Skills Utilisation in Singapore

Conducted from 2009 - 2011


Professor Johnny Sung, Principal Research Fellow [Read Bio]
Institute for Adult Learning

Ms Fiona Loke, Research Officer [Read Bio]
Institute for Adult Learning

Ms Catherine Ramos, Senior Research Officer 
Institute for Adult Learning

Mr Michael Ng, Lecturer of Economics
School of Arts and Social Sciences,
Open University of Hong Kong


What is the question?

How do workers utilise their skills at work and how does this vary between occupations and sectors?


Why is it important?

The government, employers and individuals make high levels of investment in skills development. To get best value out of this investment, we need to understand how the skills gained through training are being utilised at work. This is most effectively achieved by exploring what skills are used and not used, and what priority is given to the different types of skills utilised from the ‘job’ perspective.

Already, the current study is providing baseline data. When repeated, this form of analysis can provide us with a dynamic picture of how skills are changing over time, within the same job or occupation. This will benefit those who are concerned with skills, job design, training and performance from the demand/applied perspective.


How did we do the research?


A Skills Utilisation Study (SUS) questionnaire was developed drawing on the instrument used in the UK Skills Surveys. From October 2009 to September 2010, questionnaires were administered to workers from a range of key sectors and occupations in Singapore.


What did we learn?

Some of the findings of the study include:

  • As in previous studies focusing on the minimum qualification required for the job, the SUS data shows that there is still evidence for the continuing reliance on secondary education in a lot of the jobs in Singapore

  • Across industries and occupations, secondary qualification (as minimum required qualification to do the job) is featured strongly, except in two industries namely, infocomm and pharmaceuticals & biologics which require mainly either diploma or degree qualifications. This may suggest that while the ‘upgrading’ of workers’ skills has been progressing well, the upgrading of job skills has been slow in responding

  • Pharmaceuticals & biologics have the highest average skills demanded of their jobs, and retail has the lowest, compared with all others. Also, most of the jobs in the pharmaceutical & biologics sector have a very high skill content compared with the sample as a whole

  • Job incomes are positively and significantly correlated to the skills content of jobs. In terms of the various job skills measures, job incomes are strongly correlated to minimum qualification required for the job and initial learning time for the job, but only moderately correlated to continuous learning time

  • In terms of the Broad Skills Measure (BSI) – which contains qualification required and two measures of job learning time – low-wage jobs are 35.9% below the median BSI score of the top wage jobs. This suggests that to move from a low-wage job to a high wage job, substantial learning or training or greater qualification will be required

  • Despite the label of ‘generic skills’, these skills are not utilised to the same extent in all jobs. Thus, different generic skills may create different impact in different jobs. Some generic skills e.g. paying attention to details, dealing with people and working with a team of people, are regarded as ‘very important’ skills in over 70% of jobs in Singapore, while other generic skills e.g. making speeches or presentation and writing long documents are used by less than 20% of the jobs

  • While the majority of PMET jobs are utilising skills above the sample average, around one third of PMET jobs are below the sample average line. The industries in which the median PMET BSIs are either close to or below sample average include F&B, retail, and logistics and transportation

  • PMET jobs generally exercise more generic skills than other occupations. There are only two generic skills in which PMET jobs are used below the sample average, namely physical skills and emotional labour. Whilst the need for physical skills is generally in decline in most jobs, the need for greater emotional labour utilisation is important for the effectiveness in PMET jobs, and more generally, for personal effectiveness in all other jobs

  • In Singapore workplaces, the levels of task discretion and employee involvement practices are highly and significantly related to the general skills content of jobs in Singapore. The same contextual factors also have similar positive and significant relationships with generic skills utilisation.


What are the implications?

The study raises many issues that we need to look at if we are to increase the level of skills utilisation in Singapore workplaces. The results of this study clearly suggests that until we pay attention to skills that are actually used at work, providing ever greater amounts of training alone is unlikely to impact on issues such as productivity and low wage. And because of that, we believe that skill utilisation studies, such as the one we conducted here, will form a crucial link in the effectiveness of future skills strategies of Singapore.

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