Wednesday, 27 August 2014

ASPIRE committee report

More training and career pathways for ITE, poly grads
Key new features include place-and-train scheme
By Sandra Davie Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2014

STUDENTS from technical institutes here will have more chances to work and further their qualifications at the same time.

Under major changes being made, Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates will get more career options, guidance and direction.

The moves come amid ongoing efforts to encourage lifelong learning and to go beyond qualifications in developing workers' skills.

"Learning must be continual and lifelong, instead of just being front loaded in the first 20-odd years of our lives," Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said at a press conference announcing the changes yesterday.



A key new feature is the place-and-train programme, modelled after the Swiss and German apprenticeship schemes.

After leaving the ITE and polytechnics, graduates can undergo structured on-the-job training in the workplace which will complement what they learnt in school. Those from the ITE can work towards diplomas, while those from the polytechnics can aim for advanced and specialist diplomas.

The scheme will be organised differently, depending on the industry. An ITE trainee, for example, can work three days a week and study for a diploma two days a week. Or he can alternate between three months of work and three months of study.

Upon completion, workers are expected to receive higher pay.

"The basic idea is to integrate work and study, since many skills are best acquired through real work and practice," said Mr Heng, adding that the Government will work with employers to look at remuneration during and after training. "The goal is to work towards a system where higher skills of the staff can translate into higher productivity and higher pay," he said.

The place-and-train programme is among 10 key recommendations by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee led by Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah.

Its report, which was released yesterday, called for career counselling for students and better internships, among others.

Standardised benchmarks will also be introduced to help workers upgrade their skills and be rewarded accordingly.

Describing the recommendations as "powerful", Mr Heng said he believed they would have a significant impact.

But the changes are not aimed at dissuading ITE and polytechnic graduates from aiming for a degree, he said in response to The Straits Times at the media conference. He stressed that the insights underpinning the changes apply across the board, including to university studies.

"For instance, on applied learning, even the world's best surgeons spend thousands of hours honing their skills in the operating theatre," he said, adding that a variety of pathways is needed for different jobs.

"It's not a matter of one qualification versus another, but the right and relevant qualifications and right and relevant type of learning experiences that will enable an individual to build deep skills and expertise, and enable him to excel in the workplace."

Such strong skills are in strong demand both here and abroad, said Ms Indranee. "The employers tell us this, OECD reports point this out and our study trips abroad confirm this," she said.




















At a glance
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2014


1 Secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to have trained education and career guidance officers to advise students on career and education choices.

2 Polys and ITE to review internships and possibly lengthen them to ensure they have clearly defined outcomes and that students' tasks contribute to the goals.

3 ITE to raise the number of places in its Higher Nitec programmes to allow students to upgrade skills.

4 Each poly and ITE college to be designated as a lead institution in a particular sector, to coordinate work with partners.

5 Polys and ITE to expand online learning to make it easier to learn on the go.

6 Polys and ITE to offer more support to students to develop soft skills such as resilience and leadership.

7 Employers to integrate study and work, allowing fresh graduates to work and draw a salary while getting a recognised skill certification that will lead to larger job scopes and a higher pay.

8 Polys to provide more post-diploma refresher courses to give graduates more opportunities to continue their education and training.

9 Polys and ITE to work with the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs to support their graduates being posted to national service vocations that match what they have learnt in school.

10 The Government to collaborate with industry partners to develop sector-specific benchmarks that will state clearly the skills needed to advance in a career.





ASPIRE committee report: 6 ways to improve polytechnic and ITE education
The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2014

The Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee, tasked with enhancing the education and job prospects for students from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnics, released its report on Monday.

The committee, led by Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah, made 10 recommendations which fall under three broad themes:
- Better choices: Helping students make better education and career choices;
- Deeper skills: Helping polytechnic and ITE students grow the skills they need;
- More pathways: Building more paths that will allow polytechnic and ITE graduates to progress in their careers.
Here are six things to note from the report:

1. Better career guidance for students

Students in secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and ITE will soon have trained education and career guidance officers who can offer them advice.

