Speech by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Defence, at the official opening of the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies campus at Toa Payoh HDB hub on Tuesday, 20 March 2007, at 10.10am at Toa Payoh HDB hub Auditorium
Mr Lin Cheng Ton, Principal & Chief Executive Officer, Nanyang Polytechnic
1. I am happy to join you this morning to open the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies' (SIRS) Campus at Toa Payoh HDB Hub. This occasion also marks the graduation of the first cohort of trainees from the SIRS, who will be receiving their national Retail Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) certificates and diplomas.
A LEADING RETAIL DESTINATION WITH EXCITING CAREERS
2. A record numbers of jobs have been created for Singaporeans in the past two years. As we continue to remake our economy, move up the value chain and grow new industry sectors, we can expect more and better jobs for Singaporeans in the years ahead.
3. The retail sector is poised to grow in the coming years. More than 10,000 retail-related jobs will be created over the next five years, with new investments such as Orchard Turn and the Integrated Resorts. More jobs will be available in traditional retail sub-sectors such as the department stores, supermarkets, apparels, furniture, jewellery, electronics and electrical appliances. But these new developments will do more than just create old economy jobs - they will bring in new retailing concepts, and require its workers to customise their skills to keep up with new trends. There will be a demand for better-trained sales associates, product advisers, store supervisors and merchandisers.
4. These investments will also help position Singapore as a globally renowned retail destination. But if we want to move up the ranks to compete with other trendy global cities like London, Milan, Paris, New York or even Shanghai, we have to step up our efforts. We cannot keep still as other cities have aspirations equal if not greater than ours. For example, the International Herald Tribune (13 Mar 2007) quoted the Indian Government Master Plan 2021 as aspiring to have a Manhattan skyline for New Delhi, to transform it into a "global metropolis". So, while we have a head start, Singapore and Singaporeans should buckle up and press hard on the accelerator! First we will need a well-trained workforce that differentiates ourselves clearly from the competition. To achieve this quickly, we need mass upgrading and engage our workers through value-added training.
5. In 2005, I launched the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) system. The WSQ system value-adds to workers by imparting to them relevant skills and qualifications - it will improve their career prospects. It will also increase their worth to the employer and raise productivity and performance standards of the industries they work in. As part of our efforts to build the WSQ system, we need world-class organisations for adult training. The SIRS, a collaborative effort between WDA and Nanyang Polytechnic, is the first national Continuing Education and Training institution we have set up, and a lead provider of Retail WSQ training. It serves as a one-stop centre for workers to obtain retail skills and qualifications. It will be the key vehicle in developing the capabilities of the retail workforce and raising our retail standards.
PROGRESS OF THE SIRS
Full Suite of Programmes
7. The WSQ qualifications will also be recognised for entry into degree courses at UniSIM. The SIRS is also providing Executive Development Programmes for the retail industry. The full suite of programmes allows retail workers to progress in their careers. Retail workers can now continually upgrade and develop their capabilities, from certificates, diplomas to degrees.
Serving the Industry
8. Retailers tell us that this new adult education infrastructure is making a difference to the industry. For example, VivoCity and the Warehouse Retail Scheme used SIRS' programs to provide customised and intensive training programmes for more than 800 workers. Courts, the furniture retailer, has engaged the SIRS to conduct four WSQ modules to train its staff. Exxon Mobil is sending 21 Station Operators to the SIRS for training as it wants to revamp their convenience stores.
9. SIRS can help energise the retail industry, by raising retail standards and shaping positive mindsets. Retailers like Metro, which sent 28 workers for the advanced certificate and diploma courses (14 for each), found that their workers have become better motivated after attending these courses.
10. Within a short period, some 300 retail organisations have engaged the SIRS to provide customised training for their staff. They range from big players like CK Tangs, Giordano, NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage and IKEA, to household names like Mustafa and Banquet and smaller outfits like Flowers in the Attic and Poh Kim Corporation. This is a good sign and shows that some companies within the retail sector are gearing up for the future, gaining an advantage through training now with the help of SIRS.
Outreach to Workers
11. We will need to go beyond the tipping point to achieve a marked improvement in retail standards all round. Today, about one in 20 retail workers (or 6,500 workers) has been trained by the SIRS. SIRS aims to skill up at least one third of the 130,000-strong retail workforce by the end of next year. This will make a significant impact.
12. As the sector improves in career opportunities, it will attract better workers, particularly those keen to work hard to improve themselves and their employers' businesses. One such worker who has switched to the retail industry through the SIRS is 31-year-old Andy Lim Joon Kiat who is graduating today. Andy was an NTC2 holder and a technician for 8 years. He felt that the prospects in retail would be brighter and attended the SIRS' WSQ Retail Starter Package to kick start his new career. He found a job at DFS within five days as a Retail Associate. Keen to continue upgrading himself, he continued with the WSQ Certificate in Retail Operations and has moved on to attend the Diploma in Retail Management. His supervisors even support his upgrading efforts by arranging a special work schedule for him.
13. Mature workers that have social skills that are aptly suited to this sector have also not been left out. Sixty-eight year old sales promoter Helen Yeow is a good example. A long-time veteran of the retail industry, she has never attended any formal training programme in her previous jobs. Yet she mustered the courage to sign up for a WSQ module with the SIRS, where she would be tested on her skills instead of academic knowledge. She found the training, especially the role-play segments, very engaging and relevant to her work. Her lecturer had also helped put her at ease during the training by speaking in Mandarin and at times dialects. Now, Helen has received a Statement of Attainment that she can use to count towards her WSQ Certificate in Retail Operations. Positive examples like Andy and Helen tell us that we are on the right track.
14. I would like to congratulate the leadership and staff of the SIRS for its outstanding progress in partnering the retail industry to develop a more competent workforce for the industry. On the occasion of its opening, I wish the SIRS every success. My heartiest congratulations go to the pioneer batch of graduates for your determination and positive attitude to improve your skills. Your efforts have borne fruits. I am confident your new qualifications will help open new doors. I also urge the retail industry to continue to support the SIRS. Together, we can professionalize our retail workforce, raise retail standards and maximise opportunities for Singaporeans.