Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the ITE-Bernina Memorandum of Understanding Signing Ceremony on 20 October 2023.
Ms Katharina Ueltschi, Managing Director, Bernina Singapore
Dr Regula Kurzbein, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Switzerland
Ms Low Khah Gek, CEO of ITE
Dr Yek Tiew Ming, Principal, ITE College East
Teachers and students,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to join you this morning to celebrate the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between ITE and Bernina Singapore.
In a span of just three years, the ITE-Bernina partnership has blossomed.
From offering workshops to sew masks during COVID, to the opening of the ITE-Bernina Service Training Centre in 2022. And with this MOU, new curricula will be developed, and these offerings will be available to more students across all three ITE colleges.
This partnership embodies the spirit of innovation and is a wonderful story of Swiss-Singapore, public-private collaboration.
I would like to draw out three lessons on innovation, which I believe has relevance in other settings.
Three lessons on innovation
First, imagine possibilities.
ITE is a jewel in our education system. It provides good pathways for students who are more inclined towards hands-on learning and technical education.
But ITE does not simply see itself as an institute for technical education preparing its students for work.
It seeks to nurture confidence, creativity and entrepreneurship, which are key qualities that will enable its students to thrive and succeed, in work and in life.
By setting up Makerspaces in every ITE college, it encourages students to tinker away, and turn their ideas into products.
In so doing, it encourages students to imagine possibilities and believe in their abilities.
This is why our ITE graduates are confident learners who are sought-after by employers.
ITE was fortunate to find a like-minded partner in Bernina, an established Swiss family business with 130 years history.
Bernina is at the cutting edge of manufacturing, producing excellent sewing machines over generations. Its latest machines are digital and automated.
Now in its fifth generation, Bernina, whose name was inspired by a 4,000m tall Swiss mountain Piz Bernina, wanted to scale new heights.
It wanted to go beyond its strong manufacturing roots, and create new value in today’s digital, innovation-led environment.
Katharina ventured out to set up Bernina’s Asia HQ in Singapore 6 years ago, to grow the company’s presence in Asia.
And it was not just about distributing Bernina’s excellent sewing machines across Asia, but transforming Bernina into an innovation, education-focused entity.
As you can see from their work here over the past few years, Bernina has made sewing cool – beyond its age-old practical purposes, sewing has become a conduit for coding, computational thinking, and creativity.
The partnership began with Bernina offering its sewing machines to train ITE staff and students to sew and embroider.
ITE Electronics Engineering students then honed their electronics servicing skills using Bernina’s high-tech machines, while other students became certified as sewing trainers for Bernina.
The ITE-Bernina Service Training Centre set up last year doubles up a makerspace for students to learn digital sewing and embroidery, and to conduct ITE’s SkillsFuture Certificate of Competency course for members of public.
In other words – serving many functions and achieving many things for many different stakeholders, all here within ITE College East!
This leads me to the second lesson: start small but set ambitions high.
As I mentioned earlier, the partnership began with just teaching sewing skills, then gradually evolved into electronics servicing, Makerspace, and training members of the public.
With ITE and Bernina both clear about their vision and mission, it was a matter of building understanding, identifying new areas of mutual interest, and deepening the partnership over time.
This is an important lesson because innovation rarely happens as a leap, but through a patient process of learning, failing and growing.
In this case, working together has enabled both ITE and Bernina to uncover more possibilities and opportunities for collaboration.
I would also like to share a story about how this ITE-Bernina partnership became an enabler for our students’ dreams.
April Sheen is a recent ITE graduate. She did her Higher Nitec in Electronics Engineering, but her childhood dream was to be a wedding dress designer.
While she was here, April joined the Bernina Education Programme and received her certification in machine sewing.
Since then, she has sewed different crafts and even conducted sewing workshops. These enabled her to build up her portfolio and gain admission to Temasek Polytechnic’s Diploma and Apparel Design and Merchandising course.
It is a wonderful example of how starting something small can spark off many ripples and make a difference!
This naturally leads me to the third and final point: scale and grow.
Scaling and growing enables us to get closer to the ambitions that we’ve set out. More importantly, it is about growing impact, and bringing benefits to a wider group.
It is wonderful to witness yet another milestone in the ITE-Bernina collaboration, building upon the successive steps that have been taken over the past three years.
With this new MOU, there will be two new course offerings – an Innovation and Entrepreneurship elective module under ITE’s Higher Nitec programme, and a Code to Sew short course under SkillsFuture.
The new module is expected to benefit more than 1,800 students across 3 ITE Colleges over the next 3 years.
With stepped up training, ITE can support Bernina’s goals to expand into the region, while Bernina can create exciting new opportunities for ITE students.
The new short course will create more opportunities for adult learners to pick up design, production and e-commerce skills.
This can benefit individuals seeking to upskill and start their own small businesses, or retirees seeking a new challenge.
It only leaves me to congratulate both Bernina and ITE on this milestone.
Switzerland and Singapore are longstanding partners, aligned on many issues, with a shared commitment to innovation.
In this instance, Bernina and ITE have built a cross-border, cross-sector partnership, one that has created opportunities for both sides to learn from each other, and grow together.
I hope this can serve as an inspiration and encouragement for more Swiss family businesses to explore opportunities and build new ventures in Singapore.
And in turn, we hope to support your growth, and build lasting, mutually beneficial partnerships that bring benefits to all.
Thank you and my warmest congratulations to all of you!
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