DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at ITE’s 25th Anniversary Celebrations

Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at the Institute of Technical Education's 25th Anniversary Celebrations at the ITE Headquarters in Ang Mo Kio on 26 May 2017.


Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education & Skills) and Second Minister for Defence
Mr Volker Schebesta, Deputy Minister and State Secretary, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Baden-Württemberg,Germany
Mr Bob Tan, Chairman, ITE
Ms Low Khah Gek, CEO/ITE
Excellencies, Members of Parliament
Staff and Students, past and present, Parents
Distinguished Guests

It is a real pleasure to be here to celebrate ITE’s 25th Anniversary with all of you. 

Education has been at the heart of Singapore’s growth and transformation over the decades and our system of technical education has been a core pillar in all of this. 

It started simple, with the Balestier Trade School that we inherited from the British. As our school system developed, we shifted from vocational training aimed at primary school leavers to tertiary training for secondary school leavers. And we kept evolving the curriculum and enhancing quality as our economy was being transformed, as the needs of both employers and young individuals became more demanding.

ITE has been a remarkable success for an institution of 25 years. It was a success that many did not expect when Dr Tay Eng Soon championed the cause and we started the ITE in 1992. It has changed public and employers’ attitudes, with ITE graduates being well sought in industry. It has developed a credible national ITE certification system, developed industry-based training and expanded professional opportunities for its graduates. 

With the move to the “One ITE, Three Colleges” model starting in 2005, we have taken a further, major step up. It has provided for authentic, specialised learning environments in different fields in the three ITE colleges – such as the training hotel and restaurants at ITE College West, the Animation Studios at ITE College Central, and the Healthcare Simulation Centre at ITE College East. But it has also enabled us to provide students with a wide range of facilities and amenities to facilitate holistic development. Indeed, many overseas visitors to our ITE campuses comment that they only wish their universities can be the same.

But the true recipe of ITE’s success has been its passionate staff and lecturers – their commitment to maximising the potential of each student, with the aim of ensuring that every single one of them will be ready to join the workforce, make meaningful contributions to society and lead fulfilling lives. Let us give all ITE staff and lecturers, past and present, the applause they deserve.

Today, in the ITE, we have an institution that is recognised both within Singapore and internationally as producing young people armed with applied skills and the optimism that comes from knowing that their education will allow them to get a good job, keep learning in life and keep contributing to the country.

It is this success that gives us confidence as we face the new needs of the future.

The true recipe of ITE’s success has been its passionate staff and lecturers.

DPM Tharman

The next 25 years

We know that technology will keep disrupting industries and jobs. It will very likely happen more frequently, and in every field. Learning must hence take place throughout each of our careers so that we stay employed, and more than that, keep improving and doing better in life.  

Our education system, with ITE being a core part of this, hence cannot front-load learning into the first 17 to 21 years of life. SkillsFuture, which is our national movement to enable lifelong learning, will be part and parcel of how our institutions operate, and how they will contribute to making Singapore both an innovative and inclusive society.

ITE will be a key anchor for the SkillsFuture movement.

Learn-work-learn for ITE students

First, for ITE's own students, we must integrate meaningful and authentic work experience with learning, and enable graduands to keep learning through life.

ITE will continue to infuse more authentic work experience into its curriculum.

  1. Enhanced Internship. ITE has worked with about 1,800 employers to provide internship opportunities for its students. Internships are an important dimension of applied learning and ITE will do more in this area. As part of SkillsFuture, 60% of internships at ITE have already been enhanced to include clear learning outcomes and better mentoring. ITE is on track to meet the target of 100% of their students undergoing enhanced internships by 2020. All ITE students will then benefit from having a structured internship with guidance from an industry mentor.
  2. Mr Dickson Wong is one of the many ITE students who benefited greatly from their industrial attachments. A highly motivated student, Dickson recently graduated from the Higher Nitec in Electronics Engineering course. He was attached to a company called Enlighted Sales and Services where he was assigned to assist in smart energy lighting projects and quality control of LED panels. The company was so impressed by his commitment and work performance that they decided to send him overseas to assist in the inspection of their suppliers’ products.
  3. Dickson’s trip to Shenzhen was an eye-opener for him, but also for the company. He impressed them when he was able to rectify errors at the manufacturing plant. Since then, the company has sent Dickson on three more overseas trips. Dickson is now looking forward to a career in this field after graduation.
  4. Technical Diploma. Earlier this year, we also announced that ITE will be launching Technical Diplomas under SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programmes. This development will take students further along the path of developing the specialised and deep skills needed by industry. This work-learn mode of training will also become more prevalent in our education landscape, with ITE, the polytechnics and universities all offering such programmes.
  5. Career Services. ITE will continue to be the home base for the new graduates to seek information and support as they seek employment and skills upgrading opportunities. ITE has Career Services Centres at its Colleges where career counsellors provide career advisory and job matching services for new graduates.
  6. Male ITE graduates serve NS before embarking on work. In the six months prior to ORD, ITE will arrange for them to return to campus to be updated on job opportunities, match them with industries and give guidance on upgrading opportunities through ITE's Work-Learn Technical Diplomas and Earn and Learn programmes offered by the Polytechnics.

