The newly-appointed Education Minister Lawrence Wong said on Wednesday (29 July) that after joining the workforce as a fresh economics graduate in 1997, he realised that there’s a vast gap between textbook learning and the real world.
“I realised how big a gap there was from my textbook understanding of economics, and the way things work in the real world,” Mr Wong said while speaking at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) as he launched [email protected], a series of online workshops conducted on Wednesday to assist Singaporeans in keeping up with the new demands of the workplace.
He added, “Since that experience, it has been a journey of continuous learning because there are many, many gaps in my knowledge that I still continue to plug to this very days”, emphasising the need for relearning.
Mr Wong, who was previously Singapore’s Minister of National Development, explained on Wednesday that like most fresh graduates, he entered into the working world back in 1997 with full confidence of knowing everything there is about economics, until the Asian financial crisis struck.
“As most fresh graduates are, I was brimming with confidence. I thought I knew everything there was to know about economics,” he said while speaking at this first official event in his new appointment.
He continued, “One of my first assignments was to put up a paper to my bosses to assess the impact on the regional economies and the implications for Singapore.
“Nothing that I learned in school prepared me for such an assignment.”
Following that, Mr Wong reiterated the importance of continuous learning to keep oneself well-equipped for the job.
Some of the things that he did include keeping up to date on developments in his area of work and mastering new soft skills such as learning how to write policy papers and how to present technical data to a non-technical individual.
“As a young economist, I learned very quickly that how you present data and charts is quite important. And I took a lot of time and efforts to improve my skills in doing these things; it’s not just about using Excel and PowerPoint,” Mr Wong noted.
He went on to say that after the COVID-19 pandemic, the pace of change has accelerated, forcing the need for continuous learning.
“Existing jobs may change, and new jobs will emerge, while some industries will undergo painful adjustment,” he said.
As such, the Education Minister stressed that learning does not stop at graduation, and getting a paper qualification is not the end of one’s career journey.
“I know this is a tough period for job-seekers, especially for our fresh graduates who are now looking to enter the workforce. We understand your concerns, I want to assure all of you that we are here to help,” he expressed.
Mr Wong revealed that career centres in the higher education institutes have stepped up efforts in career help for fresh graduates this year. Some of the support includes looking for job openings from industry partners, organising career fairs and using online outreach and counselling tools.
He also said that institutes of higher learning (IHLs) have a huge responsibility in getting education and training going.
“For a long time, we have been trying to bring IHLs and industry closer together,” said Mr Wong, who served in the Ministry of Education (MOE) for 18 months, from May 2011 to November 2012.
During his earlier period at MOE, he was Singapore’s first Minister of State for Education, and later Senior Minister of State.
“In the past, certainly in my first stint at MOE, when I asked IHLs, do you have any industry links, all of them would say yes, immediately, we do.
“Then you ask industry, do you think of your links with the IHLs, and they will tell you that the IHLs tend to be a bit too academic and too far removed from real-world practicalities,” he said.
However, Mr Wong asserted that the situation is no longer the same right now as higher learning institutes have expanded their networks of industry partners and employers.