RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

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Bhatta, G. (2000). Building Human Resource Competencies and the Training Environment in Singapore’s Public Service, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 8(2), 101-133.

Building Human Resource Competencies and the Training Environment in Singapore’s Public Service

Gambhir Bhatta

Abstract

Known for one of the most proficient public services in the world, Singapore is credited with putting in place good policy fundamentals that helped it to withstand the Asian economic crisis much better than the other countries of the region. This paper focuses on the training environment that exists in the Singapore Public Service and argues that there is need to include a study of its overseas training programmes in order to get a more complete picture of human resource development in the public sector. Using the Value for Money (VFM) perspective, it concludes that while there has been strong commitment from the Government on public sector capacity enhancement, there is need for more work on measuring the incidence of learning in the organizations.

Introduction

Public management competence has begun to figure prominently as a key element of good governance in recent years. It is this emphasis on the capacity building aspect of governance that is the focus of this paper. In particular, the paper analyses the attempts made by Singapore to enhance capacity building in its public sector since it has been cited universally as practicing good governance. Even at the height of the Asian economic crisis, and as far back as late 1997, Newsweek (10 November 1997) had reported that Singapore had good policy fundamentals and that it was ready for the worst. This clearly highlighted the reasons behind why its economy did not deteriorate more than its neighbors’. Even though it is a small country with no natural resources, Singapore stood well against the crisis.

Singapore has consistently been rated as being the least corrupt Asian country not only by PERC (Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, Hong Kong) but also by the prestigious Transparency International. The Civil Service itself takes pride in this by openly stating that “without doubt, few nations can match Singapore in (its) ability to successfully deliver ‘public goods’” (Civil Service College, 1994: 3). Singapore has been successful because of “clean and effective government, free of corruption, meritocratic, (and) efficient and responsive,...” (Lim, 1996: 35). The Government takes pride in being pragmatic and being able to spot dangers earlier than others and make good use of opportunities (ibid). Given that people are the main resource in Singapore, the edge that the country has over its competitors is the quality of its human resources. To maintain this edge, therefore, there is need for continual improvement in the quality of the human resources.

This then brings to the fore the issue of public sector capacity. The public sector in Singapore consists of the civil service, statutory boards (such as the Economic Development Board), and government-linked companies (or GLCs, which are formed under the Companies Act and in which the Government has equity holdings). The GLCs are excluded from this study because they are profit-oriented and are managed like private companies. Thus, the term “Singapore Public Service” (SPS) when used in this paper refers both to the Singapore Civil Service (SCS) and the statutory boards. There are about 66,000 people employed in the SCS and slightly less than that in the boards, bringing the total to about 120,000.

Training as a Function in Public Personnel Management (PPM)

While capacity enhancement has a range of meanings that are equally justifiable, for purposes of the study here, capacity enhancement is equated with training (for a more refined discussion of this issue, see Grindle and Hilderbrand (1995) and OECD (1992)). However, it is important to note that training alone is not adequate for capacity enhancement. While training is an important activity in developing capacity, it is only effective utilization of human resources within organizations that is the most important factor in determining whether public officials are productive or not. This clearly shows that governments also need to continue to adhere to the traditional norms of job analysis, job evaluation, job rotation, and placement in order to make the public bureaucracies efficient and effective.

There has been a resurgence of interest in training as a key public personnel management activity as it becomes increasingly clear that in order to have a sustained presence in the global economy, countries need to continually upgrade the skills and knowledge base of the labor force. In that context, Kirkpatrick and Mann (1999: 1-3) cite three key trends in training that have recently emerged:

  1. More demand-oriented: this has taken various forms ranging from Third World governments (and donor-supported development projects) asking for tailor-made and customized training programmes to specification of individual training needs as reflected in annual review reports.
  2. Integration of working in the organization and learning on the course: this has been a core concern in the domain of training for quite some time now (see, for example, OECD, 1992: 8). The potentiality of application of knowledge gained from training into the specific work situation has been an important concern
  3. Increasing involvement of learners in the customization and design of the training programmes. This trend complements the first wherein it is the learners that demand that specific programmes be instituted in specific manners with learning objectives that emanate from them rather than from the suppliers of the training programmes.

What these trends imply is that training as a public personnel management activity is an “embedded” one (Grindle and Hilderbrand, 1995: 443) further implying the expanded scope and placement of training in, among other things, the context of organizational performance and administrative structures in the public sector. Training is no longer taken in isolation from the larger political and management perspectives since the nature of the capacity-building exercises in public services around the world shows that training is an integral element not only of the country’s human resource development programme but also “embedded” in the very nature of the administrative structure, and socio-cultural and political milieu. It is this totality of training that highly successful countries such as Singapore emphasize.

Training Environment in the Singapore Public Service (SPS)

The training environment in the Singapore Public Service (SPS) consists of several components. In order to provide a detailed perspective on this issue, nine components that are relevant are highlighted here (see Figure 1): the context, principles and approaches, focus and orientation, framework, actors, methodologies, types of programmes, and selected programmes. The analytical framework that is used to evaluate the environment is Value for Money (VFM) which forms the ninth component.

Figure 1.
Training Environment in Singapore’s Public Service
Training Environment in Singapore’s Public Service

Source: author.

Abbreviations: CAS (Community Attachment Scheme), CSC (Civil Service College), CSCG (Civil Service Consultancy Group), HDB (Housing and Development Board), HRM (Human Resource Management), IHE (Institutes of higher learning), IPAM (Institute of Public Administration and Management), IPD (Institute of Policy Development), ITRM (Individual Training Road Map), KBE (Knowledge-Based Economy), MIS (Marketing Institute of Singapore), OTRM (Organisational Training Road Map), PSB (Productivity & Standards Board), PSD (Public Service Division), SCP (Singapore Cooperation Programme), SIHRM (Singapore Institute of Human Resource Management), SIM (Singapore Institute of Management), SPOT-ON (Self-Paced, On-Time, and On-Need), TCDC (Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries), TCTP (Third Country Training Programme), TRM (Training Road Map), UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).

The context of training in the SPS is a function of several variables, some of which are beyond the control of the Government. As is evident in Figure 1, these variables span the gamut of issues from geographic size to trends in strategic human resource management (SHRM). The fact that this small country is plugged intensively into the global economy means that there leaves very little margin of maneuverability independent of external factors. Singapore is a very small island state (barely less than 650 sq. km. and with a population of about 3.7 million people), with no natural resources, and completely urbanized. The fact that it is so small also means that it has considerably less impact on the global economy and yet what happens globally affects it disproportionately. Singapore’s economy has evolved from an early dependence on entrepot trade to the present economic vitality of a hub city, and its economy has been based on a free enterprise and free trade system. The Government has also played a very active and interventionist role in the planning and implementation of economic policies. More so than most countries, the Singaporean economy is plugged into the global marketplace in a more direct manner; hence what happens in the international markets has a very direct effect here.

