Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Alumni Homecoming - Alumni Night
I am very happy to be here this evening to celebrate the success and achievements of Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) alumni, who have come back in this Homecoming to their alma mater to interact with one another and to build their bond with the university. First, my heartiest congratulations to all our award winners. I am very happy to see how over the years NTU has nurtured many students who have gone on to make important contributions in their respective fields. This is something that NTU should be very proud of.
Tonight is the third time I am attending this event. I was here in 2012. NTU has made significant strides over the last few years in building on its foundations in its earlier years to establish itself as a world-class outstanding university. This is something which I’m sure alumni here are very proud of.
Just like Singapore, NTU would not have been able to achieve this if not for the hard work, commitment and the support of many people, including the students and alumni. Tonight, let me share some thoughts on how NTU can continue to engage and develop our students and alumni. I would like to touch on two points.
One is how NTU can continue to engage students to combine both head and heart, and, secondly, how the university should encourage and support students’ learning, even after they graduate.Combining Head and Heart
NTU has made significant strides in research excellence, as well as in teaching. By different measures of research excellence and academic rankings, NTU has moved up very rapidly globally. This is very commendable, and I want to congratulate Professor Bertil Andersson and the faculty for this important achievement. Certainly, you have made an important academic impact, and are also beginning to make an impact in the economy, in the way that research in the university is being applied in the broader economy, and in order to create a better life for all Singaporeans.
Even more important than academic impact and impact in specific fields, it is the impact that students and alumni make in the world and in our Singapore society that will distinguish NTU in the long run. This impact comes from NTU’s ability to inspire students to hone their talents, skills and expertise in order to accomplish something important and major, and in the service of others - i.e. students who can combine both head and heart. Every year, thousands of students pass through the portals of NTU. If each and every one of our students can go on to make an impact in the world, in ways big or small, the collective impact from this university will be very significant. Many of NTU’s alumni are great role models in this, and we can learn a lot from the award winners this evening. Let me pick out two of the award winners to illustrate my point.
The first is Madam Zuraidah Abdullah, recipient of the Nanyang Distinguished Award. Currently the Deputy Chief Executive (Admin) of the Home Team Academy, Zuraidah has been serving in the police force for over twenty five years. In 2013, Zuraidah was appointed Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police, the first female officer to achieve this. She is now our most senior female Police Officer. Zuraidah graduated from NTU with a degree in civil engineering. This was put to good use through the setting up of cameras along the Pan Island Expressway, to help us keep our roads safer and to save lives. This unwavering commitment to Singapore’s safety and security is inspiring, and something that all of us can be proud of and learn from.
How can NTU nurture more students like Zuraidah? The demands placed on our universities may change with time, but the duty of the university to nurture responsible citizens remains constant. The life of a university student cannot revolve around the lab or library or the lecture hall. The university must create opportunities for students to apply their knowledge for the benefit of society.
I am glad that NTU recognises this. At the NTU Fest I attended in August, I learnt much about NTU’s students’ community service projects. There were many projects that were showcased and I thoroughly enjoyed what the students told me. One of these projects was an expedition to build infrastructure and bring drinking water to a village in Laos. There, the villagers depended on ground water and a nearby mountain stream for their household needs and to grow crops. It is a very arduous task to get water. During the dry season, water would be in short supply and had to be fetched from a river in another village. 137 NTU students, including those from the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences participated in this project - the largest student effort under NTU’s Overseas Exposure Programme.
This project was great! Students used their skills and knowledge from the classroom to build the pipes, direct the water and distribute it to different parts of the village. Speaking to the students, you can feel their passion, and how they think that it is a meaningful way for them to spend their time and to make use of what they have learnt in NTU. This is what education is really about - giving people the skills, knowledge, and most importantly, the heart, to want to make a difference to the people and communities around them.
