ETHOS Issue 23, October 2021
A Key Paradigm Shift
The term Workplace Learning has
become a buzzword in recent times,
but it is actually part of a fundamental
paradigm shift for the nation that
has been carefully considered and
planned. In 2013, the Ministry of
Manpower established the Singapore
Workforce Development Agency
(WDA) to address the employment
challenges of mismatched skills vis-à-vis job opportunities in Singapore.
WDA invested in training programmes
to support workforce employability
and build professional expertise in
curriculum development for adult
learning and skills certification.
In 2017, the Committee on the Future
Economy highlighted that our workers
need to continuously deepen and refresh
given the growing prevalence
of automation and transformation.
Instead of relying solely on knowledge
gained through the formal education
system, the Committee recognised
that each individual would have to
reinvent themselves and learn anew
throughout their lives. This was a
powerful mindset shift: it also meant
that employers would need to actively
invest in and help their employees gain
relevant skills on an ongoing basis, with
the workplace becoming a legitimate
classroom where one learns.
As part of this national thrust towards
lifelong learning, the Ministry of Trade
and Industry led the rollout of what
are called Industry Transformation
Maps (ITMs) for 23 industries—charting
the long-term vision and direction in
the years ahead for these sectors.
SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG)—a
statutory board under the Ministry of
Education that drives and coordinates
the implementation of the national
this with the Skills Framework,
for which various lead agencies,
employers, industry associations and
unions furnish information on sector,
career pathways, job roles, skills and
training programmes. These two
elements have become roadmaps
for organisations and employees
to chart a course in cultivating the
most relevant competencies for their
upgrading and mastery.
Putting Workplace Learning (WpL) into Industrial Practice
NACE, led by NYP, draws on the expertise of international institutions to adapt Best-In-Class (BIC) models for organisations in Singapore. NACE was officially launched by Minister Ong Ye Kung, together with SSG, Swiss and German Ambassadors, on 30 July 2018.
In 2018, the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning (NACE) was
formed to help companies understand the ITM roadmaps and install purposeful
WpL systems. Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), with its long history of working with
industry, was appointed to set up the Centre. Supported by SSG, NYP drew on its
networks with acknowledged world leaders in WpL, the Germans and the Swiss,1
to find a system and contextualise it for Singapore’s needs.
Today, there is a network of NACEs in different educational institutions such as
the Singapore Institute of Technology, the Institute for Adult Learning, Ngee
Ann Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic, and Temasek
Polytechnic to efficiently propagate the WpL message throughout Singapore.
More than 1,000 organisations have benefitted from the efforts of NACE and
NACE Centres to date
- Swiss Federal University for Vocational Education and Training (SFUVET), German Chamber of
Industry & Commerce (IHK Akademie), IHK Exportakademie GmbH, and Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (SGC).
Workplace Learning (WpL) Defined
The International Labour Organization
defines Workplace Learning as “the
acquisition of knowledge or skills by
formal or informal means that occurs in
the workplace”. This is in contrast with
knowledge or skills acquisition outside
the workplace, such as in classrooms.
WpL includes both formal on-the-job
training and informal learning at work.2
In essence: WpL is a structured and
professional system to help employees
gain—in the parlance—Knowledge, Skills
and Attitudes (KSA) effectively, and to
support employers in retaining knowledge
within the organisation.
All too often, in our experience working
with organisations, we see firms struggle
because employees are training in
competencies that are irrelevant to current
needs. Sometimes, even if the training
is appropriate and for relevant skills, it
can be a challenge to get employees to
put it into practice at work. Furthermore,
without the proper documentation of
how the job is done, the loss of a key
colleague can mean a loss of institutional
knowledge and key skills. To restart
the building of these skills can require
significant time and resources—a cost
most organisations can ill afford.
WpL is both an administrative structure,
where there are specific documents
charting the expected competencies
of each employee and their training
development pathways, as well as a
system of formal and informal training
methods such as the following:
On-the-Job Training (OJT) is a form
of learning in the work environment
during the employment period. It is
usually carried out in a structured
manner with the support of subject
matter experts (also known as
coaches). OJT is probably the
most common WpL practice in
Singapore, but organisations often
implement it in an ad hoc manner.