To deal with the various changes that external forces have brought about, Singapore in 1995 launched the “Public Service for the 21st Century” (PS21) programme which specifically enables the Government to look at the issue of internalizing change in the Public Service. PS21 has thus acted as the basis on which all capacity enhancement drives in the public sector have been initiated. The key concept in PS21 is change, and to deal with it on a sustained basis, it takes recourse to three components related to training and capacity enhancement; Work Improvement Teams (WITs), the Staff Suggestion Scheme (SSS), and traditional on-the-job as well as off-the-job training. However, training was not always emphasized in the Singapore Public Service in the past. In fact, compared to the other countries of the region (except Brunei), Singapore was the last country to set up a training institute for its civil servants. The Staff Training Institute (the predecessor of the Civil Service Institute) was established only in March 1971 (by comparison, countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Indonesia, had since the 1950s already instituted well-established mechanisms of enhancing training in their public sectors).

Capacity enhancement in the Singapore Public Service also has to be seen in light of the economic crisis that hit the region in the late 1990s. While the crisis in and of itself did not have a direct impact on the overall numbers of public servants, there is no doubt that it spurred debate on how they have to be rearmed to deal with change. During the economic crisis, there were some rather muted criticisms that despite the hardships, and in direct contrast to the trends in the private sector, employment in the Public Service was not only maintained at its old level, but also increased slightly (see, for example, Fernandez, 1998). It was even termed the ‘job market’s iron rice bowl” and was considered to be a “recession-proof employer”. This may not be entirely fair since subsequent events showed that it was indeed buffeted by the crisis although not necessarily in terms of levels of employment.

One of the stark lessons of the crisis is that increasingly a so-called knowledge-based economy (KBE) is emerging and that in order to stay competitive in the global market, there is need to work towards attaining a KBE. The Singapore Government has been quite aware of this trend and has been at the forefront in propelling the country in this direction. In a KBE, new ideas and technologies abound and the ability to absorb, process, and apply information to create value-added becomes key. This implies, however, that people know how to transform information from raw data into knowledge of economic value. This will require intellectual capital which, in turn, signifies a key role to be played by the training function within the rubric of PPM.

The drive towards a KBE is still predicated, however, on sustained emphasis on education. On that count, Singapore has made impressive gains over the years as indeed there is general consensus that it was strong regard and respect for education that has yielded the success story that Singapore has been able to create (Lim, 1996: 168). In general, Singapore’s long-term education policy has tended to revolve around provision of free and universal primary education, expansion of opportunities in secondary and tertiary education, and focus on vocational and technical education (see Table 1 for trends in development of education). In May 1999, the Government also announced plans for a massive level of investment (S$4.46 billion over seven years) to upgrade and rebuild all the schools in the country. The fact that the Government decided to initiate this programme despite the ongoing recession then speaks volumes about its commitment to investing in education (a similar policy was implemented during the 1985-87 recession). It is also important to note here that the Government has, of late, expressed a greater readiness to prepare its future workers to be more conversant with the application of information technology. This in many ways ties the education policy with the focus on a knowledge-based economy.

Table 1
Trends in Development of Education
Variable Trends
(1) Education expenditure (% of government budget) 1972: 15.7
1990: 18.1
1993-95: 23.4
1998: 24.5
(2) Education expenditure (% of GNP) 1965: 2.8
1985: 4.4
1995: 3.0
1998(est): 4.0
(3) Average recurrent expenditure on education per student 1987: S$4,334
1995: S$7,884
1998: S$7,697
(4) Adult literacy rates (percent) 1970: 74.0
1995: 91.0
1998: 93.1

Sources:

  1. for 1972 and 1990 Asiaweek (10 March 1995: 14); for 1993-95, UNDP, 1998: 162; for 1998, Department of Statistics, 1998: 223;
  2. for 1965, UNDP, 1990: 155; for 1985 and 1995, UNDP, 1991: 62; for 1998, author’s estimate;
  3. Department of statistics, 1998: 245; the average is for expenditures on all schools (except independent ones), junior colleges, polytechnics, Institute of Technical Education, and the Universities (including National Institute of Education);
  4. for 1970 and 1995, UNDP, 1998: 148; for 1998, Department of Statistics, 1998: 11.

Finally, independent of the above-cited contextual factors, training in the Singapore Public Service also has to be seen in the context of the increasing application of what is termed strategic human resource management (SHRM) (see, for example, Klingner, 1993). SHRM picks up on the dual streams of ideas emanating from strategic planning and from HRM and is defined as “the purposeful resolution of human resource administration and policy issues so as to enhance a public agency’s effectiveness” (ibid: 565). Capacity enhancement in the public sector can be conceptualized using the SHRM framework by homing in on the one common element in strategic planning and HRM: change. It is the certainty of change that gives impetus to SHRM and it is this very focus on change that defines the PS21 programme which is the bedrock of all capacity enhancement activities in the Singapore Public Service. It is thus important to keep the notion of SHRM as a proper background to this paper. SHRM also clearly implies that there is recognition of the commitment by relevant parties (including public servants and political leaders) in ensuring proper management of human resources.

PRINCIPLES AND APPROACHES

The approaches to training in the public sector are products of the overall approaches to public policy that Singapore has internalized over the years (Lim, 1997). These include a very committed and deeply-felt attitude of self-reliance, pragmatic policies that do not necessarily conform to political correctness, and clean and effective Public Service. This latter approach is then crystallized in the principles of – and approaches to – training in the public sector.

As with any organization that institutes training programmes, the Singapore Public Service also asks how any training activity helps meet the current demands for skills as well as how it might impact the same demand in the future. What is more striking about Singapore is that there is a stronger focus on the future. This strategic orientation that the Government takes is by now well-known and this is how the small country has been able to succeed so phenomenally. The Government has always asked itself “what will the coming years be like?” (ibid: 170). The search for the answer to this question is what propels the focus on training as a way to manage the ever-increasing complexity in the public policy sphere.

On an individual level though each staff member is expected to take ownership of the learning process leading to skills enhancement. This is manifest in, for example, the preparation of an Individual Training Road Map (ITRM) wherein the staff member initiates and charts the career plans and specifies what skills will be needed for career enhancement. In that sense, the ownership lies with the staff member. Coupled with that issue of ownership at the individual level is the institutional focus on continuous learning. This means simply that there is a premium placed on viewing training as continuous, life-long learning which would enable a staff member of the Public Service to adopt an anticipative stance towards meeting future challenges. It is this focus on continuous learning that is expected to lead to long-term employability for the staff member. The genesis of this focus on continuous learning is the fact that change is inevitable and that without continuous learning, doing things efficiently and effectively in the future will not be guaranteed. The Government’s commitment to the principle of lifelong learning is manifest, for example, in the national School of Lifelong Learning system developed recently (The Straits Times, 1999).