A pilot will be launched in 2015, involving about 40 to 50 secondary schools and junior colleges. There will be one trained officer for every few secondary schools and junior college/centralised institute. There will be three to five such officers in each polytechnic and ITE college.

The polytechnics and ITE will develop a new education and career guidance programme covering areas such as personal management and career exploration.

To train career guidance officers and those interested in this field, Republic Polytechnic will offer a new specialist diploma in career counselling in October 2014.

A one-stop portal will also be set up for students and working adults to make transiting to the workforce more seamless.

2. Work and study at the same time

From 2016, a place-and-train programme will introduced for those who have completed basic studies at the ITE and polytechnics.

The programme - modelled after the Swiss and German apprenticeship schemes -will allow them to work and further their qualifications at the same time. They will be employed by companies and paid monthly salaries. They will undergo structured on-the-job training in the workplace, which will be complemented with classes at the ITE and polytechnics.

Trainees who were from the ITE can work towards higher-level trade certificates and diplomas, while those from the polytechnics can aim for advanced and specialist diplomas.

The scheme can be organised differently, depending on the industry or type of job. An ITE trainee, for example, can work three days a week and study for a diploma two days a week or he can alternate between three months of work and three months of study.

For a start, ITE will offer their graduates place-and-train diploma programmes in emergency medical technology (or para-medicine), marine and offshore engineering, hotel and restaurant management, pastry and bakery, and environmental engineering.

The polytechnics will do so for courses including specialist or advanced diploma programmes in aerospace, biologics, marine and offshore engineering, built environment, info-communications technology, and logistics.

3. More Higher Nitec places at ITE, more structured internships

The Education Ministry will increase the number of Higher Nitec places for ITE students. From 2015, there will be 100 more such places, primarily in engineering and info-communication courses. Currently, about one in three Nitec students progress to Higher Nitec. The Education Ministry hopes to push the figure up to one in two.

Internships for polyetchnic and ITE students will also be more structured, such as having clearer learning goals and better-designed internship curriculum.

For a start, the polytechnics and ITE will enhance internships in the built environment sector, marine and offshore engineering, and early childhood education within the next three years. The duration of internships may also be lengthened to make the experience more meaningful for students.

4. More subsidies for post-diploma courses

More support will be given to polytechnic graduates taking up their first post-diploma courses.

Subsidies will be increased to 90 per cent of course fees - from the current 85 per cent - for those taking up their first post-diploma certificate in selected courses, two or more years after completion of the programme.

The polytechnics will also offer an additional full-time option for some of the post-diploma courses so that they can be completed within a shorter time.

5. Closer link between school training and NS

National servicemen could be posted to vocations in national service (NS) that suit the courses they took in the polytechnics or ITE, so that they will stay in touch with all that they learnt during the two years away from school.

National servicemen could also obtain industry-recognised accreditation for relevant skills honed during NS so that they will be better placed to join the industry they had trained for.

6. National training scheme for poly and ITE graduates

A national training scheme which focuses on industry-specific skills will help those who have completed basic studies at the ITE and polytechnics deepen their knowledge and progress in their careers.

Under the scheme, frameworks will be drawn to specify the industry-relevant skills required for workers to advance, and can be used to establish benchmarks for hiring and promoting workers.









Better prospects for poly, ITE grads as S’pore adopts ‘cultural shift’
More career guidance resources, new schemes integrating work and study among ASPIRE panel’s recommendations
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 26 Aug 2014

In the next three years, polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students and graduates can look forward to better internships, more opportunities to work and study concurrently, and clearer pathways for career advancement.

Across secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and ITEs, the Government will provide more resources for education and career guidance, in addition to a new national framework to help Singaporeans make informed education and career choices.

