Transforming the Singapore Workforce Through a National Cet System

The GDP of Singapore at purchasing power parity per capita is the 4th largest in the world1. Yet, Singapore is small and vulnerable to global storms and was the first East Asian country to fall into a recession in the 2008 economic crises. Biggest impact of recession is the escalating job losses that have become a national dilemma, as resident unemployment hit highs of 3.

8% (1999), 4. 9% (2002), 5. 2% (2003) and 4. 3% (2009) during downturns2.

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Shorter economic cycles, increased competition due to globalization and restructuring of companies is a continuous problem to employment in Singapore. Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong said, “Continual training is the only way forward… We are establishing two new campuses for continuing education and training3 (CET)…” And that was the task of Dr. Gary Willmott when he commenced as Deputy Chief Executive (CET) of Workforce Development Agency4 (WDA) of Singapore on October 2003.As an academic and armed with over 10 years of experience in the Australian education and training sector, and involved extensively during the 1990s in establishing the Australian national training system, Dr. Gary led the development and reshaping of the CET system, instrumental in helping unemployed Singaporeans to re-skill for new jobs. He proposed this national training system, benchmarked against United Kingdom’s NVQ System5 and Australia’s AQF6 System as a solution to Singapore’s long term strategy to develop, enhance and maintain a highly skilled globally competitive workforce.The result, a successor to the National Skills Recognition System (NSRS), is the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications7 (WSQ) system that was officially launched on 27th October 2005. WSQ is built on the key elements of industry specific and generic competency-based skills frameworks with 7 levels of qualifications that is nationally recognized, industry-led and backed by a quality assurance system.

Today, WSQ has trained more than 100,000 workers with a record of 200,000 WSQ attainments awards for FY2008/9.The CET sector has grown with 388 Approved Training Organisations (ATOs) and 44 CET Centres8 providing a capacity of 144,000 training places at March 2009. To combat the recent global recession, WDA administered an incentive initiative of S$100million called SPUR9 to provide course fee support for companies and individuals and absentee payrolls for companies that send their workers for training. More than 19,000 unemployed workers have found new jobs through SPUR. Dr. Gary is instrumental to the success of the WSQ.Being an academic and implementation experience with AQF System, he seems to assimilate the role of a transactional leader as he was employed by the Singapore Government to further develop NSRS and the CET sector. Unemployed Singaporeans’ lives are transformed with new employment opportunities as a result of WSQ suggests that Dr.

Gary’s leadership role is transformational. His leadership is strategic to workforce development in Singapore because of a national agenda for a skilled workforce to support national economic growth and manpower planning even though he is a foreigner.He displayed leadership qualities of idealized influenced and inspirational motivation as he envisioned the future state of WSQ and the high quality of performance standards found in the system today. His later role as CEO of IAL10 further the strategic need of Singapore to develop trainers for the CET industry and supporting WSQ system. With participation of industry leaders in Industry Skills & Training Councils of WSQ System, Dr. Gary was challenged with dilemma of boundaries on power and authority as WDA is a statutory board under Ministry of Manpower11 and cannot make policies.Recommendations were carefully thought and planned in order that the WSQ System was developed specifically to benefit industries and not dictated and overly influenced by the government. Issues of coordination and obtaining buy-ins and agreements among project stakeholders were the norms of his position.

Faced with dilemma of acceptance and recognition, it was an uphill task working with trade unions to convince workers on the benefits of WSQ, especially older workers are resistant towards retraining. Dr.Gary’s development of the CET system is a wonderful learning lesson for business leaders in launching and administering an effective in-house training system that qualifies the competencies of workers for the job roles they hold. It also enables the certification of business partners to be familiar with a company’s products, which organizations like Microsoft and Cisco are practicing with recognized initiatives like Microsoft Certification Program12 and Cisco Career Certification Program13, both playing a strategic role in revenue contribution.As a participant of Belden’s Talent Management Program, I appreciate Dr. Gary’s leadership for continuing education and training, as I defined the required competencies of the regional marketing leader role I held in Belden14 and the training necessary for my subordinates to succeed me.

The lessons learnt allowed me to plan further initiatives such as on-job-training, mentoring and coaching in preparing subordinates for succession and future promotions.

Author: Ed Leonard


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