Another key principle of Government action in general, and of public sector training in particular, is the continuous drive for efficiency (see Quah, 1996). Efficiency is a way of life in Singapore. The Government has always emphasized this value of management and it has been very successful in instituting efficiency as a cornerstone of its operations. The fact that the Government has a strong policy of continually seeking efficiency means that there is a premium placed on training staff members. This drive for efficiency also has to be responsive to the needs of the customers, and has to be seen in the context of the Government’s PS21 programme in which the “desired end is a public service always on the lookout for improvement, for better ways to do things, questioning if it should carry on doing what it is doing, asking what else it should be doing...” (Lim, 1997: 171).

Public sector training in Singapore also has as a key principle the move away from the individual to the community as a whole. This is to ensure that the macro framework figures into the learning process. Training constrained to the staff member alone is hardly as comprehensive as training whereby the staff member is immersed into the community. The Community Immersion Programme is a good case in point. It is this extension to the community that necessitates the staff member to be aware of the country’s situation. The elite Administrative Service (meant for the best minds in the public sector in Singapore and working in the upper echelons of the administrative hierarchy), for example, has project teams for officers of different ages and grades to study critical issues affecting Singapore’s future. In this sense, training is not only skills-based. Depending upon their level, staff members go for weekly, monthly or quarterly sessions to keep them up-to-date on the country’s challenges and aims, regional issues, and Government policies.

In the Singapore Public Service, staff members are also considered to have three basic rights: the right to suggest, the right to work in Work Improvement Teams, and the right to training. This last right encompasses many things but primarily it ensures that all staff members will be given appropriate opportunities and funds to acquire new skills. The antecedence of this right is the Government’s stated policy in the early 1980s of adopting an employee-centered management personnel philosophy for the civil service which specified that staff members should be encouraged to develop to their fullest potential. Towards this end, many manual tasks (such as form-filling, for example) have now been automated thus potentially leaving the staff members with more time for training.

The final approach to training centers on the so-called “4R strategy” (Lee, 1998) and refers to: (1) renewal of workforce, (2) re-deployment of retrenched workers, (3) re-alignment of employment practices, and (4) revitalization of employment. While the Government’s ongoing focus on renewal of the workforce is related primarily to the business sector, it is noteworthy that it used the economic crisis as an opportunity to train and re-skill workers to prepare them for new jobs. This in itself is part of a concept known as lifelong employability which is a shift from the traditional focus on lifelong employment. This denotes the Government’s commitment to capacity enhancement and to long-range strategic planning.

FOCUS AND ORIENTATION

The focus and orientation of training as a personnel management function center around the dichotomization of the set of training programmes between domestic and international spheres. Common to both is the issue of scholarships wherein formal education as a form of training can be undertaken either within Singapore or abroad. Within the domestic realm, of particular note is the Government’s continued emphasis on linkages with the private sector as a way of training its most qualified staff members. As part of this programme, the Government in April 1997 for the first time recruited three people (out of over 200 applications) from the private sector to work in the elite Administrative Service. In return, there was one Public Service official from the Administrative Service (from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) who was seconded to Shell London for a two-year period.

Rather missing from the general body of literature on training in the Singapore Public Service is mention of what it has been able to offer other countries through its various support programmes in technical assistance. What appears to have been downplayed is the fact that Singapore “has truly come of age with its ability to reach out globally with training programmes aimed at helping developing countries progress” (Hau, 1996). While the country has since 1961 been providing technical assistance (all of it in human resource development), in 1992, the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) was established in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which enabled the proper coordination of all overseas-related training and human resource development support. As a matter of fact, it can be said that Singapore’s special approach to foreign aid is based on human resource training.

The SCP has two main components: (1) bilateral agreements with other developing countries to either provide training in Singapore or send experts to these countries; and (2) joint training programmes wherein the expertise and resources of two partners are pooled to provide training on a cost-sharing basis. There are two components to the joint training programmes – the first is the prestigious and well-known Third Country Training Programme (TCTP). This is a highly regarded programme among development-oriented training circles around the world. In fact, Singapore was the first country with which the World Bank in September 1996 chose to sign its first-ever TCTP. At present, there are over 16 such TCTPs in place. In a TCTP arrangement, Singapore signs agreements with countries (e.g., Australia, UK, Canada, Luxembourg, Japan, etc.), regional bodies (e.g., the Asian Development Bank, Colombo Plan Secretariat, etc.), and international organizations (e.g., the Commonwealth Secretariat, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank, etc.) to provide various courses in Singapore for people from developing countries. In the implementation of such courses, the SCP uses training agencies such as the Singapore Aviation Academy, or works through individual projects such as the Singapore-Canada English Language Project. The second component within the joint training programmes is a tie-in with UNDP’s Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) programme wherein Singapore hosts several courses every year for Asia-Pacific and African countries. The purpose of TCDC is to enhance professional and business linkages among countries of the South.

In all these programmes, while it may appear on the surface that skills and knowledge flow outward, it is but inevitable that Singaporean officials involved in them will have also learned considerably from such transmission of knowledge and expertise. That aspect of the capacity enhancement exercise appears not to have been given much focus in the appropriate literature.

FRAMEWORK

There are four key components to the training framework in the SPS: (1) inventory of knowledge and skills, (2) training road map, (3) SPOT-ON training, and (4) Community Attachment Scheme. All these components have important ramifications on the issue of capacity enhancement. The skills and knowledge inventory consists of two types of competencies – core and functional. Core competencies focus on areas such as organizational knowledge, personal effectiveness, interpersonal skills, managerial skills, negotiation skills, etc. These are skills that are considered to be of relevance to all staff members. Functional competencies, on the other hand, focus on areas such as human resource management, finance, logistics, information management, etc. and are meant for specialists who wish to enhance capacities in these specific functions. The Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) has in place three special modular programmes for functional specialists in HRM, financial management, and information management.

All the programmes offered in the areas of core and functional competencies can be grouped into five areas: (1) managing service excellence, (2) managing change, (3) managing/working with people, (4) managing operations and resources, and (5) managing self. Which training programme is most appropriate for a staff member and which contributes the most to organizational objectives is largely a function of the Training Road Map. There are two types of Training Road Maps: the individual and the organizational. While the literature focuses almost exclusively on the individual one, it is quite obvious that the organization too has to have one otherwise it will be difficult to ascertain the nature of skills and capacities it will need in its staff members in order to meet its mandates. Yet it is interesting to note that while leaders in training around the world have now begun to move away from focus on the individual in skills enhancement and capacity building, the PSD in Singapore continues to place emphasis on the former (see, for example, The Straits Times, 1998).

