By Howard Lee
The Singapore government has accepted the 10 recommendations proposed by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee, which was set up in January to ensure that graduates from the country’s polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) can have good career and academic progression prospects.
The ASPIRE Committee was first announced in In November 2013 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and was chaired by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law and Education.
“The ASPIRE Committee believes that these recommendations will help create more opportunities for our polytechnic and ITE students to progress and to achieve their aspirations. At the same time, they will help businesses with their manpower needs, and grow and develop talent pipelines. In so doing, we hope to secure a brighter future for each individual, and for our nation.”
The steering committee consists of 16 members from the industry and 19 members from government agencies or education institutions, including chairman Ms Rajah.
The committee also made various study trips to Germany, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand to help them identify the key elements and success factors of these countries’ education systems.
There was only one mention in the recommendation report on how the study trips have advised the committee – on-the-job learning in the workplace, which “produced highly-skilled workers with great expertise and best-in-class craftsmanship”.
The 10 recommendations by the ASPIRE committee were:
- Strengthen education and career guidance efforts in schools, polytechnics and the ITE
- Enhance internships at the polytechnics and ITE
- Increase Nitec to Higher Nitec (certification standards at ITE) progression opportunities for ITE students to deepen their skills
- Establish polytechnic and ITE leads for each key industry sector to strengthen linkages with industry and help enhance programme offerings
- Expand online learning opportunities to make it easier for individuals to learn anywhere and anytime
- Provide more development and support programmes for polytechnic and ITE students to help every enrolled student succeed
- Launch new programmes that integrate work and study, such as place-and-train programmes, to provide additional skills-upgrading options for polytechnic and ITE graduates
- Increase post-diploma Continuing Education and Training (CET) opportunities at polytechnics to refresh and deepen the skills of polytechnic graduates
- Support vocation-based deployments during National Service to help polytechnic and ITE graduates maintain their skills
- Develop sector-specific skills frameworks and career progression pathways in collaboration with industry to support progression based on industry-relevant skills
Of the 10 recommendations, four seem to suggest involvement by the industry, if not already being done. These are to enhance internships (2), strengthening linkages with industry (4), place-and-train programmes (7), and the development of sector-specific skills frameworks and career progression pathways (10).
For instance, the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) currently runs a number of place-and-train programmes for different industries. Specific companies such as Singapore Aero Engine Services were also reported to have such on-the-job learning schemes in place for the past 10 years.
There was also no indication of how these recommendations will lead to initiatives or clearly defined frameworks for polytechnic and ITE graduates to advance their position at work.
PM Lee has said in his National Day rally, “We have to help individuals to progress and upgrade after they have graduated and started work in their careers to develop the structured career paths for them and then to implement this work and study path on a national scale.”
And similar to the PM, the committee indicated that it “recognised that such (progression) opportunities are closely tied to Singapore having a strong economy. Only if there is economic growth can there be good jobs and abundant prospects for young Singaporeans, and it is only if young Singaporeans have the right skills that they can meaningfully seize current and future opportunities.”
The committee also seems to suggest that progression need not necessarily mean an upward progression. “We must create multiple pathways for individuals to progress according to their skills, contributions and experience, and a variety of ways to attain deeper skills and knowledge.”
In his response, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat thanked the committee for their work, and indicated that many parties will work together to implement the proposals.
He reiterated what PM Lee announced in his National Day rally, which was to expand the role of WDA, and the formation of a tripartite committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam “to look into the integration of education, training and career pathways, so as to enable our people to achieve their potential.”
Mr Heng also indicated that the initiative was necessary, but will take time. However he did not indicate specific initiatives for each recommendation and when each, or all of them, was to be completed.
The full report and recommendations by the ASPIRE Committee is available on the MOE website.