“Singapore also wants to develop a new social culture, where people gain satisfaction from learning at every stage of life … as well as from mastering the skill and being part of a community of learners” (SUSS and IAL Team Up to Advance Adult Education, Adrian Lim).
Implicit in the focus on adult and lifelong learning is the desire to raise labour productivity levels in Singapore, though in this pursuit of greater economic competitiveness and a stronger meritocracy of skills – “where people gain satisfaction from learning at every stage of life … as well as from mastering the skill and being part of a community of learners” (ST, Apr. 26) – shifting socio-cultural mindsets to be more proactive and to participate is as important as increasing the number of educational opportunities. In setting broader goals, in this vein, it would be productive for the government to consider the eagerness of Singaporeans, their willingness and ability to balance work, family, and personal commitments with training and development, and their future trajectories.
Conformity to the predominant view that individuals are necessarily wedded to particular jobs, companies, or industries across their lifetimes is changing, though children – tempted to follow in the footsteps of their parents – should: First, develop a long-term view of their careers and understand that they are likely to make multiple switches; second, acknowledge that the knowledge and skills gained in their 20s or 30s may no longer be relevant later in life; and third, remain open to exploration throughout their lives. Respectively and along this tangent, employers should manage their stigma against (prospective) employees who switch, assume some responsibility for the meaningful training and development of their employees, and ultimately and constantly help them evaluate their priorities.
Some of these proposals – especially for the employers – appear idealistic, though they bring attention to personal responsibility, the role of employers, and how the government and in particular the education sector can bridge these endeavours. Initiatives under the SkillsFuture umbrella reflect the government’s vision, yet the aforementioned goals would reflect whether the message has been communicated effectively. How many Singaporean workers have taken up the programmes and services? To what extent have they benefited from these programmes? And conversely what are the reasons for non-participation, even among those who might gain the most? After all, setting targets against these benchmarks seem most productive for what the country wishes to achieve.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.