To keep their jobs, Singaporeans will have to learn new skills throughout their lives. “This is the only way for individuals to stay employed and employable,” said Chan Lai Fung, Permanent Secretary for Education, at the OECD-Singapore Conference on Higher Education Futures.

The government has launched the SkillsFuture programme to help. Starting next year, every Singaporean aged 25 and above will get education credits worth S$500, with top-ups spread out over their working life. “This credit will not expire but can only be used for education and training,” Chan said.

Universities must prepare themselves to deliver new kinds of courses, she added. “Our higher education institutions will need to step up and move out of their existing comfort zone.”


“Our higher education institutions will need to step up and move our of their existing comfort zone”

She set out four ways for universities, polytechnics and technical education schools to prepare themselves for SkillsFuture:

1. More short, modular courses
Universities and polytechnics will need to offer modular, certificate-type courses, rather than full-fledged qualifications, Chan said. Most graduates and working adults may need short courses that are just enough to update their skills or pick up a new one, she added. These modules could be combined to reach a higher qualification.

Offering such courses will be “quite a change for many of the institutions”, warned Chan. “Our higher education institutions currently are more accustomed to delivering longer programmes like full diplomas, degrees and masters.”

2. New structures for delivery
Each institution could consider setting up new structures, or even a dedicated unit to drive this work on SkillsFuture, she said.

Delivering these new kinds of courses “may not be easy to fit into existing work”, she added. ”Admission criteria, type of certification, and even the faculty to conduct the courses may be quite different.”

3. More online courses
Universities and technical education schools will need to use technology to deliver most of the new courses. “It is the only way to scale the roll-out of courses to meet the expected higher demand,” Chan said.

The tricky bit here is making sure that these courses are useful for both individuals and employers, and give people the right skills. “Our goal is not to just roll out more courses and more people taking up the courses,” she said.

4. Deeper ties with employers
Education institutions and businesses could work together to create internships. Businesses could come to the institutions to work out structured programmes which provide the right skills during the internship.

The Ministry of Education will create “sectoral manpower plans” to map out the skills needed by each industry.