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Finding solutions to upgrade, reward worker skills in Singapore

SINGAPORE — Even as the push for lifelong learning and continual education gets underway here, the findings of an international adult skills survey reflected the need to help employers better appreciate and reward skills outside of formal qualifications, said labour Members of Parliament (MP) and economists.

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SINGAPORE — Even as the push for lifelong learning and continual education gets underway here, the findings of an international adult skills survey reflected the need to help employers better appreciate and reward skills outside of formal qualifications, said labour Members of Parliament (MP) and economists.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) adult skills survey released yesterday found that a larger-than-average proportion of adults here have poor literacy and numeracy skills, compared to other countries in the study, particularly among older adults.

It also found that for every additional 3.2 years of education, there was an associated increase in wages of over 30 per cent, compared to the OECD average of less than 15 per cent.

Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Manpower, was concerned about the older workers here, and stressed the need to nudge them towards skills upgrading.

He also spoke of the need to better structure how workers are rewarded for skills within industries. One way is a “skills ladder” for each sector to encourage workers to build on their capabilities, and be rewarded accordingly.

OCBC economist Selena Ling cited the example of professional qualifications such as the Chartered Financial Analyst certification, which is well-recognised among employers. For other professions, there could be industry-specific skills frameworks, with bigger players to lead the way by implementing these guidelines.

MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) who chairs the Manpower GPC, noted that the Workforce Skills Qualification certifications, as well as other recognised qualifications under the SkillsFuture initiative, could help employers in looking beyond paper qualifications.

Mr Choo also said human resources practitioners should also be trained to make skills-based assessments during recruitment. “With the jobs of the future, there will also be more diverse ways of assessing potential employees,” he said.

To incentivise workers to go for training, the Government’s Workfare Income Supplement scheme for low-wage workers could be expanded to reward workers who go for skills upgrading, he added.

Ms Ling suggested implementing an apprenticeship system — prevalent in German companies — which allows employees to gain recognised skills. SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira felt that the natural workings of a more volatile future economy will spur workers to go for upgrading to keep their skills current.

Although educational qualifications will still act as a convenient proxy for employers in deciding whom to hire, Dr Theseira felt that “increasingly, it will be less important whether one has a degree but rather, what kind of degree it is and who granted the degree”.

He also noted that in encouraging continual learning, one issue is the long working hours here which reduces time for learning outside work.

“I don’t think that we will go down the route of some European countries which have legislated maximum working hours, but it is worthwhile considering whether encouraging companies and workers to free up more personal time could have dividends not just on the family, but also in terms of better preparing workers for lifelong learning,” he said.

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