With Singapore’s limited natural resources and relatively small population, it is critical for the nation to continually anticipate the next disruption and adapt to it. Investing the necessary capital and developing the right talent required for the next phase of growth are, therefore, imperatives for the government, businesses and other industry stakeholders, including educational institutions.
The government’s Skills Demand for the Future Economy 2022 report noted that the digital, green and care economies are key priorities for Singapore.1
Working toward the ideal future state
According to the Ministry of Manpower’s Job Vacancies 2021 report, the proportion of job vacancies that were unfilled for six months or more increased from 27% in 2020 to 35% in 2021.2 The unfilled positions were not due to a lack of academic qualifications among Singaporeans, but the lack of candidates with relevant industry skills or work experience. This indicates that there is a gap between the concepts, lessons and skills learned in institutes of higher learning (IHLs) and the skills in demand at the workplace.
To support growth in the emerging sectors with a ready supply of talent, skills matching by bringing together the right combination of jobs and skills is imperative. The ideal scenario is an ecosystem where there is harmonization of the supply of skills and the requirements of employers. On the supply side, there are three ways to source individuals with the appropriate skills: IHLs, lifelong learning training programs and immigration from other countries. On the demand side, corporates, the government and startups are the largest employers.
For a start, the government can define and map the required skills and skill-based pathways for the industries and industry clusters. It can also orchestrate the alignment between industries and IHLs through grants and capacity- and capability-building initiatives. IHLs need to foster stronger ties with industry players so that their curricula are flexible and meet industry requirements. The higher-education sector can be the node to attract and retain traditional learners, adult learners as well as businesses. This can be done by positioning itself as the “industry knowledge services” sector and providing ample opportunities to deliver immersive industry experiences through its curricula.
For example, the government has appointed Nanyang Polytechnic’s (NYP) School of Engineering to lead the Jobs-Skills Integrator pilot program for the precision engineering (PE) sector. In this role, NYP will engage with PE companies to understand their skill needs and advise on industry-relevant training programs. NYP will also work with employment agencies and other training providers to enhance placement support and training for the sector. Together, these efforts will not only help the sector meet emerging skill requirements, but also support PE workers in career development and connect jobseekers with employment agencies and potential PE employers.
On the demand side, employers need to implement a skills-based approach in talent acquisition and development. Industry players can establish tried-and-true workplace learning practices and co-create curricula with IHLs to foster continuous learning on the job. Additionally, industry players should participate in government-run pilot projects and sandboxes so as to have a voice in government policymaking.