PM Lee's call for culture shift lauded by employers, unions

[SINGAPORE] Employers and unions applauded the Prime Minister's call to look beyond paper qualifications, but said stakeholders must find ways to offer diverse paths to success.

"Some employment mindsets are still steeped in the fact that a university degree holder is better qualified than one without a degree," Courts Asia chief executive Terry O'Connor said. "There should be a shift in employment practices that will holistically take into consideration an individual's abilities and aptitude, not only during the hiring process, but also when promotions and remuneration are being considered."

Singapore needs a culture shift that allows workers to advance regardless of whether they hold a university degree, PM Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday in his National Day Rally speech.

A committee that comprises government, employer and union representatives will be created to help Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates with job placement and career advancement.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will chair the body, which will implement recommendations by the Applied Study in Poytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) group set up in 2013 and led by Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah.

Employers and employees welcomed the message.

Speaking at the sidelines of the launch of the Young Engineers Leadership Programme on Monday, union chief Lim Swee Say said Labour is fully behind PM Lee's message.

Speaking in Mandarin, he said it is critical to create diverse paths to success.

Workers who prefer to go back to school should have that opportunity, but companies should also offer in-house improvement programmes for those who are more inclined towards onthe- job learning.

Roland Ng, managing director of crane operator Tat Hong Holdings, said most of his workers are non-university graduates.

"We have to recognise that non-graduates can also play a part in our national evolution," he said.

Tat Hong, which operates in a highly technical industry, has found success working with polytechnic interns partly because the company exposes them to different aspects of the business, Mr Ng added.

"They have to get the students early exposure to companies, give them early internships so that they have a better understanding of what they can do," he said.

Successful people share qualities, not qualifications, said Tay Poh Choo, spokeswoman for mail carrier Singapore Post, which employs about 5,000 people.

"The employee has to be self-motivated, tenacious, hard-working and committed - all ingredients that are necessary for anyone to succeed, with or without a university degree," she said.

But Ms Tay said a key challenge is making more appropriate funding available for upgrading.

For Courts' Mr O'Connor, PM Lee's message holds personal meaning.

Mr O'Connor joined Courts 21 years ago with only O-level qualifications, and just last week was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Stirling.

"A remarkable achievement in itself, a university degree is not the be all and end all of a person's professional development, and paper qualifications should never be the sole defining benchmark for a successful career," Mr O'Connor said.


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