How Singapore’s workforce is prioritising design thinking and clean energy

By Jaz Low

Interview with Li Jingheng, Director of the Workforce Strategy and Policy Department at Ministry of Manpower, and Low Cheaw Hwei, Chairman of the Design Education Advisory Committee.

“People ignore design that ignores people,” said famed designer and author Frank Chimero. Design that fails to prioritise user needs above all will be disregarded. But in the first place, how can we employ design to tackle challenges?

This is a key question Singapore is considering for its workforce. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is looking to equip the next generation of workers with design thinking skills, which focus on serving user needs and repeated testing. It has also identified renewable energy and analytics as key knowledge citizens will need.

Li Jingheng, Director of the Workforce Strategy and Policy Department at MOM, and Low Cheaw Hwei, Chairman of the Design Education Advisory Committee (DEAC) share how Singapore is preparing its workers.

The increasing focus on design thinking

Singapore is prioritising design thinking for its future workforce. MOM has joined five other agencies to form the advisory panel for the DEAC. They will share insights on future trends and policy perspectives to support the DEAC’s work in improving the quality of design education.

The DEAC aims to build design education into the curriculum of higher learning institutes across the country. It will connect schools with industry to ensure students learn skills that are relevant to the workplace.

The Committee is currently working on helping design graduates transition into the industry workplace more smoothly. “This includes getting the industry more involved in preparing students for the actual work environment,” shares DEAC chairman Low.

Design thinking skills will be important for the future workforce to adapt to change and employees will need “creative problem-solving capabilities common to design disciplines”, Low says. This is something “we hope our schools can develop in our young for the future workforce beyond just achieving academic success,” he adds.

“What we also need in Singapore are capabilities that cut across different sectors,” Low continues. He hopes to see designers contributing more in non-design environments, and non-designers developing “sensitivities to understand and adopt design for their work”.

Singapore has already begun using design thinking to improve services. GovTech, for instance, used design thinking principles to build a contact tracing app for the entire country in just ten days.

The core of design thinking revolves around understanding users. But beyond that, the approach also trains individuals to work in teams where they have to weave different branches of knowledge to solve problems, Low explains.

Each project that GovTech takes on has a small team of people with diverse qualifications. They work closely to review progress and make adjustments to serve user needs. Teams focusing on similar projects are also grouped into larger ‘tribes’ for easier collaboration, DN Prasad, Senior Director of Strategy, People and Organisation, GovTech told The Business Times.

Reskilling and upskilling in clean energy 

Apart from design thinking, Singapore is looking to train employees for the clean energy sector.

As Singapore moves towards a greener economy, organisations need to make their energy consumption more sustainable. This has created new job roles that help companies improve energy efficiency or adopt clean energy.

Workforce Singapore is equipping 10,000 people with the new skills needed in the renewable energy sector. These include how to implement new energy technologies and design solar panel systems, according to its website. The latter is of particular importance given Singapore’s eternally sunny climate.

Working alongside technology in wholesale trade 

MOM has identified another sector which will need help transitioning to tech: wholesale trade. Workers require new skills such as finding patterns in data and predicting the company’s performance.

Wholesale trade also requires employees to learn how to operate automated trading systems. These are computer programmes that follow a set of instructions for trading, so that individuals can be redeployed to perform other tasks like providing better customer support.

MOM has identified 53 job roles in wholesale trade which require skills upgrading. Original competencies should be augmented by technology, not replaced, says Li.

Changing hiring mindsets

The huge emphasis on reskilling and upskilling will only see success if companies are open to taking on new training opportunities, Li says.

“Today, many agencies continue to seek out candidates who are fully qualified and able to hit the ground running when they start their new job,” MOM says. However, employers should be thinking about who has the potential to thrive in a role with training even if they lack a few technical skills at first.

A candidate who has had prior experience in similar industries but is looking for a new role may be more suited to the position than someone whose resume is perfectly aligned with job requirements.
“They can carry over the lessons learned from their previous organisations to the new workplace and the value-added will be incredible,” MOM elaborates.

The world has just begun a new age of work. New skills on design thinking, renewable energy and analytics could help to ease Singapore’s workforce into the future.