The NTU Fest is just one example of how our university students are seeking to make a difference. I hope our universities will continue to nurture responsible students and inspire them to apply what they learn to make a positive impact in our society and in the world.Supporting Lifelong Learning
Let me move on to my second point - that learning does not end the minute you graduate. In fact, it only marks the beginning. Technology will continue to drive change, and some of this change will be disruptive. The nature of jobs will continue to evolve, so our mindsets will have to change as well. The old paradigm where one gets all our learning in the first 20 and 21 years of our lives is outdated. More and more, we need to learn, unlearn, and relearn continuously throughout one’s lifetime. I hope that NTU can continue to provide support for students to continue learning even after they graduate.
Mr Ho Ho Ying, also a recipient of the Nanyang Distinguished Award, epitomises this spirit of lifelong learning. Taking pride in the quality of his work, Mr Ho works relentlessly at his craft. For his dedication, hard work and his commitment to excellence, he has been conferred countless honours, including the Cultural Medallion Award for Visual Arts in 2012, the Outstanding People of the 20th Century Award for Achievement by International Biographical Centre (IBC) England, and 500 Leaders of Influential Achievement Award (20th Century Artist and Writer), given by the American Biography Institute. A self-taught artist for the most part, Mr Ho went back to school to take up a postgraduate course in art history at the age of 61! Now, even in his 70s, Mr Ho continues to stay engaged in the art scene. Just in March this year, he held a solo exhibition at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, presenting his works spanning from the 1950s to the early 2000s.
The younger generation of students and alumni can learn from Mr Ho’s insatiable curiosity and determination for excellence. I am sure many of them already have. Our students in schools today are no longer satisfied with what their teachers tell them. Indeed, they will ask “why?”, “why not?”, “how?” and “how can we do better?”. These are questions which teachers may not necessarily know the answer to. Today’s student can go on to the Internet or on to YouTube, and many aspects of knowledge are freely available. Our universities need to keep up with the demand of this new generation of learners. Our universities need to think about how best to use technology to keep in touch with learners of all ages. Our universities should support and build upon our students’ drive to learn, throughout their time in school, and even after they graduate.
In this aspect, I’m glad that the NTU Centre for Continuing Education has an extensive range of programmes for alumni and the public to encourage them to advance their knowledge and learn new skills. These programmes range from Engineering to Accountancy courses, and are taught by NTU’s own professors.
I look forward to NTU’s expansion of the list of modular online courses offered by the Centre and challenge NTU to take this a step further. Online learning platforms open up a world of possibilities, both for the current cohort of students as well as for alumni. It is a great way to keep ourselves intellectually engaged. While social events require a physical space, online engagement means universities can connect with their students anytime, anywhere, and allows them to learn at any pace. This is not only convenient for the university, it can create a vibrant learning culture within NTU and in our wider Singapore society. This is very much in line with what we eventually hope to create - in Singapore, a nation of lifelong learners, that keeps learning and enjoys the intellectual challenge of learning.
Next year, Singapore is celebrating SG50, our fiftieth anniversary of independence. This is a major event, and I hope that NTU alumni will play a major role in this celebration. In the past fifty years, our universities have played a key role in developing outstanding citizens such as yourselves. As we move towards our next fifty years as a nation, let us set new goals and face new challenges with confidence. Let us continue to nurture students who not only have a good head on their shoulders, but also the good heart to serve the community. Let us encourage the spirit of lifelong learning beyond the confines of the university. I am confident that with strong support from its students and alumni, NTU is ready to take flight and to continue to achieve even more. On that note, once again, my heartiest congratulations to all our award winners and to all our alumni, for this achievement that NTU has made over the years.
Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah at the Opening Ceremony of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) Forum
There are three things I would like to cover in my speech. The first part is to talk about the ASPIRE Committee report and recommendations; the second to address students, who are now going to be future employees; and the third for the SMEs.Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE)
In November of last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appointed me as chairman of a committee to look at applied studies in polytechnics and ITE. The actual steering committee was about 30 members, but there were about 98 people if you took into account the review committees and sub-committees under it. You may wonder why we had such a large committee and the reason for this.
