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Speech by Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport, Mrs Josephine Teo, at the Okura Silver Jubilee Gala Dinner

10 Oct 2014
Date: 10 October 2014
Venue: Resorts World Sentosa, Compass Ballroom Central 1 & 2
Speaker: Mrs Josephine Teo
Mr Johnny Okura (Ryoichi), President and CEO of Okura Yusoki Co. Ltd
Mr Edwin Chew, Director and CEO of Okura Flexible Automation Systems Pte Ltd (OFAS)
Mr Zainuddin Nordin, my colleague and Member of Parliament
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Thank you for inviting me to this very special occasion, the 25th anniversary of OFAS. This is a remarkable milestone for OFAS; starting off as the first overseas subsidiary of Okura, and becoming the headquarters of its Asian offices.

2. I wanted to share with you something that came to my mind as I heard Mr Edwin Chew and Mr Johnny Okura speak. I was at SIM University just yesterday for a convocation ceremony. SIM University is 50 years old this year, and it has evolved to focus on providing working adults with part-time degree opportunities today. Most of their students are working adults and many of them also have families. Besides juggling with work and family commitments, some of them are acquiring a degree for the first time; they had graduated from polytechnics or the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). They have the aspirations to improve themselves, to open doors for themselves, and to find ways to advance.

3. I interacted with a number of them. Their spirit is inspiring. They clearly want to do something for themselves and are prepared to put in efforts in order to create new opportunities in their careers. I am very encouraged by their spirit and it is precisely because there are so many Singaporeans with such positive aspirations and desires to better themselves that my colleagues and I in the Government challenge ourselves to ask: what we can do to open up more opportunities for these Singaporeans? 

4. As some of you may know, the whole subject of continuing education and training has been prominent amongst the Government’s programmes and priorities. We started this journey with the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) more than a decade ago. Over the years, we have developed some clear ideas about the areas and skills that we need to invest in, to help these Singaporeans advance.

5. Last year, we also set up the ASPIRE committee to look at polytechnic and vocational ITE education, and how we can create more pathways for graduates of polytechnics and ITEs to make progress in their careers, not necessarily by taking up the degrees that they currently do, but by focusing on practice-oriented training and development, including applied degrees. In other words, focus on picking up skills that will help you perform better at work. Deepen your skills, become a specialist. There’s nothing wrong with getting a degree, but don’t get a degree just for the sake of the paper. 

6. In the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee announced the setting up of a SkillsFuture Council to be led by our Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam. There is one aspect of our work that I feel compelled to share with you. When thinking about what to take forward through the SkillsFuture Council, one consideration was  prominent  – everything that the Government does - whether we set up the Lifelong Learning Institute or more training centres - is very much from the supply side. 

7. In other words, we work with the individuals and supply them with upgrading opportunities in terms of training programmes. But it’s not going to make a huge difference in their lives, unless there is going to be a demand for their enhanced skills, and a demand for the deeper skills and specialist knowledge that they acquire. 

8. Employers need to find these skills valuable, want to make use of and build on these skills to make their companies more successful than they already are in Singapore. So the demand side is a critical aspect of the work of the SkillsFuture Council. 

9. And this is why I was most encouraged and impressed by Okura’s initiative. When Mr Zainuddin called me and asked if I would come for Okura’s dinner, he shared with me the good work that Okura had been doing with Nanyang Polytechnic – this idea that we want to train people and make sure that how you conduct the training has a strong dose of industry input, because you want to make sure that the skills are useful and relevant to the industry. That has been a very strong part of Nanyang Polytechnic’s ethos. So when Mr Zainuddin told me about Okura, I was impressed and excited, and that was the main reason I decided to come for this dinner. 

10. Earlier, I heard Mr Okura talk about the company’s emphasis on continuing education and training. Your philosophy and Singapore’s is completely aligned. I also heard you talk about corporate university, and I want you and your associates to know how much your effort in building up your people mean to us, and how much we hope to commit even more resources to help companies like yourself take advantage of the opportunities in the Singapore business environment. And I hope that in the process of doing so, our people, Singaporeans, also have the opportunity to advance. 

11. On that note, thank you Mr Okura for your confidence in Singapore. I wish to borrow something that CEO Edwin Chew said earlier. To everyone here that has a stake in Singapore, “Grow with us, the best is yet to be.” Thank you very much.