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Speech at The Lifelong Learner Awards Presentation Ceremony 2007

Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Defence, Raffles Hotel Grand Ballroom

Mr President,

Distinguished guests


It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the Lifelong Learner Awards Presentation Ceremony 2007. I would like to specially thank President Nathan for joining us this evening to celebrate the winners of this year's Lifelong Learner Awards. I know that President Nathan receives countless invitations and it is not physically possible for him to say yes to all of them. His presence here is therefore a very special and personal encouragement to all Singaporeans to be lifelong learners.

2.   The Award is a collaboration between Mediacorp Radio, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), SPRING Singapore and Singapore Productivity Association, to recognise individuals and organisations that epitomise the spirit of lifelong learning. Over the last five years, 91 individuals and 13 companies have received this Award. Every individual Award winner is an inspiring story of grit and sheer determination against the odds. This Award honours them as examples to emulate and celebrates their passion and achievements as lifelong learners.


3.   Each winner is special but because of time constraints, let me just cite two.

4.   Life is not always fair and 42-year-old Mohd Rosdi Bin Mohd Hanafi knows it first-hand. At age 16, his father unexpectedly passed away. At that tender age, when others go to school and can afford to be playful, harsh reality had other plans for Rosdi and it became his responsibility to be the sole breadwinner of his family. He became a sailor. During his sailing years, Rosdi upgraded himself by enrolling in courses conducted by the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union. His efforts paid off and he was promoted to Marine Superintendent. A few years later, Rosdi switched to become an educator within the Maritime Industry. Wanting to improve himself further, he studied for and obtained an Advanced Diploma in Business Management and also a Masters of Science in Maritime Studies from the Nanyang Technological University. Today, Rosdi is a lecturer for maritime education. Somehow I expect that this will not be the end of the learning journey for Rosdi.

5.   52-year-old Ng Seong Geak is my second example. While working in the Prisons Department as Senior Prisons Officer, Seong Geak wanted to prepare himself well ahead for the next phase of his working life. He started planning early and set out resolutely to equip himself for his next career. At age 40, he took up a five-year part-time course in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and obtained a Diploma in Chinese Medical Studies. At 47, he successfully obtained a TCM Practitioner Licence from the Ministry of Health. In order to gain experience, he volunteered his services at The Public Free Clinic in Tampines. This year, Seong Geak retired from the Prisons Department and went to Guangxi TCM University where he successfully obtained a Masters Degree in Medicine (Orthopedics / Traumatology of Chinese Medicine). Today, Seong Geak is a full-time TCM Practitioner and has his own clinic located at Katong Plaza. With good planning and execution, Seong Geak has achieved what he set out to do. He can look forward to a second fulfilling and rewarding career for many years ahead.

6.   Both Seong Geak and Rosdi remind us all, that we can take charge of our future; that circumstances do change for the better if we can keep a positive attitude and are prepared to work hard to fulfil our aspirations.

7.   While each of us can do much to shape our own future, Government and employers can assist in these efforts to help individuals upgrade their skills and learning. Companies themselves benefit when they have a corporate culture that encourages their employees to upgrade their skills. Today, we would like to publicly acknowledge the efforts of six employers who will receive the Lifelong Learner Corporate Award.

  • Alexandra Hospital has programmes for its employees to enhance the value of their jobs. This way both employees and patients benefit. In their recent Job Redesign Programme, porters were offered opportunities to take on a new role as Patient Care Associates. With their new skills in bedside care management and housekeeping, porters at Alexandra Hospital are now able to perform higher value added work and earn a better pay.
  •  Robinsons, a well known departmental store, believes in "shop floor" learning. Every week, the staff will gather at the shop floor to share the positive experiences they had with customers so that they can learn from each other. To motivate staff to apply what they have learnt and to perform better, every day, the supervisors will walk around the shop floor with motivational cards. When they spot good practices or performance, they will hand out these cards on the spot to recognise the staff for a job well done.
  • Both Swee Bee – a landscaping company – and Old Chang Kee - do not consider age to be an obstacle in training. Swee Bee sends their employees, regardless of age, many beyond age 40, to upgrade their skills to do their job better. As for Old Chang Kee, it has trained all of its workers, many of whom are older, to use its automated Point-of-Sales system. This cuts down the time spent on manual reporting of sales and stocktaking, showing that older workers can also be effective in a highly automated environment.
  •  Another winner is Eagle Services, which introduced an "Employee Mutual Transfer Programme". To better understand the company's operations, employees can switch to different jobs within the company and learn new skills. The company also benefits because staff work better after this exposure and can be deployed in more ways.
  •  And finally, DHL has a Total Learning Plan for all its 500 employees and commits to a training budget equivalent to an average of 4% of its annual employees' payroll. Each individual's training plan is designed based on the organisation's needs and strategic objectives. With the Total Learning Plan, every employee can now better contribute to the success of the company.


8.   The individuals and organisations we recognise today take lifelong learning seriously. Government will support such efforts as much as we can. That is why the Government is committed to build a world-class national infrastructure to help workers upgrade their skills and progress in their careers.

9.   Since its inception in 2003, WDA has put in place a good foundation for the national Continuing Education and Training (CET) system by building up the Employability Skills System (ESS) and the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications system (WSQ). We also build up CET institutions that deliver ESS and WSQ programmes, so that workers can sign up for courses and enjoy training assistance without having to rely on employers' sponsorship or nominations. That way, we empower workers to embark on lifelong learning on their own initiative. To date, WDA has partnered 17 institutions to deliver WSQ and ESS courses at subsidised rates and it will continue to create more avenues for workers to up-skill and re-skill and stay relevant to the economy.


10.   In conclusion, it remains for me to thank the judging panel led by Ms Grace Fu, Minister of State for National Development, for taking up the challenging task of identifying 22 deserving winners from more than 1,000 nominations received this year. I would also like to thank the organising partners, Mediacorp Radio, WDA, NTUC, SPRING Singapore and SPA for making this Award a success. Let us all learn from these inspiring individuals, as each of us embarks on our own lifelong learning journey. I wish you all a pleasant evening. Thank you.