be more demanding, yet the long-term gains are also more valuable.
In other words, employers should feel the urgency to roll out SkillsFuture in their companies from their employees, not just the government. Pressure from the bottom and top. In this vein, their employees should be clamouring to sign up, cognisant of how they could improve their career prospects. Agencies can harness the network effect – as individuals reach their colleagues or counterparts – through awareness campaigns to educate the public, from young at the schools, and perhaps even through social media platforms, to get the message out in a sustained fashion.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.