HR expert raises concern on Singapore’s education system on developing its workers and how locals are forced to take up transactional jobs

Singapore schools are teaching theories and not practical applications, resulting in its inability to produce capable local workforce, opined Senior Consultant at HRmatters21, Martin Gabriel.

He explained that local universities and polytechnics need to change their method of teaching as applying practical knowledge in various situations is quicker in producing quality future workforce, as compared to teaching theories based on memorising.

“I think the days of just learning theories and based on memory are gone. Today we’re at a stage where we need to learn things that are more practical. It’s the application to situations that really count,” said Mr Gabriel in a live chat with TOC on Wednesday evening (14 July).

He added, “Situations are always changing so the applications need to address these changes. I think our universities and polytechnics need to change.”

Mr Gabriel also went on to note that education institutions in Singapore have to also work hand-in-hand with different industries, and not just rely on internships. Most interns are performing menial tasks during their internships and they don’t really learn anything beneficial, he said.

As such, the HR expert recommended that the “learning between universities and industries has to be tightened”, adding that high-value jobs should also be increased.

If that’s not all, Mr Gabriel also advised Singaporeans to always learn and keep themselves equipped with the rapid changes brought by technology. This is because, he said, job description has evolved over time and technology has accelerated the change.

For instance, someone who’s a photographer in those days was only required to know how to take good photographs using a camera. However, at current times, they will also need to know how to operate a drone as that technology has come into the market.

“So for us Singapore citizens, we have to learn and keep learning.”

When asked on why companies are reluctant to hire locals when Singapore education has been touted as one of the best in the world, Mr Gabriel said that it is due to its “structured” layout with less room for innovation.

“This is the conditioning from school days (where) the thinking is very structure, the laws are very express, and the boundaries are clear. It’s a trade-off.

“You have this very structured way of education but at the same time, you’re less innovative and expressive. I would really want to see an education system that will the students to ‘go and learn, and come back and show us what you’ve learned’,” said Mr Gabriel.

Locals are pushed into transactional jobs to make ends meet

In the current situation here, local employees are finding it more and more difficult to secure PME employments as employers are hiring foreigners to fill up these positions.

Given that the number of foreign PMEs have grown exponentially over the years, it is resulting in locals taking up transactional jobs such as food delivery riders and taxi drivers in order to make ends meet, said Mr Gabriel.

“When our people got nowhere else to go, they go for transactional jobs like delivering food and driving taxis. This is doing more harm to our competitiveness,” said the HR consultant with over 30 years of experience in the industry.

In Singapore, jobs like food delivery riders and private-hire drivers can only be applied by Singapore citizens.

Adding to this, Mr Gabriel also noted that individuals who are above 40 are also finding it extremely tough to look for a job.

When they exit from their job, they could be earning around S$4,600 – which is generally the median salary for people in that age bracket. However, when these individuals try to re-enter the workforce, employers are only offering them slightly more than S$2,000, said Mr Gabriel.

He added that those in their 40s are the ones with the highest financial responsibility as they have to fund their kids’ education, who most likely are teenagers or entering university, as well as take care of their elderly parents with high medical bills.

Separately, Mr Gabriel also pointed out that there’s lack of transfer skills in the industry, which means foreigners who are brought into the country fail to teach locals and impart the necessary knowledge in them so they will be able to take over the position in the future.

“If the Government feels that these skills are lacking in Singapore and they bring in these foreign workers, then I would say, where is the transfer skills? At the end of the day what you want is to learn from them, but we don’t learn from them,” said Mr Gabriel, adding that this practice cannot go on.

He continued, “We have to ensure that when they are here, we have someone to learn from them, and at the same time we improve. If we cannot learn the skills from universities, then we learn from those who come in so we can ensure we improve.”

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