“The manpower situation has shot to the top of the national agenda as Singapore’s economy moderates and leaders plot the way forward” (The Big Read: Despite Much Fretting about Jobs, Lots of Vacancies Go A-Begging, Kenneth Cheng).
If the problem of mismatch between jobs and skills – in which “the number of layoffs has surged to more than 13,600 in the first nine months of the year, the highest since the global financial crisis some seven years ago” (TODAY, Nov. 19) – is conceptualised as a mismatch between the supply of skilled labour in the classroom with the demand for it at the workplace, then the responsibility to fix this manpower crunch does not fall solely on the industries, even with their growing demands for skilled labour. Instead more attention should also be paid to the schools, to the schools offering technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in particular, on whether graduates are equipped with the right skills and knowledge, and whether graduates are prepared for a more ambiguous future.
At the workplace, even though remuneration and other practical considerations such as working hours and location remain important considerations, both employees and their employers in the interviews cited both opportunities to grow as well as progression and advancement opportunities as critical too. Oftentimes discourse in this regard is framed in terms of what workers can do for their companies – bearing in mind that the latest SME Development Survey earlier in November found that small and medium enterprises were hindered in their efforts to upgrade the skills of their workforce – but not necessarily the other way round. Even as the number of layoffs in Singapore increases, workers will not hang around for long if they reckon their prospects are limited.
In the classroom, how adequate are the curriculum and pedagogies, to prepare graduates for jobs of the future? Are students – through education and career guidance, for instance – cognisant of the manpower or economic situation in the country, and are they distributed efficiently across different courses and specialisations? In these sectors of concern (the technician, sales, engineering, and accounting and finance industries), are companies engaged in the TVET institutions, to communicate the relevant industry trends to educators? The Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review was a good first step, yet it would be constructive for the government to quantify the progress made.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.