These were among recommendations put up yesterday by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee yesterday, following the completion of almost nine months of work looking into improving career and academic prospects of polytechnic and ITE graduates.

Accepting all 10 recommendations on behalf of the Government, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat outlined the “significant shifts” underpinning the committee’s proposals.

“We must break the boundary between learning in the classrooms and learning at work. In fact, the workplace should become a great learning place,” he said at a press conference, adding that a renewed and stronger emphasis has to be placed on skills and applied learning, so students can deploy knowledge in the real-world context.

Pointing out how changes in technology and economic structures would cause jobs to be reshaped, Mr Heng said that learning must be continual and lifelong, instead of being “frontloaded” only in the first 20 years of one’s life.

Multiple pathways for development must be encouraged in the course of study and at work, he added. “As a society, we must respect every person and every job, and encourage everyone to achieve excellence in their fields.” Mr Heng acknowledged that it would take many years for individuals, employers, government and society to make these shifts, which would constitute a “major transformation” in Singapore’s education and career landscape.

The ASPIRE committee is headed by Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah. Its 35-member steering committee includes senior civil servants, the principals of all five polytechnics here, ITE CEO Bruce Poh, as well as corporate leaders such as Hyflux CEO Olivia Lum.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced last November the setting up of the committee, which began work in January and has since reached out to about 12,000 polytechnic students, 5,000 ITE students, 3,000 parents and alumni, and almost 400 polytechnic and ITE staff through dialogue sessions and focus group talks, among others. It also visited Germany, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand to study their applied education models.



Following its visit in February to Germany and Switzerland, the committee saw, among other things, the need for early career guidance to help students discover their interests and understand prospects in the vocational education track. It recommended a new education and career guidance programme to be developed for polytechnics and ITEs, and proposed that more officers trained in this area be deployed in schools, polytechnics and ITEs.

In response, the Ministry of Education said it will have one education and career guidance officer assigned to about five secondary schools and junior colleges for a start. This will be piloted next year with about 40 to 50 schools. Separately, three to five such officers will also be deployed at each polytechnic and ITE college.

To develop expertise in this area, Republic Polytechnic will launch in October a specialist diploma in career counselling. Internship programmes will also be enhanced with longer duration and clearer learning outcomes. To allow more Nitec graduates to deepen their skills before starting work, the ITE will offer an additional 100 Higher Nitec places, starting with Engineering and Infocomm courses next year.

Taking a leaf from the Swiss and German apprenticeship models, place-and-train programmes at polytechnics and ITEs will be piloted in selected sectors from 2016. Under these programmes, to be developed in collaboration with the industry, participants will be paid monthly salaries by their employers as they work towards skills certification such as Specialist or Advanced Diploma awarded by participating polytechnics and diploma by ITEs.

Mr Heng reiterated: “To be trained as a doctor, an engineer or an architect will require certain certification. And in that regard, the degree programme is important and useful.” Even then, these qualifications are only a start, he noted. “It is not a matter of one qualification versus another, but the right and relevant qualifications, and the right and relevant type of learning experiences that enable individuals to build deep skills and expertise and to be able to then excel at the workplace.”





Trained officers to give students career advice
Pilot scheme for 40 to 50 secondary schools and JCs next year
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2014

SECONDARY schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) will soon have trained career officers to help students make decisions about their long-term future.

Between 40 and 50 secondary schools and junior colleges will get them as part of a pilot next year.

The aim is to have one officer for every few secondary schools and junior colleges, and three to five in each of the five polytechnics and three ITE colleges.

Students at the latter two will also have a new programme covering areas such as career exploration across classroom activities, workshops and seminars.

A one-stop online portal will also be set up for students and working adults to make transiting to the workforce more seamless.

This will integrate existing resources in schools with the Workforce Development Agency's Individual Learning Portfolio, an online account for workers to track their training and job opportunities. It will also have features such as self-assessment tools, labour market information and course requirements for students.