In 2019, NACE harmonised the OJT
Blueprint template with assessment
rubrics used in Work-Study
Programmes (WSPs) offered by
local polytechnics and the Institute
of Technical Education (ITE). The
OJT Blueprint is a document that
codifies the tacit knowledge and
tasks for a job role, with required
KSA and relevant guidelines for
learning at the workplace. As a
result, other polytechnics and ITE
have since adopted NYP’s OJT
Blueprint and assessment rubrics.
Apprenticeships are competency-based learning stints with companies,
usually at the company's premises.
Apprentices are employed full-time to acquire the competencies
to perform at a higher level or
with an expanded job scope. It is
more prevalent in European Union
countries, where WpL culture is
deeply rooted in the workforce,
and usually leads to formal or
professional qualifications. In
Singapore, we have WSPs offered
by Institutes of Higher Learning
using OJT blueprints as part of
the structured WpL mechanism
to promote a culture of learning.
Internships/Traineeships are short-term WpL arrangements where
interns or trainees learn on the job, both formally and informally.
Typically, each learner receives an allowance during their internship,
and learning is structured at the workplace.
Firms struggle because employees are training in competencies that are irrelevant to current needs...even if the training is appropriate and for relevant skills, it can be a challenge to get employees to put it into
practice at work.
An MOU to harmonise OJT practices across
Institutes of Higher Learning was signed on 12 July 2019 by representatives of the five polytechnics
A Positive Sea Change
Hearteningly, data suggests that workers
in Singapore have embraced the idea
of lifelong learning.
A Straits Times article in 2019 highlights
how receiving sufficient training to
perform their jobs effectively is a key
factor towards enhanced job satisfaction,
an increased desire to go to work, and
higher staff retention rates for the
Several other key polls and reports also
echo this. For example, according to a
poll by hiring consultancy Randstad in
2020, 86% of respondents in Singapore
are motivated to upskill and reskill, to
prepare for industrial changes resulting
from automation and digitalisation.4
Another report by Ernst & Young, based
on a survey of over 4,000 employers
and employees in June and July 2020,
indicates that 84% of employees
identify the adoption of digital tools
as critical for the future of work.5 The
same report shows that employees rank
virtual learning, alongside health and
safety in the workplace, as their top
Staff want organisations to invest in
their development and provide a safe
and nurturing environment for them to
succeed and thrive—especially at a time
of uncertainty and rapid change.
As job responsibilities enlarge and shift,
the need to bridge the gap between
learning new skills and applying knowledge
at the workplace becomes more critical
than before. WpL empowers workers
because it allows employees to identify
their weaknesses, gaps, inconsistencies,
and dissatisfaction both within their
current job scope and in relation to
Staff who seek to grow with an organisation
should expect well-structured and
transparent WpL systems that allow
contextualisation, flexibility, and authentic
learning to enable optimal performance.
I recently spoke to a Mr Tan, an employee
whose company has worked with NACE
to implement the WpL system referencing
the National Workplace Learning
Framework. It was a short conversation
on the sidelines of a discussion—but you
could see how he was encouraged by
the fact that his organisation had chosen
to invest in its workers. He knew that
the work was meaningful and felt that it
would make employees, like himself, feel
confident of a caring and progressive
Employers are certainly getting the
memo about skills being the currency
of the future: PricewaterhouseCoopers’
24th Annual Global CEO Survey6 has
found that while most leaders believe
the need for new skills is their biggest
challenge in a rapidly changing workplace
environment, however, the crucial next
step is for employers to take great
ownership of WpL.
Staff want organisations to invest in their development
and provide a safe and nurturing environment for
them to succeed and thrive—especially at a time of
uncertainty and rapid change.
The Role of Leaders in the Next Mile
In a 2020 symposium on shaping the
future of education, then-Minister for
Education Lawrence Wong called on
employers to re-examine how they use
workplaces for learning.
