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Opening Speech By Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister Of State For Law And Finance, At Little India Shopkeeper And Heritage Association Business Forum 2016

23 Sep 2016


1             Thank you Joyce, for your leadership of the LISHA Women’s Wing, and the LISHA organising committee for putting together this year’s business forum.

2             I had found that in 2013, when I was first invited to come and speak at the Women’s Wing Forum, that there were quite a lot on the government’s assistance schemes out there, but many of the small and medium sized enterprises were not aware of these schemes. So having forums like these are important, because it helps to get the information out there and the SME sector is a very important segment of our economy. The SME sector employs a good 60, 70 percent of our people. So it means that if you are able to plug into the assistance that is available, think of how much more energy, and how much more resources you will be able to acquire in getting your businesses ahead.

3             Now, over the years, LISHA has been actively supporting businesses within as well as beyond the organisation through these monthly business networking sessions, through awareness programmes and business seminars. Since 2013, the annual Business Forum has been promoting key strategies to help businesses grow, and providing a great platform for SMEs and entrepreneurs to network and exchange ideas.

4             And just as the key to a resilient country lies in its people, a thriving business must have a strong team of employees. So I am glad that LISHA chose SkillsFuture as the theme for this year, and I am delighted to share how it can empower your people and build a strong and sustainable organisation.

Introduction to SkillsFuture

5             I can speak about this because I was closely involved in SkillsFuture. It had its genesis in the work that we did as the ASIPRE Committee, when we were looking at applied learning at ITE and polytechnics. But very rapidly, it was a concept that grew and expanded to cover all work, education, and progression throughout a person’s life. And that is why you keep hearing the phrase “SkillsFuture is a national movement”. It is not a programme, it is not a scheme, it is not a one-off thing. It is a national movement. And why do I say it is a national movement? It is a national movement because, as Joyce pointed out just now, it is about lifelong learning.

6             Today, we will concentrate on one portion, which is the part that is for SMEs. But the whole concept of SkillsFuture is that it begins right from primary school, and it does not end there. Well, it does not end until the day you decide that it should end, and when you say you want to stop working and stop learning. That is when it ends, but otherwise, it does not end.

7             So in school, the components of SkillsFuture will be career guidance - helping the students to find their direction where it is not just about grades, but it is really about finding your affinity for the right thing; and most of all, not about theoretical knowledge, but about helping students really understand in practical terms, what does it mean.

8             As they get older, SkillsFuture means internships, doing courses which are relevant to the work you want to do, as opposed to getting just a diploma or getting a degree or getting a higher NITEC or NITEC and then not going into that course at all. Once you are in the workforce, it is also about deepening your knowledge so that you can truly become a specialist. And because the world is changing so fast, because technology is changing the game, SkillsFuture is also about the time when suddenly you may find your current job is gone and you have to move into a new area.

9             SkillsFuture is not just about learning new skills. It is about acquiring new skillsets to equip you for the changing environment. So that is why I say SkillsFuture is a national movement and that is why it starts from primary school, and probably even a little bit before, and it does not end.

10          It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In terms of businesses, each individual and business can tailor and benefit from SkillsFuture to meet your industry requirements, your own business need, your interests, and even your own personality. But the ultimate goal, the broad goal, remains to uplift the SME community and to build an innovation-driven economy which is resilient and flexible to change.

11          Today, let me elaborate on what SkillsFuture means for you, for your employees, and for your business.

12          Regardless of the business or industry that you are in, there are a range of schemes you can tap on to upgrade your capability as an employer, to equip your staff with skills that are essential for the future, and to develop an ambitious, motivated and confident team. So it is about being a good employer, it is about equipping your staff with skills, and it is about building a team. These schemes include subsidies up to 90 percent of course fees, and recognition given to outstanding individuals or businesses to celebrate their achievements in deepening their skillsets.

13          Ultimately, SkillsFuture is about bringing out the best in people, no matter what age or organisation or profession. And it is about giving you a business edge.

Why SkillsFuture?

