25 April 2014

I am committed to a Lifelong Learning Journey. What about you?

25 April 2014

On Tuesday this week, I visited the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA)’s pop-up Learning Café at Chevron House, Raffles Place. There, I pledged 30 hours to learn more about digital photography, or more precisely, how to better use software like Photoshop and Lightroom when processing my photographs. This is something I always wanted to do but did not quite get round to doing it earnestly. 

“Lifelong Learning” is a term familiar to many of us, but I wonder if we are prepared to really embrace it. Taking that first step is the most critical as we tend to forget or procrastinate, as other pressing issues occupy our minds and we tell ourselves there is always another time to pick up a skill. The first step is always the hardest. We have to get over the inertia, and make that firm commitment to set time aside to learn and upskill. 

We must want to learn and grow for ourselves. Not just as a requirement for good jobs, but to be a better person and to take pride in learning something new and in doing something better.

Learning made easy at WDA’s Learning Café 

The Learning Café concept is meant to be a platform to make it easy, accessible and to help trigger that first step. This session was the first of three pop-up cafés that WDA will organise this year, inspired by the pop-up retail concept. A guerilla marketing tactic? I think it works, as it gives an unusual and interesting twist by bringing learning to your doorstep. 

At the Learning Café, I saw participants enjoy a variety of learning modules, both the fun and serious kinds, in a casual café setting. I met the individuals who were featured in a video and they had some rather interesting stories to share on benefitting from their learning journeys. I tried learning some business Mandarin terms through an online game and did not realise that it was projected on a screen for all to see... Thankfully I got all the answers right! I also had a meaningful session learning about coffee making. I did not realise how big a difference a hot and cold cup makes to the taste of the coffee. I learnt about the ‘blond’ moment when we should stop extracting the coffee and so on. Fascinating! I can see why coffee baristas can be quite passionate about their art. 

The main takeaway is that there are so many skills to pick up and that we can learn anytime and anywhere. We do not need to be in a classroom environment. With every experience we go through, we learn. 

Encouraging lifelong learning 

The government has done a lot to promote lifelong learning in Singapore. We introduced the Continuing Education and Training (CET) Masterplan in 2008, developed two CET campuses as one-stop centres for workers to upskill, and have also provided grants for employers to send their staff for training through the Enterprise Training Support scheme. The Learning Café is another example of how we hope to support Singaporeans in their learning journeys.

Lifelong learning is important for all of us, whether we come from blue-collar or white-collar professions. There is strong need for us to keep abreast of the latest industry developments. As Singapore shifts towards higher value-added jobs, skills upgrading is especially necessary for those in fast-moving sectors like Finance or Information Technology, to ensure career resilience. 

Some workers may have a mercenary approach to learning – they upskill to be rewarded in a tangible way, usually for their careers or financial opportunities. They are not wrong. In today’s globalised economy, the competition is intense and will get even more cut-throat. Learning is the way to help us to stay ahead of the game. 

But, this attitude can be limiting. We lose sight of the intrinsic value of learning if there is no obvious and direct impact on us, and so may ignore otherwise fulfilling experiences. 

For example, many of us are now more interested in staying physically fit, as we can see from how well-received the recent 1,000,000kg challenge by the Health Promotion Board was. Learning a new sport, dance or exercise activity may have no direct impact on our careers, but could help us reduce illnesses and stay healthy, giving us more time to pursue our goals.

Make your commitment now to lifelong learning

At the individual level, we cannot wait for these lessons to fall into our laps. Beyond just fending off the increasing competition, ours is also a time of rapid change. You can say that it is a case of survivability. I won’t dispute that. Without continuous learning, our skills will stagnate and we will find ourselves left behind.  And none of us want to be left behind.

We must all begin our own learning journeys, and the sooner we start, the more we will benefit from our acquired skills. As I have just done, I ask that you too commit to your learning journey. Take that first step today.

For those of you keen to start your learning journey, you should visit WDA’s website to explore an array of interesting new skills. Pledge to commit some of your hours to learning, as I have done at the Learning Café. Find out when the next Learning Café is being held so you can make time for it. Take action for your learning. 

The saying goes that you learn something new every day. Keep an open mind and pick up a new skill today. 

Acting Manpower Minister
Tan Chuan-Jin

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