Degrees are still needed for people to acquire jobs in Singapore, but there are certain professions where employees can excel by constantly upgrading skills.

This was the message from Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday during a parliamentary debate on the new Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE).

In the wake of certain misconceptions about whether the review promoted the lessening need for degrees, Heng stated ASPIRE stems from a demand for relevant skills in the job market, given the evolving nature of both jobs and technology.

"As several MPs have noted, some members of the public are asking: is the government now saying that qualifications don’t matter?" he said.

"Let me be clear - ASPIRE is not about dissuading Singaporeans from upgrading ourselves or pursuing degrees or pursuing any form of qualifications. ASPIRE is about creating opportunities for all, not creating more competition for some. ASPIRE is about keeping pathways open for all, not blocking pathways for some."

In his speech, he stated that believing that qualifications are all that matter is "limiting" because there are "a variety of jobs out there, requiring us to learn in different ways".

"Some jobs require degrees; some jobs don’t. Some - like heart surgeons, for instance - require deep skills that takes years of post-graduate specialised training; and there are some jobs - like those of a master craftsman or master chef - that also require deep skills but which can be better acquired on the job."

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This parliamentary discussion endeavoured to clear the air and assure degree holders that while degrees continue to remain relevant, it is equally important to upgrade and broaden one's skill set.

Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law, who set the tone for the review, urged industry experts to collaborate with institutes of higher learning and educators, in order to become enablers in changing mindsets.

"This means that our people will have to constantly adapt and learn new skills in order to remain relevant and to get good employment. It also means that learning must be lifelong, more than ever before. The old paradigm where education ends at school is no longer applicable."

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