Taking shop skills to higher levels

Taking shop skills to higher levels
Students walking across the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) East Campus.

SINGAPORE - In contrast to worsening youth unemployment in the euro zone (now at a record high of 24 per cent), graduates of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) can not only find jobs easily but also, those taking engineering courses can earn a monthly salary of $1,725.

Almost nine in 10 who opted to enter the labour force last year, instead of furthering their studies, were hired within six months and got an average monthly pay of $1,646.

While job worth is driven by the momentum of the economy and competition in the labour market, it is based fundamentally on how competencies add value to an organisation. For example, it is because bottom lines are boosted by engineering and technical know-how that many small and medium firms are prepared to pay more for ITE-trained hires.

Dovetailing training with industry requirements remains an enduring contribution of pioneers of technical education like Dr Law Song Seng and the late Dr Tay Eng Soon. Aimed at the lowest quarter of every cohort, measured by academic ability, vocational training a few decades ago was perceived as the last resort for primary school dropouts. Repositioning ITE as a world-class post-secondary institution was a masterstroke as old jobs waned here and global competition prompted the nation and others to lay sights on higher value-added components of international supply chains.

Employers clearly appreciate the flow of skills emerging from ITE. Social attitudes might lag but there is no question that old-school perceptions of desirable pathways must change to suit the times. Even as a higher proportion of the workforce are expected to become professionals, managers, executives and technicians - the present one-to-one ratio with rank-and-file workers is expected to grow to two-thirds by 2030 - there is a need to see all jobs as part of an ecosystem, rather than forming a pyramid of expectations. It takes a good mix of skills to compete effectively in a fast-changing marketplace. Hence, due respect and reward should be accorded to all significant contributions made, whether on the shop floor or in the boardroom.

The government review committee that wants to improve polytechnic and ITE graduates' job prospects and academic pathways should view progression in a holistic way. There should also be scope for those with a practical bent to learn on the job through, say, mentorship programmes, job rotation schemes, and specialised attachments. Support and recognition are necessary to encourage the young to aim for high levels of mastery in applied skills, whatever their calling. If neglected, home-grown skilled technicians and craftsmen will be in short supply.


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