Having said that, there is little doubt that the Organizational Training Road Map (OTRM) that is prepared by an agency as a precursor to the Individual Training Road Maps (ITRM) emphasizes the needs of the organization as well. At the macro level, the organization analyses the levels and types of skills that it needs in the coming years to meet its goals. This is further compartmentalized into several yearly training road maps prepared by supervisors for their respective divisions within the organization. In that regard, it can be said that the OTRM itself can be classified into Corporate Training Road Map (providing the broad outline of the organization’s own business objectives and where training fits into this scheme) and Departmental Training Road Map (where specific skills and training programmes needed for attaining the individual department’s objectives are deliberated upon). The Ministry of Health, for one, employs this fine dichotomy.

The Training Road Maps prepared by the individual staff members then complement this larger road map. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) calls this whole exercise a shared responsibility between management and staff and in which both the top-down and bottom-up approaches are used to formulate training plans. In this respect, each staff member is expected to discuss a training plan for the following year with the respective supervisor. The staff member will then choose which courses and programmes to attend depending on the needs of the job, current levels of skills and knowledge, and how the staff member expects the job and career to develop. This latter component is important as it enables the staff member to link the training programme to individual goals.

The levels of training required are defined not according to an officer’s seniority in service but according to how much training the staff member has received for the current job, what types of training have been received over the years, and what training the staff member should get to further develop capacity. The choice of training, on the other hand, will depend on the job functions that the officer is currently performing, and how much training has already been received for them. The Individual Training Road Map (ITRM) is updated quarterly. At year’s end, each officer discusses work targets with the respective supervisor and plans a road map of training that will seek to achieve newer objectives.

Independent of the training road maps, the term SPOT-ON training (practiced primarily in the Ministry of Defense) refers to Self-Paced, On-Time, and On-Need training. This allows the staff members to choose the training they need, and go through it at their own pace. This demand-driven aspect of training is relevant to the discussion on the ITRM and reflects the level of development that training as a PPM function has been able to germinate. The PSD also has a scheme known as the Community Attachment Scheme which aims to give elite public servants a feel for the day-to-day concerns of ordinary people to help them formulate policies better when they return to their organizations. Hence, Administrative Service officers go, for example, to work as general managers for a couple of years in Community Development Councils in various parts of Singapore.

ACTORS

The PSD in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) plays the central role in all matters of public personnel management given its mandate of creating one of the best civil services in the world. In the specific area of capacity enhancement and training, the Civil Service College (CSC, located within the PSD, and formed in April 1996) is at the core. The CSC consists of three operating units. The first is the Institute of Policy Development (IPD) which focuses specifically on training of senior leadership particularly through targeting the elite Administrative Service. Towards that end, it offers, among others, a series of three leadership courses (see “selected programmes” below).

The second component of the CSC is the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) which is the core body in the provision of training to public officers in Divisions I through IV. It focuses on training and development in managerial, supervisory, and operating skills. The third and final component of the CSC is the Civil Service Consultancy Group (CSCG) which is set up as a consultancy arm to offer services both internally to help public organizations review their operations and training needs, and externally to serve as a focal point for provision of consultancy for overseas organizations wishing to know more about public sector reform in Singapore.

Apart from PSD and CSC, the individual ministries also play a role in capacity enhancement. Each ministry has officers and training coordinators who facilitate the “purchase” of training from IPAM and a host of other service providers (public as well as private). These are people that training agencies liaise with for customization of relevant programmes. Some ministries have also established training programmes for participants from other countries. The Environment Ministry, for example, in 1992 established the Germany-Singapore Environmental Technology Agency through which several workshops and seminars (on topics ranging from pollution control and urban planning to waste management) have been held to transfer environmental know-how and expertise to the Asia-Pacific region.

Statutory boards also play a significant role in the provision of training. The Housing and Development Board (HDB), for example, has some very good training programmes for its staff members and, as a matter of fact, was the recipient of the National Training Award in the Service Sector category in 1996. It also has almost 200 line trainers all of who have received training themselves in instructional skills, effective presentation skills, and curriculum development. Institutes of higher learning (IHE) that are involved in training include the two universities (National University of Singapore, NUS, and Nanyang Technological University, NTU) and the various polytechnics. These institutes primarily offer executive development and academic programmes to participants to enhance their long-term employability. They also host several non-Singaporeans every year who come here to get degrees and diplomas in various fields of study as part of their training programmes sponsored by either the Singapore Government or others. The Government also clearly expects the universities and polytechnics to play a greater role in training outsiders. For example, in late 1996, Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan suggested that NUS and NTU could explore how they could help their Vietnamese counterparts in providing training in engineering as well as modernize government processes (The Straits Times, 1996a). Also in 1996, a proposal was made by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong that would have enabled the country’s polytechnics and vocational institutes to play a key role in training the region’s surplus semi-skilled workers that would have been recruited by the Economic Development Board (The Straits Times, 1996b).

Other institutes that also play a significant role in the provision of training include Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), Productivity and Standards Board (PSB), and Marketing Institute of Singapore (MIS). It is interesting to note that there is a fair amount of “carry-over” among agencies. For example, while the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) sends its officers for training at HDB, among other places, the HDB itself sends its staff members to IPAM, for example, for relevant training. It is clear then that there is a fair amount of organizational interaction taking place in the SPS in this regard. There are also several international actors involved in the training environment. These include countries such as Norway and Japan. and organizations such as the Commonwealth Secretariat, World Bank, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

TYPES

There are two main types of training programmes in the Singapore Public Service: domestic and international. The former, in turn, can be further sub-divided into five types of training programmes:

  1. Induction training is given to staff members upon first entry into the Public Service. Of more rigor in induction training is that evident in the Administrative Service which takes the form of a two-month long Foundation Course one of whose components is a team-building and leadership training module with the Outward Bound School.
  2. Basic training teaches staff members the skills they need to do their jobs adequately. Held within the first year on the job, it is given after being recruited, given a new job, or promoted to a higher job.
  3. Advanced training is held within the second and third year of a staff member’s entry into service and is designed to help in doing a job even better.
  4. Within the fourth to sixth year of entry into service, some form of extended training will also have been given to the staff member. This extended training gives the staff members the skills to enable them to go beyond their current jobs and handle related jobs on an incidental basis. This, in turn, teaches the staff members to do their colleagues’ work so that doubling and re-deployment become less stressful.
  5. Continuing training gives skills not currently needed, but which make staff members more employable. This is an important concern since there is currently a considerable degree of emphasis on lifelong learning and employability in the long-term as well. The economic crisis of the late 1990s highlighted the need for continuing training as more and more workers became retrenched. Continuing training is emphasized from the seventh year and beyond of the staff member’s tenure. There are various types of continuing training programmes as can be seen in Figure 1. These range from academic programmes (leading to certificates and diplomas) to topical programmes designed to give staff members a sense of what is happening in the country and around the region (a good example at the moment is the still rather-tenuous political situation in Indonesia which obviously has severe implications for Singapore should it get out of hand).