The reason is because we felt that what the ITE and the polytechnics are doing in terms of education is really important. We wanted to make sure that there are opportunities for our ITE and polytechnic graduates. We also wanted to make sure that the needs of the employers are met, because if we do not have a good match, you will have a problem. You will be churning out people who have certain qualifications, but they are not going into the jobs that are needed out there.Importance of skills
The first thing is that we notice there has been an increasing trend over the years to just chase a paper qualification. I am not saying that qualifications are not good or important, but your qualification must be relevant, and what you take away from that qualification must be able to be applied in a real-life context. A big centerpiece of our report was about skills, and why skills are important. When I say skills, again, there is often a misunderstanding of that term. Many people think it just means doing something with your hands.
Skills is much more than that. It needs:
- Knowledge, which we learn;
- Application, because you have to practise what you have learnt; and
- Experience. Employers have been telling us that they want employees who have skills. They do not just want people with the theory knowledge because it is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know. That is very important.
The second other centerpiece is continual learning. The old model was that when you graduate - whether it is from ITE, polytechnic or university - your education is finished and then you start working life. That was the old model, and it served us and the rest of the world well. It will no longer serve us for one simple reason - the world is changing very quickly and technology is changing jobs. As I said during my parliamentary speech, the way you do your job will change, sometimes the job itself will change, and sometimes the job will no longer exist, at least not in that particular way for that particular industry.
How do we cope with this if you are an employer or if you are an employee? The only way to cope with it is to be able to constantly adapt, change, learn, unlearn and relearn. That is why continual education is important. Another big recommendation of that in the committee report is that we should no longer see education as something that stops when you finish your formal education. It is a continuum - something that will continue right up to the time you retire, and possibly even beyond. It is important to have that mindset because it is only the employers and companies which are able to innovate and stay ahead of change that are the ones that survive and thrive in this kind of environment.
Another aspect of it was thinking about how to make sure that you acquire the kind of skills that you need. We realised that teaching and learning is most effective when it takes place in a real-life environment. That means for the period the students are studying, internships are very important. Internships must be relevant, where you can learn during internships. As such, we are looking at extending the length of internships and looking at the quality of the internships.
There is a period after graduation, where many feel there is something more that they can learn after obtaining the Nitec or Higher Nitec. At the same time, there is some impetus to work. We felt that it is good for both the employers as well as new employees to continue your education while working if you can. Another key recommendation was to look at how you can actually continue your education at the ITE and polytechnics once you start working. That was the idea of the Technical Diploma or the Advanced Diploma. If you are an ITE graduate who has started working and are on this programme, you can come back to ITE to do a course that is relevant to what you are working on at the workplace and at the end of it, graduate with a Technical Diploma.
These are the key ideas but we also realise that it needs a mindset shift. The mindset shift is on the part of employers because if you are going to do internships and the Technical Diploma and Advanced Diploma, it means that employers become part of the education process. We have to design curriculum that is relevant, useful and practical. We cannot do that without the employers’ input. It requires a mindset shift. It is important that we deliver somebody who has great potential, has learnt while at ITE and polytechnics, but their education continues when they are in the hands of their employer.
There also needs to be another mindset shift, on how we view jobs. I think it is a subject of common discussion that for the longest time, people place a value on jobs depending on the paper qualification. But really, there are many different kinds of jobs that are very valuable and much needed. We should respect every job and respect the person doing the job.
If you draw all of these together, people will say these are great recommendations but will ask how we are going to make it work because it is really the implementation that is important. You cannot do it just by having the polytechnics and ITEs doing it alone, or Government doing it alone. It really requires the cooperation of everybody - teachers, parents, students, the Government and employers all working in tandem. For that reason, it was decided that there would be a committee that would look at the implementation and that is the SkillsFuture Council, led by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
There is another piece, the Continuing Education and Training Masterplan, which is headed by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA). We put these two - ASPIRE and the CET Masterplan - together and it is a continuum of education for life and education that prepares you for jobs and helps you to navigate what will be a fairly volatile and uncertain future. The SkillsFuture Council will implement that.Students and Employers
When we had our engagements during ASPIRE, we spoke to a lot of students and asked them what their aspirations were. Aspirations across the board were not so different. People want good salaries that are commensurate with their skills and qualifications. They also want progression pathways because nobody wants to go into a job and be stuck at that level. Sometimes, that means additional paper qualifications, while sometimes that might mean industry certifications - not so much about taking a diploma or going for a degree but looking at what industry requirements are, and getting something that is industry-specific.