Working adults will have access to information about upgrading and furthering their skills.

These moves are among recommendations by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee to strengthen education and career guidance efforts from school years to beyond graduation.

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah, who chairs the committee, said that many young students may know they want to do well, but they "actually don't have an idea of what they might like to do".

Currently, schools do not have coaches or counsellors who are dedicated to providing students advice about their careers. Such advice is usually given by teachers and lecturers. Ms Indranee said the committee studied career counsellors in countries such as Switzerland, many of whom had worked in non-education sectors.

These officers will help students identify their interests and strengths, and understand the range of jobs and skills required in the workplace. To train people for this role, Republic Polytechnic will launch a specialist diploma in career counselling in October for individuals and educators.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said: "The aim is not to try and persuade students to go into specialised fields when they're very young, but to stimulate a lively interest in a variety of fields, and to see if some of this may catch the interest of the students."

Statistics show that every year, 400 to 500 junior college students switch to a polytechnic midway through their programmes. Many do this after realising they are interested in certain disciplines.

Mr Sim Cher Young, 52, director of the Dato' Kho Hui Meng Career Centre at Singapore Management University, said: "It's important to have career guidance available when young people are at the stage of making decisions, around 17 to 18 years old.

"The people advising them on their careers have to be skilled to guide them."





Fresh ITE, poly grads can soon work, study at same time
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 26 Aug 2014

More funding and resources to help firms review their human resource (HR) practices would entice employers to participate in place-and-train programmes, as recommended by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee yesterday, said companies and HR experts.

These place-and-train programmes, which will be akin to the Swiss and German apprenticeship models, will allow fresh graduates from polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs) to start earning their spurs through structured on-the-job training. They will be paid a monthly salary that will be complemented by classes at the polytechnics or ITEs. Pilots in selected sectors will begin from 2016.

For polytechnics, it will start in the Aerospace, Biologics, Marine and Offshore Engineering, Built Environment, Logistics and Info-communications Technology sectors, with a specialist or advanced diploma being awarded upon completion of the programme.

ITEs will pilot the programmes in Emergency Medical Technology, Marine and Offshore Engineering, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Pastry and Baking, and Environmental Engineering. Those who complete these programmes would be awarded a diploma by the ITEs.

On the recommendation, Mr Mark Hall, vice-president of Kelly Services Singapore, noted that while firms will be excited at the opportunity of helping staff expand upon their skills, some concerns may crop up, such as whether the industry would value these certifications from post-graduation skills-upgrading programmes.

How much one’s salary under the place-and-train programme is also important, he added. “It’s important to get that salary alignment correct. The level of salary must be appropriate to the individual and it cannot be too low.”

Mr Hall said co-funding from the authorities may be needed to encourage firms to support these programmes.

At ASPIRE’s press conference on the recommendations yesterday, Mr Jonathan Asherson, the regional director of Rolls-Royce Singapore, noted that to get small and medium enterprises (SMEs) on board, the value of monetary incentives should not be underestimated. President of the Singapore Human Resources Institute Erman Tan also pointed out that while the apprenticeship models in Europe have proven successful, the committee needs to ensure that local SMEs, in particular, have the resources to support the programmes.

Meanwhile, chief executive officer of Sakae Holdings Douglas Foo agreed that funding would help offset the additional costs of implementing such a programme. A new committee, to be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, will bring together employers, unions, educators and government agencies to develop an integrated system of education, training and career progression for all Singaporeans. It will also promote industry support and provide social recognition for individuals to advance their careers based on their skills.







More places for ITE advanced courses
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2014

THE Institute of Technical Education (ITE) will add more places to its more advanced Higher Nitec courses, starting with 100 spots from next year.

Most of these extra places will go to the engineering and info- communications technology programmes.

The five polytechnics here will also review their internship programmes, including possibly extending their duration.

These measures are aimed at equipping students with stronger skills, said Ms Indranee Rajah, chairman of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee making the recommendations.

