Yesterday, I attended the National Day Rally 2014 at ITE College Central. Amongst others, the Prime Minister touched on pathways to success, especially for non-graduates, retirement adequacy and making Singapore as an endearing home for all. My Parliamentary colleague NCMP Gerald Giam touched on issues related to changes that are to be made to the CPF scheme. I will be sharing my thought about shifting our mind-set to support different pathways to success.
The PM shared stories about the successful non-graduates from Keppel Corporation. Keppel’s positive attitude to create opportunities for all its employees is commendable. These stories, however, are actually common in the private sector. I know of many cases of those with vocational training or diploma climbing high in the corporate ladder, exceeding that achieved by their graduate peers. Amongst those that I had personally supervised in the course of my work, I had one who came through the now defunct Baharrudin Vocational Institute (later merged into ITE). We took him into our company even though he did not have a diploma which we generally expected of staff as we were running a technology business that required people trained in specific skills. He came through because he had the relevant work experience. He demonstrated great work attitude and initiative and eventually rose to head the software team, a very critical part of our business, with many graduates reporting to him. His skills were self-taught or through courses attended along the way. There are many other such examples.
The elephant in the room is actually in the government service. The structures are well defined and it is no secret that scholars and those identified early as having potential are fast tracked through the system. They are typically those with stellar academic achievements. The promotion pathways are fairly rigid, with paper qualifications being sometimes the barrier preventing someone from jumping into a new career track within the civil service. While the PM had said changes will be made to the public service to merge the career tracks of graduates and non-graduates, no details were yet given. The execution will be challenging. It is helpful though that they have acknowledged this problem. What ASPIRE wants to achieve in providing fulfilling opportunities for Polytechnics and ITE graduates will need a major mind-set shift across the country, especially in the Public Service Division. Putting DPM Tharman to head the tripartite committee to make this happen does send an appropriate signal that this needs attention at the highest level.
In this globalised and highly connected 21st century, information becomes obsolete rapidly. The pace of change is rapid. Economies compete aggressively with one another. It is appropriate for Singapore to move away from a paper chase culture. It is useful to look at countries such as Germany and Switzerland that have placed strong emphasis on vocational training, and have ensured that those with the right skills are compensated competitively against their graduate peers. I had touched on this during the Parliament debate on the Singapore Institute of Technology bill.
The PM wants the current generation to be pioneers for the future generation, just as the first batch of pioneer generation had taken Singapore from third world to first world. We will need a culture of believing in our own people, developing them and giving them the opportunities to progress. We will need to move away from blind paper chase to chasing to equip ourselves with the skills to do the job well, and to do the job with pride. I certainly hope this mind-set shift will not be just lip service but will be pursued earnestly.