Regardless of which type of training a particular staff member is in line for, at least 60 percent of it has to be related directly or indirectly to the current job. While this is specified so that Value For Money (VFM) from training programmes may result, it is not difficult for staff members to justify being trained in practically any programme since there are bound to be indirect benefits as well that could be relevant to the work.

On the other hand, there are several programmes whereby officials from developing countries come here for management training. Some examples include:

  1. “Commonwealth Top Management for Public Enterprises” (begun in 1993, this programme covers areas such as human resource management in public enterprises, marketing, role of information systems, etc.). It is sponsored by the Singapore Government and the Commonwealth Secretariat under the Singapore-Commonwealth Third Country Training Programme arrangement.
  2. Bilateral agreement with Norway to provide technical assistance and training to workers from developing countries. The areas covered in the programmes include telecommunications, nursing, port management, etc. Bilateral agreements with individual developing countries are also in evidence whereby, for example, South Africans have been trained on public administration.

Singaporean experts have also helped Botswana establish its National Productivity Center in August 1995 as well as train Government officials to serve as facilitators of Work Improvement Teams (WITs). Other areas/sectors where Singapore continues to offer technical assistance include: public housing, waste management, change management in the public sector, civil service reforms, port and airport management, tax administration, banking, hotel and tourism management, project management, and many others. The fact that Singaporeans go abroad to help train other experts is a very valuable form of training which does not seem to have been given its due in the literature.

METHODOLOGIES

While classroom instruction is still the norm in the training programmes in the Singapore Public Service, that is increasingly giving way to more innovative methods of imparting training. Experiential learning, for example, focuses on learning through experiences and is reflected in the secondment of public officials in private sector companies to experience the different organizational and problem-solving setting. Goal-based learning (GBL), on the other hand, has four features that merit mention here:

  1. Learning by doing wherein the participant actively performs tasks in pursuit of specified goals. The focus is thus on development of skills rather than retention of facts.
  2. Learning from exploration and failure which thus gives no pressure to the participants to perform, and learning takes place at the participants’ own pace.
  3. Learning through stories in which GBL puts into place “war heroes” that provide materials for the participants to use to simulate real-life scenarios.
  4. GBL also employs a variety of support structures including reports by WITs, “war stories”, etc. This enriches the learning process for the participants.

Computers are also increasingly being used in imparting training, and organizations such as the Ministry of Defense have been at the forefront in computer-aided instruction (others such as the Housing and Development Board (HDB) are also set to enter this domain soon). Computer-aided instruction facilitates self-paced learning and is increasingly being used to take advantage of the rise in information technology and the access that staff members have to computers. Also available now are CD-ROMs from IPAM that are increasingly being used by trainers to assist them in their work. IPAM is also considering selling the CD-ROMs to various ministries so as to generate resources (with the transformation of IPAM into an autonomous agency, it now has a greater burden of generating its own resources rather than relying on allocations from the Government).

One of the more recent additions to the basket of tools to be used in the SPS is tele-training which enables learning to be enhanced in two different locations with the trainer in one place only. This also takes advantage of the technology that is available to save on inputs. SIM, NUS as well as other institutes of higher learning, for example, regularly use this method of training. Finally, adventure-based learning (practiced primarily in the Ministry of Defense and in the leadership training programmes at IPD) focuses on learning from obstacle courses, games, and real-life team-oriented situations, etc. Participants, for example, of the IPD’s Foundation Course normally undergo a two-day outdoor team-building module designed to demonstrate to them the necessities of working on a team to find solutions to problems.

SELECTED PROGRAMMES

There are various training programmes in place that a member of the Singapore Public Service can participate in. Several that are symptomatic of those taken up by middle to senior managers in the public sector are shown in Figure 1. The Creativity@work series of training programmes was set up for the first time in 1999 and focuses on creativity at thc individual, the supervisory, and the organizational level. The programme is meant for Division I officers who are in supervisory and managerial positions. The Public Policy Perspectives Seminar is a form of induction training in which Government scholars newly returned from their studies abroad are reoriented to the constraints of policy-making in Singapore. The programme “Reflections at Raffles”, for its part, enables younger public servants to meet senior members of the Establishment and hear their thoughts on a variety of issues. The Civil Service Corporate Planning Seminar has a fairly large participation level and it involves policy planners from all the ministries and key statutory boards who review policies on a service-wide basis. The purpose is to get the policy planners to develop a mindset of continually asking how things could be done differently and/or better.

The Institute of Policy Development (IPD), for its part, conducts three milestone courses that are designed to prepare promising officers for each phase of their careers. The apex course is the Leaders in Administration Programme (LAP) which prepares senior public officers for top leadership positions and which allows participants to examine the national strategies Singapore adopts and to evaluate them. The second milestone course is the Senior Management Programme (SMP) which is a five-week intensive training course meant for preparing talented mid-career officers for future leadership positions. Emphasis is placed on analysis of public policy and management issues as well as knowledge of regional issues. SMP was developed based on similar mid-career programmes in Hong Kong (Senior Staff Course), USA (Leadership for Democratic Society), and Canada (Career Advancement Programme) The third milestone course – called the Foundation Course – is meant to be an induction course for newly-recruited Administrative Service officers. It is designed to orient new staff members into the fundamental processes and structure of the organization/service, and to offer them an opportunity to be familiar with what is expected from the job.

The company internship scheme for public sector officials deserves special mention here. Under this plan sponsored by the American pharmaceutical firm Merck Sharp & Dohme, and administered by the Economic Development Board (EDB), public servants of any rank can work in the private sector for up to six months to pick up skills in cutting-edge technologies and best management practices. The programme was started in July 1998 with a grant of US$150,000 donated by Merck Sharp & Dohme. It is anticipated that up to four public sector officials will be supported each year until 2001. Finally, the Scenario Planning Training Workshops are conducted jointly by the Scenario Planning Office and IPD to train public officers in the methodology and tools of scenario planning. Together with Global Business Network, a US company specializing in scenario planning, the Government provides training in this area to participants from both the public and private sectors.

Interestingly, since 1998 when the Asian economic crisis was most severe, the new series of training programmes have included the following:

  1. EnREACH – stands for Excellence ‘n’ Results through Awareness and Change; the programme aims to enhance the abilities of the public servants to meet the increasing expectations of the present and future. Specific courses include one on the self-actualizing public servant and one on managing relations with others at work. The programme is meant for staff members in Divisions II and III of the Civil Service.
  2. SIX (a programme of six steps to individual excellence) – designed to meet similar objectives as EnREACH but meant for public servants in the lowest division.
  3. Lifeskills series – designed to help the individual officer come up with a development plan which encompasses various facets of personal life: work, family, health, and finances. Courses include workshop on Emotional Intelligence, early financial planning for retirement, etc.