"There is a need for real skills. The employers tell us this, OECD reports point this out and our study trips abroad confirm this," said the Senior Minister of State for Law and Education at a press conference yesterday.

The increased number of Higher Nitec places will allow more Nitec graduates to deepen their skills before they begin work, the committee said in its report.

It added that some industry sectors have said having longer training at the ITE would better prepare students for work.

Now, about one-third of Nitec students progress to Higher Nitec. The authorities hope to raise the figure to half.

The committee also said in its report that the internships at the polytechnics and the ITE are "generally good".

But the experience "can differ significantly from student to student, depending on how the internship is carried out by the host employers".

An internship should have a clearly defined outcome, and the student's job scope should contribute to that goal.

These enhancements may lead to students going on longer work attachments.

For instance, students in Ngee Ann Polytechnic's marine and offshore technology programme take part in a three-month internship in their third year. But by 2016, the internship will be six months long.

Students agreed that completing a longer internship would allow them to learn more and may make companies more willing to hire them.

Third-year marine engineering student Mong Jun Hao, 18, completed a six-week internship at engine manufacturer MTU Asia.

The Singapore Polytechnic student spent his time last year in an engine servicing workshop where he learnt how to disassemble, inspect, clean and re-assemble engines and their parts.

"I learnt a lot. You could see what was inside the engines when you opened them, and when you clean them, you really learn about the different parts," he said.

"If the internship was longer, say, six months, I imagine I would learn a lot more."







He chose work as animator over degree
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2014

GO TO university? Or work on blockbuster movies as an animator at Lucasfilm Singapore?

Faced with this decision, Mr Peter Tan, a Nanyang Polytechnic digital media design graduate, took the road less travelled seven years ago - and turned down a place at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

"I got an offer from Lucasfilm giving me a six-month contract to replace another animator going on maternity leave," said the 35-year-old, who eventually converted to a full-time position.

"People go for degrees to work in reputable companies, but I thought to myself, 'I already have the job and nothing beats work experience.' My passion has always been animation so I didn't need to think so hard."

His job is to create the movement of characters and objects using computer graphics, such as in fight scenes, or when actors cannot carry out certain sequences, such as falling from a building.

He has worked on a string of titles, including several movies in the Transformers series, The Avengers and Pacific Rim. He has also contributed to the television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and the animated film Rango.

Mr Tan, who has more than doubled his salary since he first started, now leads a team of 20 animators in his role as lead animator at Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Singapore.

"In this industry, many animators are diploma holders," he said. "It's not about the paper qualification. It's about how well you do your job and gaining experience with each show.

"You get promoted because you have the right qualities and abilities, not because you've gone through a course and have a certificate."





NS servicemen may get postings to match their skills
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2014

GRADUATES of polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) could be posted to national service (NS) vocations that match their studies.

The Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee said in its report yesterday that it supports a recommendation of the Committee to Strengthen National Service to take into account the skills and prior training of full-time national servicemen (NSFs) in their NS deployment.

About 10,000 polytechnic and 4,500 ITE graduates are enlisted into NS every year.

The polytechnics and the ITE will work closely with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to identify postings for students. The move is aimed at helping NSFs maintain their skills during the two years of service, and speed up the transition to working life.

MINDEF manpower director Teo Eng Dih said taking into account existing skills "will help to provide NSFs with a better NS experience and allow the SAF to benefit from the skills and competencies NSFs already have".

An MHA spokesman said assigning NSFs to vocations based on their skills has already been part of the Home Team's strategy, which allows them to "maximise their potential" and results in a more "meaningful stint for our NSFs".

The move could see NSFs with Higher Nitec qualifications in paramedic and emergency care becoming medics, and those with information security diplomas being deployed to IT-related vocations.

Mr Teo Ye Wei, 28, a Singapore Polytechnic (SP) aeronautical engineering graduate, was posted to the Republic of Singapore Air Force for his NS. As a flight line crew member, his job was to inspect planesand check components.