He explained how, while many learn by
doing—through the "process of trial and
error", "feedback and tips from colleagues,
or just by watching how other people
do it"—such learning was often ad hoc.7
Mr Wong called for organisations to
create a systematic, structured and
deliberately well-thought-out process for
their workers’ learning to be effective.8
Indeed, some leaders have cottoned on
to how the strategic effort to provide
their employees with the time and space
for WpL will go a long way in cementing
their employees’ motivation, professional
growth, and loyalty, and in readying their
organisations for the future.
Despite the successes of firms who have
adopted WpL, many other business
leaders remain concerned with the here-and-now. Some of their reservations
stem from their beliefs about the time,
commitment and resources needed for
WpL, while balancing existing business
operations. Some are concerned about
a lack of coaches/mentors to support
WpL implementation. Hence, they
continue to expend their resources on
coping with immediate uncertainties.
But this approach does not bring long-term strength, stability, or growth.
There are ways to ease the transition into
WpL adoption. Funding and bespoke
consultancy support are available
to kick-start the WpL process. And
firms can take incremental steps. A
start is better than no start, and there
are tangible benefits to be had. For
organisations ready to deep dive into
WpL, certification allows validation of
processes and affirmation of successes.
Amid volatility and uncertainty, the role
of a leader in building an equitable and
innovative workplace becomes more
critical than ever. Leaders need to re-examine their leadership strategies
and consider how they can create
a continuous learning culture. This
includes engaging with the ground,
being inclusive, and kindling the
dynamism that grows the confidence
and capabilities of their people.
Although the journey might seem
daunting, the experience and outcome
will be rewarding. NACE will also walk
the journey with employers to help them
gain strategic competitive advantage
Nurturing Our Catalysts: A National Workplace Learning Framework
To the end of creating more catalysts for change, NACE has collaborated with strategic
partners from the Trade Associations & Chambers and unions such as Singapore National
Employers Federation, Specialists Trade Alliance of Singapore, National Trades Union
Congress (NTUC), and NTUC LearningHub to propagate the value and benefits of WpL to
employers and employees. They are the critical enablers to contextualising and growing
WpL in various domains.
To further support local organisations of private and public sectors in implementing a robust
WpL culture, NACE (led by NYP) developed a National Workplace Learning Framework,
which has since been adopted by SSG in January 2020.1
The Framework marks a strategic movement to provide organisations with a holistic guide
to transition to WpL. It is a step-by-step map that organisations can use to plan, execute,
customise, and track their incremental milestones in WpL, and see that it is achievable. It
also establishes a common language across sectors to build a WpL ecosystem.
Organisations that want to embark on this transformation can use the six components of
the Framework to benchmark their WpL readiness.
We have empowered all NACE Centres to adopt this methodology and collectively help
organisations implement WpL.
Today, there is also a national-level certification that recognises organisations which have
developed a sustainable learning culture.2 This initiative aims to forge a community of
WpL adopters for collective learning and enablers to create multiplier effects for shaping
a WpL culture and mindset in Singapore.
That said, the Framework and the certification are guides, developed to help organisations
visualise the WpL journey. At the end of the day, these tools are meant to help bridge the
distance between organisations and their employees.
Figure 1. The National Workplace Learning Framework Retention of Talents, Growth of Company and Staff Competencies
Source: Adapted from the New Quality of Work Initiative (INQA), Germany
- The NWpL Framework provides a common language and guidelines for all sectors (private and public) in building
the WpL ecosystem. On the same note, public sector can benchmark their WpL level/readiness using the same
Framework. See https://www.nace.edu.sg/framework/national-workplace-learning-framework/.
- Kok Yufeng, “New National Certification Scheme to Help Local Firms Close Workplace Learning Gaps”, The Straits Times, May 6, 2021, accessed July 16, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/new-national-certificationscheme-to-help-local-firms-close-workplace-learning-gaps.
