Opinion: Going Beyond the ASPIRE Report

As the dust settles following the release of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee’s report, consultants from EON Consulting & Training Pte Ltd (EON) opinionated that the various stakeholders may consider the following actions and areas of caution as Singapore moves ahead with the recommendations.

  1. Adoption of a Skills-Oriented Corporate Culture by Employers
  2. Necessity for SMEs to Mitigate Risk of Losing Non-Graduate Talents   
  3. Sensitivity in Implementation of New Education & Career Guidance (ECG) Programme

SINGAPORE, October 9, 2014 – According to the ASPIRE report released recently, the Government will be adopting a three-prong approach to further strengthen the applied education pathways, provide more opportunities for Singaporeans to realise their career aspirations, as well as to align the supply and demand of skills at the national level.

EON’s consultants opinionated that the various stakeholders might consider the following actions and areas of caution as Singapore takes a step forward with the recommendations.

(1) Adoption of a Skills-Oriented Corporate Culture by Employers

With greater emphasis of skills development, alignment and utilisation to come, it is foreseeable that it may not be sufficient just for companies to embrace training and send employees to upgrade their skills in future. Companies will need to focus on developing a skills-oriented culture, meaning the establishment and adoption of internal policies, systems and practices, which acknowledge and recognise employees’ skills.

Beginning with the start of employment, companies may wish to establish an effective on-boarding programme in order to engage new hires and ensure they understand how the companies intends to develop and groom them in the course of their work. Subsequently, skills requirements of the job may need to be identified, with the corresponding development of training roadmaps to ensure that employees remain skilled as they stayed with the companies. Promotion considerations may include the assessment of skills required of the next level besides current performance alone. Career pathways can be developed as well, with the skills of each job grade level clearly defined. Compensation and rewards package may also be adjusted in order to adequately recognise employees’ skills.

Eventually, with a robust series of skills-oriented internal Human Resource (HR) policies, systems and practices in place, companies will be able to better accommodate to change and tap on new opportunities.

(2) Necessity for SMEs to Mitigate Risk of Losing Non-Graduate Talents

One immediate and important development following the ASPIRE report is the transformation of compensation philosophy in the public sector, to compensate non-graduates similar to graduates, based on skills rather than qualifications. In other words, for the same job, a graduate and non-graduate will be paid similarly, since they require the same level of skills to perform on the job.

As companies from the private sector progress to align themselves with the practice, non-graduates are likely to receive higher salaries, so as to match up with their graduate peers. This will spell higher manpower costs, with SMEs being more impacted. SMEs may have to pay more in order to retain their existing non-graduates employees, who may expect increments to match up with their graduate peers. Starting salaries for non-graduates may need to be revised upwards in order to attract this group of job seekers. Should SMEs be unable to align salary levels between non-graduates and graduates, non-graduates may flock to the public sector or MNCs, which generally have the resources to pay according to market rate.

As SMEs straddle with the problem of increasing labour cost and manpower shortages, it is necessary for them to transform their business and operations so as to increase their productivity, increase their revenue and be able to manage labour costs. SME may wish to enhance their employer branding by undertaking job improvement and redesign projects to allocate job responsibilities effectively, having fewer headcounts to cover the same amount of tasks and responsibilities. Flexi-work or alternative employment arrangements may also be introduced, and job roles be adjusted to ensure workflow remains efficient.

In the short run, SMEs may end up requiring more assistance financially and structurally, to keep up with these changes, or risk being ousted by their competitors, including the public sectors and MNCs who are competing directly with them for manpower.

(3) Sensitivity in Implementation of New Education & Career Guidance (ECG) Programme

With the ongoing development of the new Education & Career Guidance (ECG) programme for the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE), its programme developers may need to consider existing perception that parents, students or other relevant stakeholders may have towards certain occupations and industries, and adopt a sensitive approach in coming up with an appropriate delivery method for programme implementation.

Currently, certain occupations and industries are deemed as being undesirable for Singaporeans to be in, with reasons ranging from the jobs being lowly-paid, too menial and “not prestige”, too physically demanding, as well as, meant only for uneducated, ageing Singaporeans or foreigners, etc. In their attempt to motivate students to work hard in their studies, parents and some educators may even have used the phrase “…If you don’t study hard now, you will end up as a…” before.

Amid such reality, it is foremost essential to emphasise continuously, the foundational belief that all occupations are respectable, important, and have their unique contribution to the society. Therefore in the ECG programme design, excessive coverage (or any of such impression) on “traditionally popular” or “prestige” occupations or industries should be avoided. Similarly, any under-coverage or non-coverage of less-desirable occupations or industries is to be minimised.

Another consideration in ECG programme design is how best to deliver the programme. Should ECG be done as a personal service approach via a one-to-one interview session, or as a curriculum-based approach with ECG as a stand-alone programme, or subsumed under other subject areas, such as under the notion of personal effectiveness development? The personal service approach is highly personalised to meet individual’s needs, with the possibility of in-depth career exploration and guidance. On the other hand, the personal service approach is time-consuming, making it available for fewer students. A curriculum-based approach may be applicable, provided it is being done in an appropriate and suitable way, such as structuring the programme with the emphasis on lifelong learning, skills development, sustained employability and understanding job and skills requirement and avoiding promoting any particular occupation or industry. However, in adopting a curriculum-based approach broadly catering to groups of students, the depth of career exploration across the various occupations may be limited.

Besides considering the students, ECG programme designers may need to recognise that parents, teachers, principals and other stakeholders will and do play a part in influencing students’ development and career choice. Therefore, it is essential for the ECG programme to involve and engage parents, teachers, principals and other stakeholders as well, as they will also be involved in helping their children or students make better career choices, as well as choosing the right courses to study. Parents will then have a better understanding of the programme coverage of ECG, as well as how ECG will be conducted. Hopefully, their mindsets will also be changed in the process, to gradually recognise that each job is respectable and has its unique contribution to the society; and the notion of success is different for individuals as each possesses different strengths and excels in different areas.

For more information, contact:
Name: Jonathan Chang, Consultant
Email: [email protected]
Office Number: 6220 4008