"It was a coincidence that my vocation matched what I studied," said Mr Teo, now a lecturer in SP's aeronautical engineering course. "It was an eye-opener as I saw in action things I had learnt in theory.

"It would be good if more students have the chance to go into vocations that suit their skills, but not every course has a matching posting."





Sector-specific skill benchmarks to help chart career paths
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2014

WORKERS will soon have clear and standardised benchmarks to guide them in upgrading skills and charting career paths.

The standards will be made sector-specific, so that bosses can reward workers based on defined skills which they have achieved, the authorities announced yesterday.

In the early childhood education sector, for instance, a junior nursery teacher should be able to set up conducive environments in classrooms and use books and games for lessons. But as he moves into a mid-career level, he would be expected to customise learning to his pupils' needs.

Finally, to go even higher, he should be able to assess the effectiveness of the learning environments and resources.

Introducing these industry standards will allow skills - and not paper qualifications - to determine career progress.

"We would be able to encourage employees to move up the ladder," said Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah. "Or in some cases the movement may be lateral, where they deepen their skills and become master craftsmen. But the overriding thought is to give them the opportunity to go further to realise their aspirations."

The skill benchmarks are among the recommendations by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review committee led by Ms Indranee.

Employers and workers, she said at a press conference yesterday, can refer to these skill benchmarks to chart different career paths.

The Singapore Workforce Development Agency will take the lead in developing these benchmarks, having run the Workforce Skills Qualifications training scheme since 2005.

Employers welcomed the change. Restaurant chain Sakae Holdings' chairman Douglas Foo said that having national standards will help him be sure a worker can do his job well.

But Mr Jonathan Asherson, Asean and Pacific regional director of engine-maker Rolls-Royce, said workers of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may struggle to take up training. "Bigger firms should encourage the SMEs they do business with to build up a skilled workforce. They can help to draw up some of these training programmes."





'Hard for firms to find skilled technicians in S'pore'
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

COMPANIES in Singapore are struggling to find skilled technicians and believe more training is needed to widen the talent pool, a new survey has found.

Of the 63 firms polled here, 67 per cent found it "very difficult" to hire technically trained staff at university and vocational level, and 63 per cent said they would be keen to work with educational institutions to offer workand-study schemes modelled on programmes in Germany.

The firms, mostly German ones, were polled as part of the annual Asean Business Climate Survey conducted by seven German chambers in the Asean region.

Almost 320 companies across the region participated, including 63 firms here. They were asked about their economic outlook for the region and their business expansion plans.

Technically skilled staff are in demand among German firms with a presence here, said Dr Tim Philippi, the executive director of the Singapore-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which did the survey here.

Vocational training in Germany is carried out through public-private partnerships, with the theoretical training coming from vocational institutes and companies providing on-the-job practical experience.

"Vocational training in Germany has a very long tradition and a strong reputation... People are able to rise to the top of their companies based on their vocational training background," Dr Philippi said at a briefing at Raffles Hotel yesterday.

Raising the profile of vocational training here would be in line with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech, in which he called for a greater emphasis on work skills over pure academic qualifications, said Mr Wolfgang Huppenbauer, the chamber's president.

Dr Lim Boon Huat, managing director of German radio technology firm Rohde & Schwarz Asia, said companies like his need a "strong middle layer" to be competitive. "Most incremental productivity increases come from the bottom up, and this means we need a workforce that is well trained... Acquiring deep skills requires gestation and the context to practise."

The company, which has 450 staff in Singapore, intends to groom talent from within over the next five years, instead of hiring only from the market. This includes offering staff sponsorships to study in Germany, said Dr Lim.

Three vocational training institutes under the purview of the Economic Development Board (EDB) were set up in the 1980s to train technically skilled workers.

These were the German Singapore Institute, a joint project by the German and Singapore governments, the French Singapore Institute and the Japan Singapore Institute of Software Technology.