14          Sometimes, we get feedback from people saying that they are too old to upgrade their skills, or that the opportunity is not beneficial to their careers. So, as a business owner, you might also be asking, what can SkillsFuture do for my business?

15          First, it can empower and motivate your staff to build a strong team. In a competitive society where work opportunities are plentiful for people, providing opportunities beyond the workplace is a necessary step to attract and retain valued employees. It is a different facet of money not enough. The monetary part is important, but people also look beyond that. They want to get fulfilment out of their job, they want to feel that they are learning, that they are growing, and that they are advancing. Advancing in terms of career, but also your job should be something that lets you grow as an individual. So one way to do this is to allow your employees to take ownership of their professional and personal development through active learning, and SkillsFuture can help you to achieve this. Employees today appreciate and value a strong learning culture within the organisation. When they see that there is room for them to learn and grow, they will be more motivated to contribute to the organisation. With better knowledge and skills, they also become more efficient at work. So that benefits you as the employer.

16          Employees are your greatest assets, and let me assure you that investing in them creates endless possibilities for your business. Each individual brings different experiences and perspectives that can bring about new ideas to your business. Besides helping your employees to gain and deepen hard skills, SkillsFuture also features soft skills and character building. Show your employees beyond what they can currently achieve, and encourage them to be fearless in exploring new arenas.

17          Second, the importance of lifelong learning. Embrace lifelong learning, especially in the age of technology and globalisation. There is no turning back. Technology will change things. So since you cannot roll back the clock, and since the change is going to come, the best approach is to just ride with it. Leverage on it, take advantage of it. I would like to encourage all the businesses and individuals here to really take home the fact that one’s learning never ends. Not even as you get older. Every profession and business will benefit from its employees’ skills mastery.

18          Many value-adding industries today, such as social media marketing, data analytics and shared car services were unheard of a decade ago. We did not foresee several new business models that emerged from technology and changed human behaviour, like e-commerce which is posing a challenge to traditional retail. Some markets today might also not exist in 10 years' time. So, how to prepare yourself for new emerging trends and ever changing customer expectations? We just have to keep learning through life and be willing to take on new ideas, new things, new skills.

19          Third, innovation, along with hard work, brings about endless opportunities for your business. Innovation is a key lever. Whether it is setting up a search optimised website for your business to reach out to more people, or including a new creative dish in your restaurant, new ideas can be spurred from constant learning and exploration. 

20          With the right entrepreneur persona, SMEs can often out-innovate big corporations because you have flexibility and speed of execution. Innovation and skills building can happen in anyone, and in any organisation. As a small grocery shop owner, you might not see yourself at being the forefront of innovation. But injecting some of it into your marketing or business model can make a huge difference to the amount of business you make.

21          Innovation is also about building closer relationships, through new ways of management and interaction with your employees and customers. So I encourage you to cultivate an innovative and knowledge-seeking culture in your organisation, and allow your employees to discover new skillsets that would bring about unexpected business ideas. 

How can your business benefit?

22          SkillsFuture offers a variety of opportunities for you and your businesses. To build your internal training capability, tap on the SkillsFuture Mentors for advice and guidance. To upgrade the skill-sets of your middle-career employees, encourage them to go for the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy. To find the right talent for your business, sign up for P-Max, that is an enhanced Place-and-Train programme that matches Professionals, Managers and Executives (the “PMEs”) with the SMEs. There are more schemes which I will not go in detail, but do talk to the Adult Training Officers from WDA to find out which schemes are the most suitable for your business.


23          Last but not least, let’s build a strong business community. Share how you tap on SkillsFuture programmes with each other, and encourage fellow business owners and entrepreneurs to adopt a culture of lifelong learning, creativity and excellence. At the same time, emphasise the importance of diligence and perseverance. No business is smooth sailing and there will always be setbacks along the way. Build up a resilient and forward-looking team that will help you overcome such setbacks and stay competitive in a challenging economic landscape such as the one we have now. 

24          I sincerely hope that you will gain a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the SkillsFuture movement, and how it helps your business and your people propel forward for the future. And I look forward to our discussion after this.

25          Thank you very much.