A new national training initiative, focused on the key skills needed to create a competitive workforce in Singapore, is at risk of failure due to the omission of critical soft skills from its remit, experts have warned.

While specific expertise in areas such as finance and technology are vital in the modern workplace, industry specialists believe qualities such as emotional intelligence and cultural awareness help distinguish successful employees from their counterparts, yet they do not feature in the new programme.

The launch of the new nationwide initiative, called SkillsFuture Series, was announced by Singapore’s minister of education (higher education and skills), Ong Ye Kung, at the Lifelong Learning Festival 2017 last month.

The programme is targeted at working adults who will have the opportunity to receive training in eight emerging sectors to help them develop and maximise their potential. These areas, based on skills demanded by current industry requirements, are: data analysis; finance; tech-enabled services; digital media; cyber security; entrepreneurship; advanced manufacturing; and urban solutions.

Evelyn Chow, managing director of Decode HR consultancy in Singapore, said she recognised there was a lack of local expertise in many of the key areas outlined by the Ministry of Education, and that there was demand for these skills from multinational companies who have a presence in Singapore. “If Singapore is unable to demonstrate that its workforce has sufficient people with these in-demands skill sets and experience at an affordable compensation rate, then these organisations will not see a valid reason to remain in Singapore,” she said.

As more locally-founded companies scale their organisations, there will be an increased demand for these up and coming skill sets. That means it is essential to equip young professionals to gain new knowledge that would boost the base of local skills, she said.

“It is imperative to encourage our young people to gain the international exposure that is critical to enabling them to be successful, ie develop substance and form, as both are important,” Chow added.

“We need to be future-ready. The ability to innovate, be comfortable with a high level of ambiguity, to be agile, and to understand how our ecosystem is evolving are vital. I can't emphasise enough the importance of the ability to think out of the box and to know when to present a contrary view at the right time to challenge deeply entrenched thinking.”

While Chow said she believed that the initiative’s focus on highly specialised areas would produce healthy outcomes in the form of strong technical and domain research, she questioned whether the limitations of the type of courses offered would produce students who are subject matter experts in a very narrow discipline.

“The core business skills such as finance, marketing, analytics and human resource management remain essential to creating holistic thinking, and in the digital age, people and soft skills will differentiate between those who succeed and those who don't,” she said.

“As technology levels the playing field, individuals who excel and who will have a higher chance of success will be those who have courage, resilience, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, integrity and the ability to lead people to attempt seemingly impossible feats.

“Singapore does not want to produce a nation of robots, but young people who are passionate about new ideas, are creative and possess the commercial savviness to navigate a very dynamic international business environment,” she added.

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