The institutes were transferred from the EDB to Nanyang Polytechnic in February 1993.






Nurturing talent: Different strokes for different folks
Key is to figure out what works best for each student
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2014

TWO years ago, the Government announced an expansion of university places to give 40 per cent of each school cohort a shot at university education right here at home by 2020.

It translates to 16,000 places yearly and the additional spots will be provided mainly by the Singapore Institute of Technology and SIM University which will have a more applied, practice-oriented focus and produce a different type of graduate.

Parents and students no doubt cheered the move, and the promise of a better future for young Singaporeans. But now with the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee recommending pathways in which Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic students can work and further their qualifications, some parents and students are left confused. "Why this flip-flop?" asked businessman Terence Koh who has two sons studying engineering in the polytechnic.

"I was very happy that the Government was providing more places for polytechnic students and a more applied pathway that is suited for poly students like my sons. But now it looks like they are saying a degree path is not for them.

"They are better off going to work and furthering their qualifications through work," said the 46-year-old, after reading the recommendations.

But as Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday, his ministry is not changing its stance. Neither is the ASPIRE panel trying to dissuade ITE and polytechnic graduates from pursuing degrees.

Rather, it is pointing out that for some students at least, a diploma plus deep and relevant skills may pay off better in the long run. As Mr Heng stressed, it is about having the "right and relevant type of learning experiences that will enable an individual to build deep skills and expertise".

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah, who chaired the committee, stressed that the recommendations must be seen against a backdrop where there is growing demand worldwide for workers with deep skills. "The employers tell us this, OECD reports point this out and our study trips abroad confirm this," she said, adding that students and parents must also be mindful of the changing nature of jobs and how technology is disrupting jobs.

She is right - the jobs that are in demand today may not exist tomorrow. These are important issues that students and parents must consider.

No doubt, right now having a degree increases the prospects of landing a graduate-level job and, along with it, graduate salaries. Fresh graduates earn $3,000 a month on average.

A 2007 Ministry of Manpower (MOM) study showed that every extra year of schooling increases a worker's earnings by 13.7 per cent. The rate is higher for tertiary education.

MOM figures also indicate that currently the Singapore economy can support a large number of graduates. About half of Singapore residents aged 25 to 29 hold degrees and 44 per cent of those in this age group earn at least $3,000 a month.

Still, what happened in the past may not accurately reflect what may happen in the future. The opening up of university places may lead to a glut of graduates, especially during times when the job market is unable to absorb them all. One only needs to look at the situation in South Korea and Taiwan where graduate unemployment is high and starting salaries for degree holders have fallen. In Taiwan, starting salaries for fresh university graduates are about $1,200 - less than half that for those here.

Also, in a recession, graduates are more likely to be laid off. When the Singapore economy slowed a few years ago, diploma holders fared better. Official figures for the third quarter of 2009 showed that among those unemployed, about 6 per cent were diploma holders while 22 per cent were degree holders. And fewer polytechnic graduates were laid off than their university peers.

Degree hopefuls should also note that not all degrees are created equal. Those opting for one that does not emphasise quality are likely to be disappointed when it doesn't land them the jobs they want. This is already the case for many private school graduates who complain of employers not recognising their qualifications or paying them less than graduates from reputed universities.

As the ASPIRE committee has stressed, it is important that students, whether diploma holders or A-level school leavers, first figure out where their interests and talents lie.

And not all talents are best nurtured by immediately heading for a diploma or degree. There are many who would benefit from going out to work for a few years to hone their skills and understand the demands of the career they are interested in.

This way, when they further their qualifications, they are able to make the most of their education to meet their career aims.









Will ASPIRE plan inspire change?
By Sandra Davie Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2014

IT IS a bold idea: Let those who have completed their basic studies at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnics go out to work and further their qualifications at the same time.

The place-and-train programme is a key part of recommendations released on Monday by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee to boost career prospects of ITE and polytechnic graduates.