In 1999, the Government introduced the National Education Seminars (for public officers) and various modules on performance management. The modules are meant for supervisors who would like to enhance their ability to manage performance of their subordinates and address performance issues effectively. This is a very useful programme as there has been much devolution of personnel management in the SPS. But no description of the type of training in the SPS is complete without mention of CREST (Critical Enabling Skills Training) which has now tended to be regarded as a core programme in the public sector. There are seven modules in CREST: (1) learning to learn, (2) literacy, (3) listening and oral communication, (4) problem solving and creativity, (5) personal effectiveness, (6) group effectiveness, and (7) organizational effectiveness and leadership. It is quite clear that at the higher end of the organizational hierarchy the latter modules tend to be more suitable. In that sense CREST seeks to bring into its fold the training domain of several hierarchies. Training on the modules within CREST is provided not only by public sector service providers but also by outsiders (such as British Council).

Value For Money (VFM)

Figure 2.
The Value for Money Analytical Framework
The Value for Money Analytical Framework

Source: author.

A useful way of looking at the training environment in the SPS is to employ the Value for Money (VFM) analytical framework. For this, focus is placed on three measures (the so-called Three-Es) – economy, efficiency, and effectiveness – complemented by a feedback provision. Employing the systems perspective of analysis (see Figure 2), it is clear that in order to gauge the Three-Es of the general training environment, there is need to dwell upon the inputs, process, and outputs perspectives as well. Despite the fact that there is a very real problem of measurability of the outputs of the SPS, several variables can still be identified that can act as proxies for specific measures of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Measures of Economy (Inputs)

Table 2
Selected Measures of Economy in Training and HRD
FY 1996/97 Fl 1997/98 FY 1998/99
Operating expenditure on manpower development S$2,588,444 S$6,268,690 (revised) S$5,863,760 (est.)
Budget for Training and Dev. Programme S$10.12 million S$13.23 million S$9.37 million

Source: various budget reports of the Government of Singapore

As is evident in Table 2, the expenditure for manpower development has increased over the years with the exception that in 1998/99, due to the economic crisis, there was some reduction in the allocation. As for the budget for the Training and Development Programme, the rise in resources from 1996/97 to 1997/98 was not reflected in 1998/99. But while the economic crisis was a plausible explanation, the lower allocated figure for 1998/99 is largely due to the introduction of inter-departmental charging with effect from October 1997 wherein the allocation for IPAM and IPD has been distributed to individual user Ministries.

At the departmental level, each branch receives a yearly amount of training fund based on the composition of its officers (i.e., the number of officers in Divisions I to IV). This works out to be approximately S$300-S$400 per officer per year (although some agencies, such as the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board, report more than that). With this amount of money, most staff members get to attend about two courses at IPAM in a year. In some departments within ministries, aside from this training fund, there could be others (such as a Local Training Fund) which usually do not really amount to much but the money is used for courses outside IPAM.

As for other measures of economy and inputs, middle-level managers in certain public sector organizations take a test called Assessment of Managerial Proficiency (AMP) to find out areas in which they are weak and for which they need further training. The AMP enables the managers to find out their weaknesses in areas such as supervision, performance appraisal, counseling, etc. The AMP thus serves to make the inputs to training more relevant. IPAM also has in its roster over 200 high-quality trainers all of whom have extensive professional experience in various areas of management and public and private sector service (Civil Service College, 2000). This number has increased steadily over the years to account for the increase in the acquisition rate of IPAM’ s training programmes. The trainers themselves are carefully selected and assessed for their suitability before being accepted. During the trainer’s first class, for example, an IPAM officer sits in to observe the trainer’s performance, and care is taken to ensure that well-qualified people are selected as trainers.

As for the staff members themselves, a target of 100 hours of training per staff member per year has been set. Table 3 shows the trend in number of days as training targets since 1996.

Table 3
Training targets in the Singapore Public Service
Fiscal Year % of available working time No. of training hours per year No. of training days per year
1996/1997 2 40 5.0
1997/1998 3 60 7.5
1998/1999 4 80 10.0
1999/2000 5 100 12.5

source: Adapted from Public Service Division, 1997: 27.

It is relevant to note here that the 100 hours of training includes involvement in WITs, on-the-job training, and the Staff Suggestion Scheme. This is because PS21, as has been mentioned earlier, incorporates these three components related to capacity enhancement. Attainment of this 100-hour target, unlike preparation of the ITRM, is a “joint responsibility of the (particular) officer, his supervisor, and his ministry” (Public Service Division, 1999: 2).

Measures of Efficiency (Process)

Table 4
Selected Measures of Efficiency in Training and HRD
Variable Fiscal Year
(1) Operating cost per civil servant 1996: S$427.26
1997: S$245.00
1998: S$291.00 (est.)
1999: S$308.00 (proj.)
(2) Savings 1998 1997
From WITs projects S$87 mil. S$49 mil.
From staff suggestions S$73 mil. S$86 mil.
(3) Participation Rates 1997 1995
In Work Improvement Teams
(Implementation ratio)
91.53%
(0.93%)
77.0%
(0.93%)
In Staff Suggestion Schemes
(Implementation ratio)
84.2%
(0.60%)
70.4%
(0.52%)

Sources:

  1. Budget for the Financial Year, 1998/99: 513;
  2. The Straits Times, 26 October, 1999: 31;
  3. paper presented on PS21 by coordinator of PS21 Office, at NUS, 11 August 1999.

While there are rather few criteria for measuring efficiency for which regular data is readily available, it is possible to highlight several here that demonstrate how efficiency is enhanced in the training environment. To begin with, a detailed Training Needs Analysis is done annually which sets the stage for what is to be required for skills enhancement. IPAM, for its part, also tries to enhance the efficiency of its training programmes by liaising with training coordinators from ministries and statutory boards. The Partners in Training series enables IPAM to give a preview of its programmes to training coordinators in ministries and other public agencies. Another measure of efficiency is IPAM’s Deskhead system (started in 1997) in which one or two senior officers serve as focal points and as the contact persons with each ministry. This facilitates better communication and quicker response time to requests for training requirements in individual agencies.

