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6 lessons from Singapore on upskilling for the future

A panel at the Growth Summit 2023 discuss how Singapore is upskilling its workforce.

A panel at the Growth Summit 2023 discuss how Singapore is upskilling its workforce. Image: Â©ï¸World Economic Forum/Pascal Bitz

Anna Tobin
Writer, Forum Agenda
Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • Singapore is focused on upskilling and future-proofing its workforce.
  • At the Growth Summit panel discussion Skills for Growth: Creating a Future-Ready Workforce, Soon-Joo Gog, the Chief Skills Officer at SkillsFuture Singapore, explains the seven ways the young island nation is upskilling and reskilling its workforce for the future.
  • This includes upskilling proactively, working with the private and public sectors, investing in the workforce and involving the older generation of workers.

Singapore hasn't reached its centenary yet and already one of the highest-income countries in the world. As a result, many foreign governments often look to Singapore to see how they can emulate its success.

In reskilling, Singapore provides another innovative example to follow. Soon-Joo Gog, the Chief Skills Officer at SkillsFuture Singapore, explained a range of ways the young island nation is upskilling and reskilling its workforce at the World Economic Forum Growth Summit panel discussion his wee Skills for Growth: Creating a Future-Ready Workforce.

1. Upskilling and reskilling proactively

There are certain jobs that will become obsolete in the next few years as automation takes over. Singapore recognises this and proactively prepares for it, explains Gog. "Take our banking and finance sector as an example. A lot of the things that the banks are doing today will not be required tomorrow, such as the clearing of cheques. One of the banks in Singapore, DBS Bank, realized that staff will not be required for some parts of their operations at some point. So, they planned three years ahead of time and reskilled their 1,600, bankers, bank tellers and cheque-clearing officers. Over this period, about 1,200 people managed to get deployed into other roles at the bank and 400 joined other banks. That's a success story that shows how employers can take it upon themselves to re-skill their workforce ahead of time, in a way that helps them transit as the business transits."

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2. Linking business strategy with skill strategy

In Singapore, a clear link is seen between a strong workforce and a strong economy, says Gog, and the country works hard to make sure that its business strategy is linked with its skill strategy. "When we look at a competitive economy, we know very clearly that we need a competitive workforce. To do so, every few years, we plan ahead with the private sector on a sectoral basis, we ask them what direction is their business going. Is it going into internationalisation? Is it going for digitisation? The business strategy must be supported by the skills strategy. It is a highly coordinated effort between the private sector and public sector."

These business needs are then supported by efforts to build the skills to support them. Each sector is looked at independently in Singapore, says Gog. "We have a future economy council co-chaired by the Deputy prime minister and private sector heads... Every industry has an industry transformation plan, part of which is skills. Once we unveil that talent and skill strategy, it will almost immediately translate into insights for universities, polytechnics and technical education who put this in their curriculums."

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3. Thinking green

Going green is at the forefront of Singapore's upskilling and reskilling programme. "We have created a Green Skills Council, which is driving the Singapore Green Plan 2030 to reach net zero," says Gog. "It helps different companies and sectors to reach their decarbonisation goals." Such an approach ensure that a workforce is in place to speed the progress of key climate targets.

4. Investing in upskilling

Singapore also has a Skills Future credits programme, which gives people funds to invest in upskilling. "We offer S$400 when people reach 25 years old and we offer a top-up later on," explains Gog. "This allows us to empower citizens and enterprises to take up the reskilling as needed." Such an approach creates flexibility and empowers workers to make the most of their skills and how they fit into the labour market.

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5. Designing for an aging workforce

Like many countries, Singapore has an aging workforce. However it is designing for the unique this group will have to ensure that companies can retain these workers as populations decline. "When we look at workforce planning, we focus on which industry has the highest percentage of older people in the workforce. And, we look at to what extent we can support a company to redesign jobs in the workplace so that we can keep as many of the older experienced workforce as possible," Gog says. "Then we look at how to allocate and assign jobs or tasks to older workers, it might not be a full-time job, because older people might not want to work full-time if they are financially stable."

6. Balancing local with international talent

Singapore is at full employment, says Gog, and can't "squeeze more" from its workforce. To tackle this challenge, it has created solutions to tap foreign talent, while noting this approach has to be carefully managed.

Gog says: "We are thinking consciously about the foreign talent coming into Singapore and which part of the foreign talent we really need to help boost our skills. This is something that we have to calibrate quite carefully. It's a balancing act of giving good jobs for Singaporeans and augmenting with foreign talent."

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Adds Gog: "The global skills network is something that we need to focus on to see how we can help each other skill up accordingly.

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