Still ‘long way to go’ for culture of lifelong learning: DPM Tharman

Tharman: Firms slow to embrace training; more engagement needed to help them see benefits

Singapore DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam has said he does not wish to be prime minister. — Picture courtesy of TODAY

By Tham Yuen-C

Singapore is no more than one-third of the way into its SkillsFuture journey, and there is a long way more to go in developing a culture of continuous training and learning, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.

He said employers have been slow to embrace training, adding that more engagement is needed to help companies see the benefits of investing in their employees.

To speed things up, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) will focus its efforts on bringing on board small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are facing challenges adapting to the changes wrought by globalisation and technological advances.

Mr Tharman, who chaired the SkillsFuture Council set up to look into lifelong learning in 2014, was giving an assessment of the initiative at a Jan 11 interview with The Straits Times.

Describing his take on the journey as an “impressionistic statement”, he said: “It’s not fast enough and we need to step up the pace… There’s a long way to go, especially to develop that culture among employers.”

Smaller businesses, particularly, are impeded by inertia.

SSG chief executive Ng Cher Pong said while many bosses recognise the need to upgrade their workers’ skills as they transform their businesses, some SMEs do not know about training opportunities and funding support available, or lack the capabilities to draw up and implement training plans for workers.

The tight labour market has also deterred them, as it means workers can easily leave for another job after money is spent on training them.

Mr Tharman said: “But, really, what you want is a culture where even if people are moving, what goes around comes around. So if every employer is investing in their people, the quality of the new hires you get will also be higher even if you lose some of your own.”

To better reach out to these companies, SSG is working more closely this year with trade associations and business chambers, and has set up an enterprise engagement office. The statutory board is also involved in the industry transformation maps being rolled out for various industries, to explain to the firms how training can support their transformation.

Mr Tharman said courses must make sense for employers, and curators are being trained to better curate courses.

Said Mr Ng: “For us to move the needle on SkillsFuture, we really need to have many more SMEs come on board, because ultimately SMEs employ the bulk of our workforce. If the SMEs are not embracing this, then it’s an issue.”

He added that SkillsFuture ultimately is a movement to change mindsets about lifelong learning.

To measure how effective it is, SSG is closely monitoring a basket of indicators, such as the participation rate of specific programmes and the national training participation rate.

SSG is also looking at how to measure whether the training culture has changed, and is mulling over a survey, said Mr Ng.

Mr Tharman said that culture has to be nurtured, and will not happen instantaneously. “Every society has this same problem. We are going about it much more systematically than most, in a very deliberate fashion. There’s no other country with as deliberate a strategy as SkillsFuture,” he added.



  1. One lanjiao 500 dollars can learn what fuck

    Useless ministers totally off the ground and sitting up high in his ivory towers.

    Cant understand why the 70% fail to see that.

  2. Whoever headline this article should examine lifelong learning experience around the world ! It’s question of attitude, system, capability. If you are a IT guy spending all your life fixing network, and if you want to take on courses on blockchain, theory and then practice – can you do it ? are you a techie guy ? Are there such courses ? Are you burdened daily to set aside time ? If there are limited jobs, should startups give you the job as compared to genius coders from around the world. So to whitewash the article, trying to pin on PAP tells me the journalist lack world wise knowledge !

  3. The word life long learning itself is not instantaneous. It really depends on an individual ‘s attitude and mindset towards learning. Learning is not only technological, learning about arts and learning how to live also count.

  4. The problem really is at the top. We have too many fat cats in SMEs who are only interested to put profits into their pockets. Mgt is not visionary.. doesn’t see the real value of quality trained personnel. Sees training as a cost! Check out their balance sheets…very very few put resources into training. If they do, its miniscule, or its the first thing in the budget that gets taken away, when profits are not up to the mark!

    Our productivity issues is a systemic problem. Starts with greedy money no enuf government resulting in high cost of doing business, exploitation by property developers, total disdain and respect for the most important resource ie people, bad leadership values, deteriorating workforce values and ethics, non -visionary management .. the list goes on!

    You can have all the planned skill programs and strategies churned out by yr paper Ministers and Generals.. problem ain’t gonna go away! Sadly they don’t have a freaking clue to productivity problems! Actually, they don’t have a freaking clue to anything other than what goes into their pockets monthly!

    No rocket science really.. yet the damn government still don’t get it!!

  5. Mr minister, all those courses in the skillfunds are rubblish courses and will not help those participants to make a living. It all PAP brainwashing tactics to please those fools to attend and waste time,

  6. I think as a minister, you encourage all those paper generals to attend theses course to improve their EQ and common sense and stop their fracking arrogant attitudes,

  7. Lifelong learning won’t happen because that would challenge the govt exceptionalism and noblesse oblige. People who are motivated to learn on their own won’t out up with a bunch of politicians pontificating on stuff they don’t know about.
    Worse self learners will be truly self reliant won’t need the govt largesse.
    As for the bosses, they’re addicted to cheap labour until someone install robots and puts them out of business. Then those bosses will cry at how they lost everything.

  8. OYK spearheads SKILLFUTURE. Keep spending money. But does getting people attending all NON SENSE courses really help Singaporeans get JOBS?
    In America, Americans are trained to SELF LEARN + SELF TRAIN.
    In SG, Ng Chee Meng went for TUITION but now a scholar and EDUCATION MINISTER.
    Both OYK, Tharma, NEH and Ng Chee Meng are ALL NOT UP to mark as Education Minister. C
    Clueless on why Korean, PRC and Taiwanese excel Worldwide.
    They still cannot see why countries using GCE as standard FAILED WORLDWIDE!!

  9. The culture of learning and being relevant in today’s transformational change requires a determined effort by any individual to acquire new skills. One should take this as a signal that the Government is positioning a correct approach to energise the Singaporean public to harness and use this as a stepping stone.

    The concept of life long learning is today a reality that one must be made aware and align their vision to the need to acquire new skills to assure the culture of life long learning is fully embedded in the minds of all Singaporeans.

    DPM remarks are an endorsement of such a need for a skills and hence the small subsidy in accentuating the need. More and more Singaporeans must avail themselves of such opportunities and move up as part of a knowledge energised community and be part of a value chain.

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