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Speech at Launch of the Productivity and Progression Programme (P3) during the Graduation Ceremony

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for Manpower and National Development, GlaxoSmithKline

Mr Lim Hock Heng, Vice President and Managing Director, GlaxoSmithKline

Mr Wong Hong Kuan, Chief Executive, Singapore Workforce Development Agency

Ladies and gentlemen


  1. A very good morning to all of you. I am pleased to attend today’s graduation ceremony for 20 Process Technicians from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), who will receive the WSQ Higher Certificate in Process Technology (Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing). Now, this is a significant milestone not only for GSK and the graduands, but also for the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) framework for the Process Industry, which the technicians were trained under.

    Singapore’s Process and Biomedical Sciences Industry
  2. According to data from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Economic Development Board, the Process and Biomedical Sciences Industry currently employs around 100,000 workers. Over the next two to three years, the industry’s manpower needs will grow as various large-scale projects, such as petrochemicals plants and manufacturing facilities, come onstream.
  3. The industry is also upgrading workers’ capabilities for plant installation and maintenance, engineering design, consultancy, procurement and other services. Hence, there is a need to build a strong pipeline of skilled workers to support the growth of the industry, and to groom locals as a core part of the industry’s workforce.
  4. So as with all economic efforts, it is about enabling economic growth, enabling companies to be here, to do well, and importantly, enabling jobs to be created for Singaporeans.

    WSQ training benefits for the workers
  5. As workers undergo WSQ training, what essentially happens is that they can be freed up to take on higher-level jobs or undertake further training. From the workers’ perspective, another benefit of training is that it imparts skills that, coupled with good job performance, would allow them to progress in their careers and earn better wages. Importantly – and one of the things we do not always talk enough about – is the sense of professional pride that they get and the sense of engagement as well. That is actually a very important feature of the whole upgrading process. So it is not just about helping the companies, which they do, but importantly, for their own personal sense of achievement, personal sense of pride, which is important for their own journey as they move on.
  6. I would like to share with you the story of Mr Ng Ker Chyi, a 32-year-old Singaporean who is one of today’s WSQ graduands. Mr Ng used to perform an operational role as a Technician. After completing the Process WSQ training, he was promoted to be an Engineering Planner. As a Planner, he now plays a management role in scheduling various activities within the plant to achieve operational optimisation. When Mr Ng was promoted, he received a salary review that factored in his expanded role as well as his experience and competencies.
  7. Mr Ng is a good example of a local worker who has successfully leveraged on WSQ training to make the transition from operational-level worker to management-level staff. Thanks to the WSQ training, Mr Ng’s team managed to reduce the time required for various manufacturing processes, which helped to increase productivity. I understand that he feels these achievements give him a sense of fulfilment on two levels – being able to value-add as a GSK employee, and being able to experience career progression as a Singaporean worker.

    GlaxoSmithKline as an in-house Approved Training Organisation
  8. WSQ training offers a virtuous cycle of benefits – companies can reap productivity gains and manpower savings. GSK was appointed by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) as the first in-house Approved Training Organisation (ATO) for the Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Industry in May 2009. Since then, 72 technicians at GSK have completed the WSQ Higher Certificate in Process Technology (Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing), including today’s graduands. The company also plans to send its remaining 109 technicians for the same course in future.
  9. The company has also benefitted from the training. GSK has achieved a 13 per cent increase in productivity and cost savings of $616,000 per year. With the productivity improvements, GSK has reduced their manpower requirements per working shift. As a result, the technicians have been channelled to work on high-value and process improvement projects such as operation excellence, and have also been sent for further training. In addition, GSK has enjoyed more than half a million dollars worth ($572,000) of savings in training costs for their 72 technicians, or almost $8,000 per worker, in the form of Government subsidies. And we do provide many forms of subsidies, and we encourage companies to tap on them.
  10. I am encouraged to hear about GSK’s productivity growth. At the same time, as you know, when we talk about productivity growth we also think about the wage increases that come along with that. There are issues at different levels, but going forward, productivity growth is something we are emphasising and we are encouraged that many companies, especially in this industry, are paying a lot of attention to that. Because, as you all know, we have been talking about this for quite a while. We are seeing a tightened labour market, so in view of that, productivity will be an important part, and developing the local core is important and we hope that continues to be an emphasis for most, if not all companies.
  11. I am delighted to note that other companies such as Pfizer Nutrition, Shell, Agilent, and Lonza have also been appointed by WDA as in-house ATOs for the Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Industry. This reflects greater stakeholder buy-in for WSQ as the cornerstone of the national Continuing Education and Training (CET) system.
  12. The CET system is a distinct capability that we have, because it allows us to configure modules, allows us to conduct training courses, which helps us keep the workforce agile, relevant, as circumstances change. For individuals, as they look at themselves moving on or crossing in sectors and industries, it allows workers to be retrained and re-skilled. But importantly, technology is moving on, work processes are changing.
  13. Education takes place before entering the workforce, but after entering the workforce, CET is really what gives us the edge. And that is why we are placing a lot of emphasis and a lot of support. And we do encourage companies to really work closely with us, not only to just send your workers and employees for the courses, but really to help us sharpen these courses so they are truly relevant for the industry and for the individual’s concerns.