Students also want fulfilment and learn while they are working. If you consider the fact that our SMEs employ 70 per cent of the workforce, then you will understand how important it is for SMEs to be cognisant of the aspirations of the students and what it means for SMEs to be able to help implement the ASPIRE recommendations. I think that as an employer, it is very important to recognise that what is important to your employee is that they learn, grow and are seen as individuals whose talents are to be developed. Employees appreciate employers who develop them. It means sitting down and speaking with them and helping them to identify their strengths, pointing out to them which are the areas in your company where you think they can grow and be promoted to if they apply themselves and work hard. It also means being supportive if they have to take time off for courses - not necessarily during work time, but at least not necessarily having to do overtime, especially if they are doing part-time courses or if they need to do their studies during the weekends. If employers have that kind of mindset, where you see the employee as someone to be developed and trained, and allow that person to bloom, I think employees, most times, are appreciative and will respond positively. What we must try to aim for is that broad consensus where there is a good working relationship between employee and employer and both are working together towards a common goal. For every single individual in your organisation who develops and gets better, your organisation also develops and gets better by that much. At the end of the day, it is really the team that is working together.SMEs’ role in economy
I have mentioned how important it is for SMEs to be onboard for ASPIRE - and that is because SMEs form a significant pillar of the economy. You play an important role in developing our skilled manpower. Young talent may not prioritise SMEs as a top career choice but that is usually because they are not familiar with what SMEs can offer. The truth is many of our promising local SMEs offer a wealth of opportunities for students to acquire skills and for you to grow in your careers.
We think that SMEs can and will benefit from investing in human capital and building up their talent pipeline. The Government will support SMEs in developing their training capabilities and strengthening their HR practices - and towards building progressive pathways and providing good training programmes to develop their manpower capabilities.
Some of these support measures include SPRING Singapore’s SME Talent Programme (STP). This was launched in 2013 in partnership with participating Trade Associations & Chambers, such as ASME, as well as the various post-secondary education institutions (PSEIs). With the SME Talent Programme, students who are keen to understand more about working in SMEs can embark on a structured internship with an SME. This structured part is very important. One of the constant pieces of feedback that we get from students when they are training is that they find that if it is not structured, and if they are not learning in a progressive way, many of them feel that they do not learn something. As such, it is worthwhile for SMEs to invest in structured training programmes.
Participating SMEs can also provide job opportunities to graduates who are keen on a career with SMEs. Graduates will undergo a one-year structured on-boarding programme delivered by the SME. Students interested in kick-starting their career with the SME can tap on the STP study sponsorship, which covers their remaining years of study (1-2 years) and also allows them to receive a sign-on bonus upon graduation and joining the SME.
Home-Fix D.I.Y., a retailer of home improvement products, is an example of a local SME that has placed talent attraction at the core of its business. It believes in empowering its employees through structured training programmes and development opportunities. Lim Zhi Hao, one of the company’s STP recipients and graduate of ITE College Central, recently attended Home-Fix’s comprehensive orientation programme, which allowed him to quickly pick up useful home improvement knowledge and taught him how to manage and interact with customers. This in-house training programme enabled his work in advising customers and providing them with solutions on their home-improvement needs. Now six months on the job, Zhi Hao is always ready to deliver a great experience to any customer who walks into a Home-Fix store. Home-Fix also offers an Entrepreneurship Incentive Scheme (EIS), a gain-sharing initiative that allows staff to manage a retail store to drive sales and improve profitability.
