Improving, excelling in one's work despite age

Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono and Singaporean curry puff maestro Tham Niap Tong were held up in Parliament yesterday as poster boys for the kind of Singaporean workers a new national report aims to nurture.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, who chaired the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee, said the two men, despite their age, strive relentlessly for perfection, always seeking to improve, upgrade and better their performance.

"The quality of their work generates its own demand. Virtually recession proof," Ms Indranee said when she presented the Aspire report for the House to endorse.

Mr Ono is 89 and Mr Tham, who owns the Rolina curry puff business, is 75. Mr Ono, who went to work for a sushi eatery at age nine, owns the first sushi restaurant in Tokyo to be awarded three Michelin stars. Mr Tham learnt how to make curry puffs from a Hainanese sailor at age 19, and owns two stalls.

Said Ms Indranee: "Both espouse the philosophy that they must seek to be the best in their profession, and their success is founded on real and deep skills."

She cited the duo's attributes and achievements to drive home the point about the kind of workers Singaporeans must be if they want to thrive in the new global environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, termed Vuca for short.

In a speech calling on MPs to endorse Aspire's 10 recommendations, she said in a Vuca environment, it is not possible to predict the types of jobs for the future.

One thing, however, is certain: The demand for deep and relevant skills. But the nature of jobs will continue to evolve and in some cases, the jobs will change. Some may disappear forever because of disruptive change brought about by technology. "This means Singaporeans will have to constantly adapt and learn new skills in order to remain relevant and to get good employment."

Among the key Aspire recommendations were pathways for students from technical institutes to work and further their qualifications at the same time. It also proposed a pathway for those in the workforce to progress in their careers while building on their skills. ITE and polytechnic graduates will also get more career guidance, and their education will be strengthened so that they will be ready for their jobs when they enter the workforce.

Some MPs who spoke after Ms Indranee urged the Government to clarify Aspire's objectives.

Was the Government now saying a degree is overrated and no longer required, asked Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

Ms Indranee said the Government always drew up an educational strategy that was closely attuned to the economic situation of the day. The "overarching objective" of the Aspire plan is not to educate people to serve the economy, but to enable Singaporeans to prosper, do well and achieve their aspirations. "It is not one size fits all - or one educational path for all," she said.

This article was first published on September 09, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.