    Launch of the Productivity and Progression Programme (P3)
  14. Today, I am pleased to announce the launch of the Productivity and Progression Programme (P3) by WDA to nurture a pool of skilled local talent for the Process and Biomedical Sciences Industry.

    Grooming locals to occupy top positions in the industry
  15. Currently, most of the top positions in the industry are held by expatriates, given their expertise and experience in this field. With P3 in place, we do expect and would like to see a strong pool of skilled local talents who can eventually rise to become captains of the industry. Ultimately, as you sink in your investments here, the core and the backbone really will be the local workforce and they cannot just be the rank-and-file. We have capable and well-educated workers. They may not always have the relevant skills, especially in very specific areas, but that is where we expect companies to place emphasis to develop your core employees, and to see them progress and to see them eventually playing leading roles within the companies.
  16. This is a fair expectation. In a steady state, this is something that will enable the company to remain stable. Because that is your core and when you have a skilled core at the heart of your businesses and remaining stable here – that is where being in the company and industry for the long time, not only do the skills remain relevant, but productivity is very much a part of the process as opposed to when you have more people come in from abroad and moving on. There will be changes, and that invariably will sometimes affect productivity as well. So a large part of this effort is really to work with companies, especially MNCs, to make sure we always develop a strong local core.
  17. A good example of a Singaporean who has risen to become an industry captain is Mr Lim Hock Heng, who is the current Vice President and Managing Director of GSK. In fact, as an industry captain, Mr Lim is a firm believer in WSQ training and the prime mover within GSK who conceptualised one of the new initiatives under P3, which I will touch on later. Over time, we do hope to see more Singaporeans emulating him by rising to a key position within the industry.
  18. Essentially, P3 consolidates all of WDA’s programmes for the Process and Biomedical Sciences Industry. In particular, there are two new programmes under P3 – the Development and Apprenticeship (DNA) programme, and the Productivity Specialists Programme (PSP).

    Development and Apprenticeship programme (DNA)
  19. The first programme, the Development and Apprenticeship (DNA) programme, encourages companies to hire locals. Through DNA, companies will be incentivised to hire locals and put them through a rigorous apprenticeship programme comprising facilitated training, mentorship and structured on-the-job training. This will benefit the industry, by encouraging companies to localise their operations, reduce operational costs and develop a highly skilled workforce.
  20. DNA is expected to benefit about 380 local workers across the entire industry, including Process Technicians, Quality Assurance Engineers and Quality Control Engineers. Companies that have indicated their support for DNA include Abbott, Ciba Vision, GSK, Lonza, MSD International, Novartis, Pfizer, Shell, and Wyeth Nutritionals. They will be signing an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with WDA to signify their commitment.

    Productivity Specialists Programme (PSP)
  21. The second programme under P3 is the Productivity Specialists Programme (PSP), which seeks to raise workplace productivity for workers at the workplace and for the industry. Presently, companies with in-house operational excellence programmes tend to involve only their senior and managerial staff in these schemes. However, it is also very important to cascade it down to include junior and operational-level employees, for them to play their part in raising workplace productivity.
  22. WDA will pilot PSP for the Process and Biomedical Sciences Industry with GSK. This will be the first productivity programme of its kind for the Process and Biomedical Sciences industry that caters for all levels of workers, and will benefit about 480 GSK employees over 3 years, starting with 50 workers in the pilot trial.
  23. Participants will undergo at least 2 WSQ modules as well as in-house productivity training. They will then be tasked to complete a productivity project in order to receive the GSK-WDA Certified Productivity Advocate certificate.

    WDA and the Productivity and Progression Programme (P3)
  24. WDA will be setting aside a total of $8.3 million for both programmes over the next three years. With these two additional programmes, there will be a total of eight initiatives under P3 to cater to the workforce development needs of the Process and Biomedical Sciences Industry. Companies that sign up for these programmes can also reap savings in training costs such as course fee funding, absentee payroll support or training allowances from WDA. Again, we do encourage companies to really take on these very generous support schemes.

  25. In conclusion, I would like to congratulate all the 72 GSK technicians, including today’s graduands, who have received the WSQ Higher Certificate in Process Technology (Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing). I would also like to express my appreciation to the companies that have signalled their support for P3 to nurture a pool of skilled local talent for the Process and Biomedical Sciences Industry.
  26. Also, I would like to encourage more companies to come on board these programmes, which will ultimately help to boost workplace productivity, and accelerate the growth and development of the Process and Biomedical Sciences industry.
  27. Thank you very much.