Recommendations to be implemented include improving the structure of ITEs curricula. PHOTO: ST FILE.
It is often said that doing business requires more than just book knowledge. To move forward, a businessman must be able to understand the situation on the ground, deftly adapt to the market, read people well and communicate effectively, among other less sensitive skills, which are conveniently called “street smart.”
After opening several businesses and closing several in the last 10 years, I can say that these minds are necessary not only for the people who run the business, but also for the employees.
As an employer, I look beyond the paper qualifications of my staff to qualities such as openness to learning, resilience in the face of failure, genuine interest in the industry and good values.
For example, my digital marketer was hired to design graphics, but learned how to create websites and create videos over the course of a year. He was tuned to the changing demands of digital communications and saw how the business was counting on it, and picked up skills without ever saying it was beyond his scope.
Last year, I participated in an MOE exercise to review opportunities and pathways in applied education to improve the resilience, diversity and flexibility of pathways of the Polytechnic and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
A year later, the chairman of the review, Second Education Minister Maliki Osman, announced six recommendations that will be gradually implemented in five polytechnics and three ITE colleges.
The review recommendations cover three areas:
1. Enhancing students’ career readiness and resilience for the future economy
- Improve the curriculum structure of ITEs
- Expand opportunities for deeper industry impact
- Strengthen the development of LifeSkills competencies
2. Recognizing diversity and providing more flexibility and opportunity for all
- Provide additional flexibility for students of polytechnic programs
3. Create stronger and integrated support systems for all students
- Strengthen student support measures for students with higher needs
- Improve career guidance after graduation
Develop a passion for learning
When I was a student of ITE and Polytechnic, the content and structure of the course were simple and focused on difficult technical skills. However, prospective graduates need a broader set of skills and perspectives beyond their chosen fields and courses to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world.
How can this appetite for learning and training be encouraged? Graduates will appreciate the value of continuous self-improvement if their experience coincides with their experience in the world. The polytechnic and ITE are already building the foundations for this.
Courses at polytechnics have been revised to improve interdisciplinary learning. For example, students may choose elective modules and juveniles in new skills such as artificial intelligence and data analytics to complement their core discipline. Some courses are also designed around workplace competencies rather than subjects, and students work on real projects with companies in partnership.
In addition, with LifeSkills ’expanded competency program for Polytechnics and ITE, graduates will be equipped in non-technical fields such as financial, media and digital literacy, sustainability and communication skills, and cross-cultural perspectives.
ITE has introduced postgraduate modules and certificates that support in-service learning. Polytechnic schools offer everything from small courses to certificates of skills and further education programs for adult learners.
The impact of the work world
Additions to work and course projects should introduce students to current trends and new technologies. There may be opportunities to monitor vacancies and work with concerts to help them feel the real impact of their work, as well as cultivate competencies in the workplace such as marketing fundamentals and negotiation skills. This requires investment and support from the industry. I was delighted to meet many other industry representatives during the review sessions who had the same sense of responsibility for educating and inspiring our youth.
In addition to training, our focus when hiring should also be on the individual, not on which schools they attended, which courses they chose or how quickly they completed their training.
One of my wards, John, felt unmotivated at work and wanted to resign. As a typical Generation Z employee, he was more spontaneous and sought to contribute outside of his work. But his manager defined his role according to his degree qualifications.
After being assigned to another manager who was more focused on the tasks at hand, John was given the opportunity to learn the ropes at work as well as the flexibility and autonomy under supervision. He soon led operations in Singapore and brought an innovative spirit to the business. Why? Because he found realization in his work.
About seven out of 10 Singapore high school students continue to attend the Polytechnic Institute or ITE. The latest recommendations will meet a wide variety of needs and talents, and will add to national conversations about what success means to Singaporeans.
I look forward to how these changes affect the attitudes, aspirations and adaptability of students who will drive Singapore’s business and economic development.
Farhan Firdaus is a business owner, youth teacher and participant in the review of opportunities and ways of applied education under the leadership of the Ministry of Education. He is also a partner of Meet Ventures, an innovative consulting firm that brings together large corporations and startups.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on April 9, 2022.