Lifelong learning has been gaining more traction with education institutes in Singapore. Here’s my take on why institutes of higher learning should double down on adult learners and the continuing education or professional development segment (from a an enrollment management perspective).
1. Ageing population
It is not news to Singaporeans that we’re an aging population. The proportion of residents who were 65 years old and above has increased from 9% to 15.2% in the last 10 years.
At the same time, the proportion of those under 15 years old fell from 17.4 per cent to 14.5 per cent over the same period.
Government schools have been affected by this and drastic measures were announced in 2018. In April 2017, MOE made the unprecedented announcement of merging JCs, citing Singapore’s falling birth rate and low enrollments and 4 pairs of Junior Colleges (JCs) merged in 2019. However, it is not a case of students simply favouring polytechnics over JCs. In fact, it was also announced that polytechnics will be cutting 20% of their course offerings over the next few years.
The fact is, the pool of prospective traditional students (post-secondary and under 24 years old) is shrinking.
2. Exponential rate of change
Things are changing really quickly. The banking, accounting and finance professions are the most commonly used example.
Organisations used to hire accountants to check their numbers, but these days, organisations can run the numbers through software. In banking and finance, we have robo-advisors and automated digital platforms taking over the jobs of front line staff.
I was at the NTUC’s Future of Jobs, Skills and Training Conference in 2018 where someone from Citibank shared how they got more credit card sign ups through their online system as compared to their sales staff at roadshows despite their hardwork.
Instead of laying off all these staff who are replaced by automation and tech, organisations and the staff themselves are looking at second skilling or re-training to fill up other positions.
Former Education Minister Ong Ye Kung once said: “Whatever qualifications you attained, you are not made for life. The truth is, whichever path you choose in Singapore, you still have to learn skills and achieve mastery through a lifelong process.”
How very true.
3. Lifelong employment is a thing of the past.
Employee loyalty is often dependent on the company’s loyalty to the employee. However, in that relationship, the company has significantly more power. There were a few high profile layoffs in recent years that were abrupt and poorly handled.
Staff from SPH were locked out of their computers and told to leave within the day shortly after being told that the retrenchment exercise would be brought forward. Grab made some commitments to Uber staff during the merger talks but there were reports of Uber staff being told to clear out in 2 hours with “no updates to severance package or anything“.
Now that lifetime employment is a thing of the past, employee loyalty has gone out the window. To make matters worse, the gig economy means employees are seen as short term resources.
In the current climate, employees are more inclined to only stay at jobs for a year or two and are motivated to job hop due to the significant pay raises they get for job hopping.
Studies have found that job hoppers may increase their income by up to 20% in just one month while pay raises creep up at around 4%, a year.
But to get the bigger pay raise, employees have to take responsibility for their own personal development and upgrading to be able to make themselves more desirable as an employee.
Education institutions should definitely take note of the changing business environment and be agile enough to adapt to market realities.
Naturally, major changes are difficult to push when KPIs have not been set.
Hence, management should definitely look into how they may better cater to the adult learning segment in their next goal setting exercise.
And those goals could be achieved by structuring programmes to make it appealing to part time students, adjusting entry requirements or course durations to attract non-traditional students or recording and uploading videos of lectures so that students can watch the lecture if they happen to miss classes due to work.
Having recorded lectures could also lead to the removal or reduction in the compulsory attendance requirements.
Institutions could also consider changing up their student support team’s working hours so that part-time students can get face to face help when they are in school for lessons.