Most fundamentally, whichever field you are graduating from you will come back for learning as the industry evolves and as your career progresses. Sometimes it will be with the polytechnic or university, and sometimes at the ITE. And it will depend on the skills you want to learn, not the formal qualifications you previously had. It means a new fluidity in our system:

  1. Fluidity. Today, ITE CET trainees are coming from all walks of life. They recognise the value of picking up technical skills through ITE’s practical, hands-on training. 
    1. About 10% of adult learners at ITE today hold a Diploma or Degree. Like Mr Tan Tuan Hong. At the age of 30, Tuan Hong, a Degree-holder, decided that being a property agent was not for him. He set up Rong Fa Electric Pte Ltd, dealing in flexible conduits (which are casing protection for wires), and decided to join the Higher Nitec in Technology – Electrical Engineering course to better understand the products he was selling. Tuan Hong was awarded the e2i Gold Medal in 2016 given to the outstanding CET graduates.
  2. Training for flexibility. Instead of training students for a ‘single occupation’, ITE is increasingly training students for a cluster of related occupations and industries. Students are provided with a strong foundation in technical and generic soft skills as well as skills of related occupations in the cluster they are training for, thereby giving them more flexibility in terms of their career decisions. At the more advanced levels, they can also deepen their skills in a chosen area of expertise.
  3. Adult learner convenience. We must make lifelong learning convenient for adult ex-students to come back for bite-sized learnings. In the near-term, ITE will make CET more accessible and convenient by offering 20% of its theory components online.
  4. ITE will also redesign its CET offerings into ‘bite-sized’ modules with shorter durations of 20 to 60 hours. The focus is on ‘learning a skill’ rather than ‘getting a certification’.

A key success factor of whether ITE can do this transformation well is whether employers and companies take on a greater role. We need more of the culture that we see in some of the Northern European countries, where employers take training very seriously. It's not just the seriousness that comes about because of the functional needs of the business, but the pride that they take in investing in their employees, and a certain collective pride that they take in collaborating with each other to train people for the future of industry. We need more of that culture in Singapore, where employers and companies take real ownership.

ITE as a transformative force

ITE will play a key and strategic role in industry transformation.

We have launched industry transformation programmes for each of our key industries.

  1. ITE is the sector coordinator for the Land Transport, Restaurant Operations, and Landscape sectors, areas which build on ITE’s expertise. As sector coordinator, ITE will work closely with industry to understand industry trends and identify new skills that are required. It will work with the other tertiary institutions to coordinate and roll out training programmes to fill these changing skills needs.
  2. ITE has already been playing a key and strategic role in helping local enterprises develop and upgrade the skills of their manpower through the Certified On-the-Job Training Centre (COJTC) Scheme. This Scheme brings training into organisations. Organisations certified under the COJTC Scheme would have sent staff to ITE to learn how to develop in-house OJT blueprints and conduct in-house training for their staff. Each year, ITE trains 1,200 industry trainers under the ITE Train-the-Trainer Programme.

ITE is also playing a direct role in innovation, besides skills training.

  1. This includes applied research are in sectors such as Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, Health and Biomedical Sciences, Services and Digital Economy, and Urban Solutions and Sustainability.
  2. ITE works closely with industry on applied research, where they provide expertise to actualise concepts into working products. 
    1. For example, ITE has worked with NUH to develop a device for use in complicated surgical procedure – the Percutaneous Access to Kidney Assist Device (PAKAD). The PAKAD has been patented.
    2. The PAKAD is meant for use in a procedure to treat kidney stones, called Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL). The process is complex and difficult to master – if a surgeon is not careful, complications can result - these include injury to the lungs, intestines, or blood vessels. Excellent mental focus and a steady hand is crucial.
    3. The PAKAD helps surgeons speed up the process of accurately aligning, and stabilising, the needle with the target kidney stone, which helps reduce the risk of complications.


ITE is raring to take on the challenges of the future. It is a gem in our education system that will glow in new ways. Ways that all Singaporeans can take pride as we look to the future.

I wish ITE many successful years ahead. Thank you.