But will studying while working, instead of going on to chase the holy grail of a degree, fly with these graduates?

The first 11 place-and-train schemes start in 2016. Under the programme - modelled after Swiss and German apprenticeship schemes - participants undergo structured on-the-job training while studying to further their qualifications.

Those from the ITE can work towards diplomas, while those from polytechnics can aim for advanced and specialist diplomas.

The scheme will be supported by a framework of skills drawn up for every sector with clear progression paths these workers can take.

Yet, it comes at a time when figures on university applications, those heading for overseas study and enrolment in private schools here show that, if anything, the degree chase has intensified. Ministry of Education (MOE) figures show that this year, the five autonomous universities, excluding SIM University, received about 37,500 applications from A-level holders and about 29,000 applications from polytechnic graduates this year.

Each student, on average, applied to two different universities.

According to MOE, compared with three years ago, there were about 4,000 more university applications this year from polytechnic graduates. This is largely due to the increase in the number of students applying for the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) degree programmes, which cater to polytechnic graduates.

In the end, about 14,000 A- level and polytechnic students landed a place in the six local universities. MOE did not give the breakdown between the two groups. But previous figures released show that about 70 per cent of those from junior colleges managed to secure a place, compared with 20 per cent of the polytechnic cohort, who number about 25,000 every year.

But the remaining polytechnic diploma holders are unlikely to give up on their degree ambitions.

Several thousand will head overseas, mostly to British and Australian universities which offer generous credit exemptions, allowing them to complete their degrees in one to two years.

Those who cannot afford the cost will look to private institutions in Singapore. Last published figures show that there are more than 100,000 Singaporeans enrolled in private schools.

Why is there this hankering for a degree?

Ask any diploma holder, and the answer is likely to be, "better jobs and higher salaries".

A diploma holder's average starting salary is $2,000, while a degree holder's is $3,000.

The gap widens further over their working life.

There are no recent figures, but a 2007 study by the Ministry of Manpower showed that every extra year of schooling increases a worker's earnings by 13.7 per cent. The rate is higher for degree holders.

Talk to job recruiters and diploma holders out in the workforce and it is a fact that even those who perform remarkably well in their jobs quickly hit a ceiling.

Still, polytechnic students are not completely closed off to the idea of ASPIRE's study-while-you- work scheme.

As one second-year polytechnic student said: "Why not? You get a job, a salary and you get to further your qualifications at the same time."

But he added a caveat. He will sign up for the programme only if it allows him to move up to graduate-level jobs and salaries.

And it should not take too long. Three years is a reasonable timeframe, but five years is too long for most of them.

"Eighteen months in Australia and I come back with a degree and I can go on to a graduate-level job. Why would I want to wait five years?" said one.

For those who have only the private school route, the place- and-train scheme holds more of an attraction, as not all degrees attained through private schools here are wanted by employers. But even those students want to know if employers on the scheme will be required to promote and pay them better once they complete the programme.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, for his part, responded to comments that the scheme is aimed at dissuading ITE and polytechnic graduates from going for degrees, saying: "It's not a matter of one qualification versus another, but the right and relevant qualifications and right and relevant type of learning experiences that will enable an individual to build deep skills and expertise, and enable him to excel in the workplace."

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah, who led the ASPIRE committee, noted that skilled workers are in strong demand: "The employers tell us this, OECD reports point this out and our study trips abroad confirm this."

Indeed, students are with ASPIRE on the point about valuing skills - three years of hands-on, applied training in polytechnics have drummed into them the importance of this. But they point the finger at employers, noting that most pay according to the level of qualifications, not skills.

At the end of the day, Singapore's young people are practical- minded.

Yes, a degree brings status, but what counts are higher-level jobs and good salaries. If the work- and-study scheme allows them to catch up with graduates - or even overtake them in terms of salary - then ASPIRE's ideas will take wing.









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