Information technology is also used extensively as a way of efficiently providing training services. The SHINES (or Self-Help in Providing Excellent Services) system, for example, allows PSD Deskheads to respond more promptly to queries from ministries. It also enables staff members to access information on various matters (including clarification on policy matters or on solution to previous cases, etc.). In addition, IPAM has developed a Ministry Training Management System which provides public sector agencies with up-to-date on-line information on, among others, training courses, tracking TRMs, and individual training records. Finally, IPAM revamped this system in 1998 which supports the organization in more effective administration and management of courses and training information (see “Applications of Current Trends” below for further discussion on this).

For its part, the CSC asserts that it has been able to recover its costs from the income earned from its training programmes (Civil Service College, 1998: ii). Since 1998, IPAM has been operating as an autonomous agency and as such does not get any budget allocation from the Ministry of Finance. Therefore, to meet its own expenses, it must be efficient. The CSC has also moved to a new location as of mid-1999 and it is expected that with newer facilities it will provide even more efficient services. Finally, with regard to Work Improvement Teams and the Staff Suggestion Scheme, it is evident from Table 4 that they have been able to contribute measurably to enhancing efficiency in the SPS.

Measures of Effectiveness (Outputs)

Table 5. Selected Measures of Effectiveness of Training and HRD
Variable FY 1995/96 FY 1996/97 FY 1997/98 FY 1998/99
(1) No. of courses conducted by IPAM 1,118 1,164 2,000 3,500
(2) Participant satisfaction rate of courses conducted by IPAM 86% 85% 85% 90%
(3) No. of short programmes by IPD 17 30 37 (est.) 40 (proj.)
(4) No. of milestone programmes by IPD 4 2 3 (est.) 2 (proj.)

Sources: for (1) and (2), various issues of IPAM’s Training Directory; for (3) and (4) Budget for the Financial Year, 1998/99: 515.

Note: Internal statistics at IPAM show that the participation satisfaction rate is actually close to 100%. The figure of 90% is derived from a 1999 Gallup Survey of 1,200 public officers who rated the service better than fair (Civil Service College, 2000: ii). However, in the 1999 Training Directory, IPAM reported that this figure was 94% (see Civil Service College, 1999: ii).

There are very few specific measures of effectiveness for which data is gathered on a uniform and regular basis – and which are readily available to outsiders – but a fairly accurate picture can be pieced together by looking at the disparate information available. At a rather general level, the effectiveness of training programmes conducted by service providers such as IPAM has been considered to be high by its clients such as the Ministry of Environment, Elections Department, Housing and Development Board (HDB), Ministry of Health, etc. Its services have been described as being “very competitive” and there have appeared to be few problems other than the lack of a wider variety of training programmes. 94% of all Public Service respondents in a Gallup Poll in 1998 also rated IPAM’s training services as good, very good, or excellent (Civil Service College, 1999: ii). In addition, 96% of all training participants at IPAM in 1998 said that its courses met their needs; 93% said that they did their jobs better as a result of the training they received; and, more importantly, more than three-quarters (78%) of the participants said that they were able to pass on their knowledge to others (Civil Service College, 2000: ii). While it would have been useful to look at the specific distribution of responses, it does show that the CSC’s training services are well-regarded by its customers. Other service providers, such as PSB, HDB, National University of Singapore (NUS), etc. also get high marks although in the case of NUS’s Executive Development Programme, the materials are generally considered to be a “a bit too theoretical”.

These observations, however, are inadequate to measure – and do not rigorously bring out – the actual level of effectiveness of training programmes. In the absence of rigorous criteria for measuring effectiveness, much focus then appears to be placed on measuring outputs (such as number of training programmes, actual number of hours of training, etc.) from which effectiveness has tended to be ascertained. For example, statistics show that there was a significant increase in number of courses offered in 1999 by IPAM, and participation in Work Improvement Teams (WITs) and the Staff Suggestion Scheme (SSS) in public sector agencies in 1998 was almost 100%. The number of public officers who have used the CSC for skills enhancement has also increased steadily over the years (20,000 public officers in 1996, 70,000 in 1998, and 92,000 in 1999; see various issues of IPAM’s annual Training Directory).

The number of hours of training per civil servant has also gone up from approximately ten in 1997 to 18 in 1998 (Public Service Division, 1998a: 33). Inasmuch as the target of 100 hours of training is concerned, the PSD reports that the number of training hours per staff in 1998 was 139 but that 29 percent of the staff members received less than the set standard (ibid: 7). This issue has to be put in its proper perspective, however. The 100 hours can be seen as an entitlement to a staff member and, just as with any entitlement, it is possible that not all of it will be utilized in any given year. Those staff members that deem their skills to be deficient for the job at hand will obviously take more hours of training and those that do not, will not. There is no penalty for non-compliance with the training target.

Many agencies now assert that the bulk of their staff members have attained and even exceeded the 100-hour target set for training. Some, such as the Public Service Division in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Housing and Development Board (HDB), claim to have exceeded this limit quite some time back. For example, it was reported that the PSD in mid-1998 had not only attained the Singapore Quality Class (SQC) status (the first ministry in Singapore to do so) but that each of its staff members had also clocked an average of 131 hours of training in 1997 (see Public Service Division, 1998c: 3). This impressive figure, however, might mask the true dynamics of the training domain in the PSD. The Division considers Work (WITs) and the Staff Suggestions Scheme (SSS) to be components of the training environment. Yet there is not much consensus among training practitioners in the professional arena that WITs and SSS should really be included in the formal training domain. But even if these two components were to be excluded in the final tally, it is quite possible that the 100-hour target would still be met. As for other agencies, research for this study showed that there appeared to be a consensus that the 100 hours of training was already met and that even if for some reason that was not the case, it could easily be so (some agencies such as the CPF Board and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) did cite problems of attaining this target for its junior staff members).

In that regard, then, it is important to point out that the 100 hours of training target may not be attainable for some public officers for various reasons. For instance, they may be too preoccupied with work at the time that the training programme they identified in their ITRM is offered; or there may be a budget constraint for some whose choice of training programme is expensive even when offered by the more affordable IPAM; or some specific areas of skills required (such as estate management) may not be offered by affordable service providers such as IPAM and could be very expensive outside. For reasons such as these, it is possible that some staff members have not yet reached their training targets. It also has to be noted that despite the fact that IPAM has an arrangement whereby for certain courses (such as the National Education Seminar) it can use its own Development Fund to assist ministries and departments (but not necessarily the statutory boards) to charge almost 50% less than the stated fees, several courses (such as those under the Managing Change series or those that are of long duration) cost significantly more than the S$300 or so that tends to be the share of a staff member. In other words, by and large, there does not appear to be a commensurate increase in funding for the increase in training target.