Another company that believes strongly in building up a good talent pipeline is Hock Seng Marine Engineering, a company that specialises in the design and fabrication of marine grade fittings. A supporter of the STP, Hock Seng Marine has had two successful matches. One of its STP recipients, Sharin Nizam Bin Basilin, joined the company in February this year as a field service technician conducting after-sales site support and technical assistance. Through his work, Sharin has had the opportunity to hone the skills he gained from his Nitec in Mechantronics. Even though he has been with the company for only eight months, Sharin’s supervisors already recognise and appreciate his “can-do” attitude and the high quality work he delivers. In fact, Hock Seng Marine is supporting Sharin’s technical skills training and higher education, with the view of promoting him into a supervisory role or lead technical role in the next two to three years.Conclusion
In conclusion, building a SkillsFuture would require a concerted effort from all segments of the community - at the individual level, the individual should be responsible for your own learning and development; for employers, you must develop and value employees and their skills; and for educational and training providers to see a role in preparing students for life and upgrading post-graduation. To this end, the Government will work closely with all the various parties involved to advance future skills and to build a future based on advanced skills.
With this, let me wish you all a very good forum and I hope that we will work together and be able to do something really good for Singapore.
Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat at the Malay Youth Literary Association (4PM) Bestari Award Ceremony 2014
It gives me great pleasure to join you at 4PM’s Bestari Award presentation ceremony for outstanding Malay/Muslim students from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).ITE- 4PM Partnership
ITE and 4PM have been working closely for more than a decade, developing the potential of many ITE students. One exemplary product of their partnership is the Project Bestari ITE, or bITE. bITE enhances the learning of our ITE students through their participation in service-learning projects in the community. Under the ambit of this project, ITE students have the opportunity to reach out to the under-privileged in our society. For example, 65 students from ITE College West participated in the Ramadan on Wheels project earlier this year. The students adopted 18 elderly families for a period of 6-months, during which they delivered food to the families’ homes monthly and took the opportunity to befriend them.
ITE also engages students of all races through developmental programmes such as camps, workshops and talks. These programmes help to develop life skills in our students, and encourage them to give back and share what they have with the community. I am happy to share that over the past 10 years, bITE has benefitted more than 24,000 ITE students.
In 2010, ITE and 4PM also launched a pilot mentoring programme called FRENZ, to guide and inspire students of all races to excel in their studies. In 2014, this collaboration has been enhanced to provide holistic support for all students. Participating students will benefit not only from academic support, but also socio-emotional and skills development support. They can look forward to fun outings and camps, as well as mentoring sessions.ASPIRE
Such collaboration supports what the Applied Study in Polytechnic and ITE Review, or ASPIRE, aims to achieve - to develop the potential of every student and provide opportunities for them to achieve their fullest potential. The ASPIRE Committee recommends the provision of more of such developmental programmes, to strengthen students’ leadership, character and resilience, and equip them with life skills that will be critical to their success not just in school, but also in life and in their future. ITE and 4PM have set a good example, and I hope to see similar collaborations between our education institutions and community organisations, because we want to develop all students to realise their potential like the 45 award recipients here today.Success Stories
Congratulations to all 45 of you. Today, we recognise and celebrate your achievements. Let me just give one example. Khairunnisa Bte Abdul Ghani was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was younger, but this did not stop her from excelling in school. With hard work and determination, she did well in her course and graduated with a perfect GPA of 4.0 in the Nitec course in Asian Culinary Arts at ITE College West. While studying at ITE, Khairunnisa also served in the Student Council and actively participated in community projects. I applaud her tenacity and passion to serve, and wish her all the best in her career.
I am also delighted to see past Bestari Award winners returning to volunteer with 4PM as a way of giving back to the community. One such person is Ms Zulayqha Zulkifli, who was the recipient of the Outstanding Bestari Award last year. Soon after receiving the award, she became a 4PM mentor at ITE College East, among her other contributions. I also understand that she is the vice-chairman of the event today. To our Bestari Award recipients today, I hope Ms Zulayqha will inspire you to do the same in giving back to the community and society.Conclusion
Last but not least, I would like to extend my utmost appreciation to the principals, lecturers and 4PM’s management committee and staff for your efforts in shaping our award recipients into who they are today. Your love and concern for these students have contributed to their success. I also would like to congratulate parents, many of whom are here with us today, for the way that you have encouraged your children and urged them to be the best that they can be. With that, thank you and congratulations again to the award recipients.