One of the critical advantages of WpL
is that it captures tacit knowledge
within the organisation: valuable
knowledge, skills and attitudes that
might otherwise be lost.
Boosting Organisational Performance through WpL
Novotel Singapore on Stevens and Gardenia have seen significant improvements
in their operations, staff development and morale after adopting WpL efforts.
Novotel Singapore on Stevens collaborated with NACE to develop clear career
progression pathways and structured OJT blueprints for talents across all levels,
through redesigning work processes to improve productivity. As a result, the
organisation attracted and retained good talent and was awarded the SkillsFuture
Employer Awards 2020. For Gardenia, staff training significantly reduced lead
time by 30% through structured WpL processes.
In the security sector, Metropolis Security Systems Pte Ltd, a local small and
medium-sized enterprise (SME), increased their profits by achieving a 100%
success rate in their bidding projects, compared to 11% previously. There was
also a reduction in staff turnover rate from 40% to 12%.
WpL has also helped Grand Venture Technology, a manufacturing solutions
company that embarked on transformation through WpL in 2019, develop a
sense of shared purpose that runs through the firm. The CEO, Mr Julian Ng, noted
that one of the critical advantages of WpL is that it captures tacit knowledge
within the organisation: valuable knowledge, skills and attitudes that might
otherwise be lost.
The WpL Journey Continues
The journey of WpL is organic and
collaborative. Employers play a pivotal
role in taking stock of skills predisposition,
humanising workflow, and reimagining
WpL as a process of continuous learning.
When they find value in each person
in their workforce, and re-design jobs
to be better adapted to the vagaries
of our modern world, they can unlock
tacit knowledge and benefit from a
motivated workforce who can excel and
In return, employees will also benefit
from seeing what their learning maps to,
understanding the context of changes
and most importantly finding trust in
organisations which are investing in
It is a mutually reinforcing virtuous cycle,
to which everyone contributes, for the
gain of all.
- Ministry of Trade and Industry, Report of the
Committee on the Future Economy: Pioneers of the Next Generation, February 2017, accessed
July 16, 2021, https://www.mti.gov.sg/-/media/MTI/Resources/Publications/Report-of-the-Committee-on-the-Future-Economy/CFE\_Full-Report.pdf.
- International Labour Organization, "Structured
Workplace Learning: An Introduction" (draft, 2009), https://apskills.ilo.org/resources/intro-to-workplace-learning-david-lancaster-draft.
- Goh Yan Han, “Salary Not Main Driver of Job
Satisfaction for Singapore Workers”, The Straits Times, January 17, 2019, accessed
July 10, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/salary-not-main-driver-of-job-satisfaction-for-spore-workers-report/.
- Randstad Singapore, “The 2020 COVID-19 Labour Pulse Survey”, August 12, 2020,
accessed July 10, 2021, https://www.randstad.com.sg/hr-trends/talent-management/86-per-cent-motivated-to-upskill-and-re-skill-in-12-months/.
- Liz Fealy, “How Employers and Employees are Envisioning the Reimaged Workplace”, EY, April 22, 2021, accessed July 10, 2021, https://www.ey.com/en\_sg/workforce/how-employers-and-employees-are-envisioning-the-reimagined-workplace.
- PwC, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) 24th Annual Global CEO Survey, accessed July 10, 2021, https://www.pwc.com/cl/es/publicaciones/pwc-24th-global-ceo-survey.pdf.
- Ministry of Education, “Speech by Mr Lawrence
Wong, Minister for Education, at the Nus115 Distinguished Speaker Series—Shaping the
Future of Education”, December 3, 2020, accessed July 16, 2021, https://www.moe.gov.sg/news/speeches/20201203-speech-by-mr-lawrence-wong-minister-for-education-at-the-nus115-distinguished-speaker-series-shaping-the-future-of-education.
- “Employers Must Take Ownership of Skills Utilisation: Singapore Education Minister Lawrence Wong”, LEARNTech Asia, December 14, 2020, accessed July 10, 2021, https://learntechasia.com/employers-ownership-skills-singapore-education-wong/.