“Everyone should have the courage to re-gear to stay on track, and make the effort to acquire new skills at regular points in your careers, possibly even learning whole new disciplines,” said Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies last June.

His speech came at a time when Covid-19 was accelerating the uptake of tech across the nation – creating an unprecedented shift in skills required. “Please take on the challenge,” the minister exhorted.

How can universities play a role in the training and reskilling of the workforce? Professor Tan Thiam Soon, President of the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), discusses.

Keeping up with disruptions

Covid-19 has fast-tracked digitalisation of numerous industries. Companies are now turning to emerging technologies such as AI or robots to carry out manual, repetitive work.

This further underscores the need for tech skills such as cybersecurity and data analytics, SkillsFuture’s Chief Skills Officer, Dr Gog Soon Joo, told GovInsider. The majority of future job titles will include ‘technologist’ – such as teacher-technologist, Dr Gog said. There will also be an increased demand for soft skills, such as critical thinking and communication.

Disruptions will continue to change the skills landscape, and employees have to continuously learn and upgrade themselves to stay relevant.

“With the need for new knowledge and skills to keep pace with disruptions, working is increasingly interconnected with learning,” Prof Tan says. The workplace will be a significant source of learning.

Transforming workplace training

Education cannot be “purely front-loaded” anymore, Prof Tan says, and learning must continue after graduation. SIT has set up a workplace learning centre within the university – the first of its kind by an autonomous university – to ensure there is a “work-learn continuum”, he adds.

The National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning at SIT (NACE@SIT) was established in partnership with SkillsFuture Singapore in April. It works with academic staff and the industry to develop training programmes for organisations, he says.

Prof Tan Thiam Soon (second from right) at the launch of NACE@SIT with (from left) Dr Ow Chee Chung, Chief Executive, Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital; Mr Patrick Lee Kwok Kie, Chairman, Board of Directors, Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital; Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Finance; and Mr Ong Tze-Ch’in, Chief Executive, SkillsFuture Singapore.

The Centre will partner with ‘Queen Bees’ – appointed lead firms of sectors – to transform workplace training of those sectors. It has partnered Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital to train enterprises in the community care sector. SIT is tasked to support the hospital in identifying skills gaps within the sector and creating the relevant training programmes. The hospital can then carry out workshops with the sector on digitalisation or change management, for instance.

Such “close academia-industry collaborations” allow both parties to come up with solutions that tackle business challenges, Prof Tan says. SIT is “well placed to collaborate with the industry to ensure workers stay relevant amidst the fast-changing business landscape and disruptions.”

At the heart of workplace learning is empowering employees to build a sustainable culture of continuous learning, and encouraging workplace process improvements. SIT has worked with organisations to co-create organisational solutions – such as the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), to reduce the waiting time at its specialist outpatient clinic.

Following the training held with SIT, a flow manager was appointed to give the team at NHCS an overview of the flow of patients and where the bottlenecks were. Doctors’ appointment templates were eventually redesigned, leading to a reduction in waiting times.

Continued learning for employees

SIT’s lifelong learning division, SITLEARN Professional Development, offers continuing education and training courses for specific sectors, Prof Tan says. Some include data analytics, cybersecurity, and hospitality. Employees can learn new skills through these courses and apply it in their workplace.

SIT’s Work-Study Degree Programmes, on the other hand, allow students to alternate between work and study. This way, students can apply knowledge acquired in the classroom to the workplace, and also gain technical, hands-on skills.

Employees already in the workforce are also welcome to participate in the SkillsFuture Work-Study Degrees. They can choose to alternate between working and studying within a week, or alternate between semesters.

Lifelong learning is a non-negotiable in today’s fast-paced world. SIT’s strong commitment to support workplaces and train employees will propel Singapore forward to a strong, resilient economic future.