Inquisitivity; a “team player mindset”; and a foundation in basic skills.

These are the three ingredients that Derrick Chang believes is critical for the future. The Chief Executive of PSB Academy, a private institution in Singapore, wants to develop graduates that are resilient, constantly curious, and able to work in countries that are not their own.

PSB Academy was previously known as the Productivity and Standards Board, set up in 1964 at a time when Singapore was first urbanising and few Singaporeans had tertiary education. It is now fully privatised, and this year, hopes to develop courses that boost softer skills in students.

Chang himself brings a wealth of experience in skills programmes from his prior stints in the Ministry of Manpower and the Workforce Development Agency. He witnessed how a recession in the early noughties galvanised the Government’s efforts towards skills redevelopment. “The whole economy was going through a transformation, and the skills of our Singaporeans back then weren’t what the multinationals were looking for,” Chang explains.

Strengths and specialties

PSB Academy launched its School of Foundation Studies in March, which will provide pre-university programmes as a “bridge” to the academy’s certificate and diploma courses. Students at the Year 8 or equivalent level will benefit from foundational courses that help “open up their minds to: is it business or engineering that they want to pursue?”, explains Chang.

The programmes are designed to help students to develop their strengths and learn about specialties, whether that is in accounting and finance, hospitality, or the life sciences. “We want to build their foundation and see what traits they have,” he says.

The school taps on its network of companies across Indonesia, Malaysia and China to offer work-abroad opportunities to students, he continues, adding that regional exposure is “tremendously helpful”. “Skills really have no border”, he remarks.

As a complement to this, the academy – known primarily for its business and life sciences courses – will explore programmes that boost softer skills this year. “If they are exposed to more soft skills training and could practice it there, the graduates from PSB become highly employable,” he says.

The search for community nurses

In April, the academy launched a community nursing course to equip registered and practicing nurses with skills for the community care sector. This is in response to Singapore’s healthcare system undergoing some major changes, becoming more human-centric and community-focused.

“The government has been trying to encourage the population to be self-reliant because there may be a shortage of medical facilities in the future, so we thought, why not start encouraging nurses to go into that area,” explains Chang.

The academy is also looking into how to “modularise” its programmes, making them bite-sized so that they can support lifelong learning in the long-term. “You should have the ability to pick up modular skills along the way; that’s how you grow,” he remarks.

“You should have the ability to pick up modular skills along the way; that’s how you grow.”

The evolution of education

Elsewhere in Singapore, tertiary institutions are exploring how to prepare their students for an increasingly uncertain, changing future. ITE College East has recently deepened its ties with industry leaders so that graduates may benefit from apprenticeships and training programmes that address changing industry demands. The Singapore government has identified precision engineering as one area of economic growth, and in January, the college launched a course in this area.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Management University provides final-year graduates with opportunities to boost their critical thinking, empathy and creativity skills, Gordon Perchthold, Associate Professor of Strategic Management, told GovInsider.

Through their capstone projects, graduates have to learn how to work closely with industry to solve business problems. This may require dealing with difficult people, and coming up with unconventional solutions – which is where the real learning begins.

In Australia, on the other hand, the University of Adelaide is shifting focus to “developing skills rather than transferring knowledge”, Vice President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Pascale Quester told GovInsider. “The world of the future is not so fixated on degrees. Employers actually want skills and confidence,” she remarked.

The university is working closely with industry to ensure graduates’ skills remain relevant, and emphasises study-abroad arrangements. Through learner analytics, professors are also able to keep close tabs on their students’ progress, and intervene if necessary.

For PSB’s Chang, being able to help Singaporeans prepare themselves to face changing economic tides has become a personal mission. “One of my directors said, ‘Guys, we’re not just crunching numbers. Every person you get placed on the job, you must think that you’re helping a family; two kids are going to go to school’,” he concludes. “That touches everybody.”

Today’s graduates are facing greater obstacles than before, in an increasingly competitive economy. But as long as they have the three key ingredients – inquisitive, plays well with others, and possesses foundational skills – there is no end to what they can cook up.

Image by nasrul ekramCC BY 2.0