Country Listing

Singapore Table of Contents


Manpower Training

The main goals of manpower training were to increase the average skill level of the labor force and, at the same time, provide sufficient numbers of workers with the specialized skills necessary to meet future industrial needs. Beginning in the late 1970s, the government placed increased stress on education in order to achieve the objective of industrial restructuring. As of 1987, however, Singapore's work force was less educated than that of some of the countries with which it competed. Five percent of the work force had university educations compared with 19 percent for the United States and Japan and 6 percent for Taiwan. Some 11 percent had received post-secondary schooling other than in universities, compared with 46 percent for Japan, 23 percent for Taiwan, and 16 percent for the United States.

In the early 1980s, government studies showed that about half of the work force had primary-level education or less, and many older workers had low levels of English language skills. To remedy this situation, the Basic Education for Skills Training (BEST) program was introduced in 1984 to provide opportunities for workers who had not completed primary education to improve their English and math. By 1989 some 116,300 workers (half the target group) had had some BEST training. Time was also solving the problem as younger people received more education and the older, less-educated workers passed out of the work force; between 1979 and 1984, entrants to the work force with only primary-level education or less declined from 43 percent to 26 percent. The government needed, however, to ensure that this better-educated work force was trained in the necessary skills to complete the transformation of Singapore from a labor-intensive economy to a high-technology city-state--a "technopolis."

A further problem in achieving this transition resulted from "government brain drain." Each year 50 to 60 percent of new university graduates were absorbed by the government, including government-owned companies and the statutory boards. A system of awarding undergraduate scholarships, which often tied the awardees to eight years of government service, assured that the public sector absorbed many of the top-ranking students. Some critics thought that this concentration of the country's valuable human resources in the public sector might be to the long-run detriment of entrepreneurial and private-sector development.

Data as of December 1989