Still on the issue of effectiveness, there has been very little system-wide evidence gathered thus far to assess how much learning has actually taken place in the training provided, and how much of it has been applied (Singapore, however, is not alone in this regard; even many advanced countries have not been able to get around this problem; see, for example, OECD, 1992: 27). Some organizations have benchmarked Staff Suggestions Schemes as part of their policy to study good practices in private industry and in that process have improved their own performance (the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), for example, has looked at the SSS in application in five companies in the electronics industry; see Public Service Division, 1998b: 6). Others, such as the CPF Board, have a Learning Contract in place whereby staff members have to adhere to a pre- and post-training action plans which are reviewed by supervisors within one week and also within three to six months of the training being complete. While this arrangement has been in place at the CPF Board for less than a year, the tentative conclusion it has arrived at is that learning has indeed been achieved and applied in the workplace “most of the time” (interview with Ms. Irene Chan, Head of the Training and Development, CPF Board). The CSC, for its part, asserts that 78% of IPAM’s respondents in a survey conducted a couple of years back had imparted the knowledge and skills gained to their colleagues (with the figure increasing to a very respectable 88% at the superscale level; see Civil Service College, 2000: ii). Despite this, however, there has always been a problem with assessing the level of “soft skills” that trainees have acquired from the programmes. These soft skills include appropriate attitudes, mindset, and approaches to professionalism. In the absence of readily available, reliable, and continuous information sources on this issue, it is rather difficult to comprehensively assess the effectiveness of the training programmes.

The Feedback System

The training environment in the Singapore Public Service is also characterized by a feedback system that enables the service providers (primarily IPAM) to take stock of their programmes and assess how they can reorient and restructure their services. In the Housing and Development Board (HDB), for example, there is systematic monitoring and evaluation done of its training programmes. Known as the HDB Training Track, it seeks to facilitate the application of classroom learning at the workplace by focusing on three sequentially-related activities starting from a specification of learning objectives prior to training, then specification of application goals after training, and finally follow-up to the training received. The follow-up focuses on issues such as delivery, application, etc. There is also implicit in the Deskhead system a feedback mechanism. The Deskheads not only liaise with their respective ministries in discerning training needs but also act as a feedback channel between the customers and the service provider (i.e., IPAM).

At a different level, most of the feedback to IPAM and others comes from the responses/comments made by the training participants themselves who complete a feedback form at the end of each course. Public officers can also air their views in the Annual Customer Perception Survey conducted by the CSC or through their training coordinators or directors of personnel. Trainers too are solicited by IPAM to give regular feedback on the programmes they have conducted. Feedback is also given by the Scenario Planning Oflice in the Prime Minister’s Office as well as by a feedback committee of permanent secretaries as to which particular areas IPAM and others might want to develop training programmes in. Finally, there is also in place a forum for discussion with the directors of personnel of ministries.

As a result of the feedback given to IPAM, last year the Institute conducted a strategic review of its training programmes and renewed its focus on pre- and post-training activities including a 360-degree evaluation of the training programmes and the trainers themselves. This evaluation process consists of a manager or a trainer being assessed by the supervisor (90-degree evaluation), by peers (180-degree evaluation), and by subordinates (360-degree evaluation). Drawing from this review, starting this year, IPAM has added a special feature of a 360-degree Leadership and Management Development Profile in its Senior Officer Milestone Programme. Interestingly, the Civil Service Consulting Group has also now focused on a module on 360-degree assessment in the people development component of its consultancy services (see Civil Service College, 2000: xv).

Application of the Current Trends

There is finally a need to look at how global trends in training are evident in Singapore, and also to discuss how change has been implemented in the SPS as a whole. For the first task, to recall, three major trends had been identified earlier in the study: (1) training being more demand-oriented, (2) integration of working in the organization and learning on the course, and (3) increasing involvement of learners in the customization of the training programmes.

The demand-driven nature of training programme in Singapore is encapsulated in the preparation and usage of the Individual Training Road Map (ITRM) which cues the service providers as to what specific skills enhancement requirements are being made. While the Training Directory is produced by the CSC every year, the contents of the Directory are also increasingly guided by what demands the Public Service officers are making through their ITRMs. The CSC has come to accept this in the implementation of its own work (Civil Service College, 1999: ii). Regarding integration of working in the organization with learning on the course, because training was not much emphasized in the initial years of the SPS, early capacity enhancement measures were more or less entirely restricted to on-the-job training (OJT). Civil service training was “mostly informal and unstructured and took on a marginal role in the career development of the officers” (Siow, 1999: 23). This, however, changed in the 1970s and 1980s when OJT was increasingly replaced by a more “learning on the course” approach. The establishment of the Staff Training Institute in 1971 enabled this shift.

Indeed, the CSC readily admits that it cannot measure rigorously the extent to which this integration (of learning on the course with application of that learning) has indeed taken place (ibid: 71). There are at present moves by the CSC to liaise with ministries to assist in the transfer of learning from the classroom to the workplace and in measuring the extent of that transfer but the results have not yet been made public. But a few agencies have made some progress towards assessing this integration. The HDB’s Training Track (discussed earlier; and of which the HDB takes great pride) can be cited as an example of this integration.

While practically all agencies claim to have focused on on-the-job training (OJT), it is important to note that this also includes participation of the staff members in the WITs and SSS. A few, such as the Board of Commissioners of Currency (BCC), on the other hand, have exceeded this confined domain of OJT. The BCC back in July 1996 obtained Certified On-the-Job Center status from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), and by the end of 1997, it reported that every department ran its own OJT programmes. It also highlighted that 80 percent of staff had undergone at least one such OJT programme (see Public Service Division, 1998c: 8). Other agencies, such as the Ministry of Health, have refined further the notion of OJT and have articulated a broader version of what this form of training encapsulates. The Ministry, for example, distinguishes OJT from on-the-job coaching by supervisors (“where a specific time slot has been set aside for the purpose of training”). It also posits that preparation of lectures or presentations by ordinary staff members (that is, not full-time trainers) can count as training (see Ministry of Health, 2000).

There is also evident an increasing involvement of learners in the customization of the training programmes. This has tended to take two forms. The first starts from preparation of the self-directed ITRM where there is considerable flexibility for staff members to simultaneously pursue training courses at varying levels and scope tailored as they are to their unique training requirements. This implies clearly that the existing arrangement does not presuppose that all public officers necessarily come classified under the four uniform categories, i.e., the four Divisions, and hence require training in distinct corresponding areas as set by the CSC. The arrangement is very flexible in design and ensures that officers are able to achieve diversified knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) at their individual pace. The use of Goal-Based Learning (GBL) has also meant that fast learners, upon obtaining the correct responses, can proceed at a faster pace.

The second form of customization is evident more at the organizational level where individual ministries, for example, scrutinize training programmes offered by IPAM and other service providers in the public and private sectors, and often ask for particular changes to be made. This form of organizational customization is also evident in training provided to participants from outside Singapore where tailor-made training programmes are quite common. It needs to be noted here that now that there is some form of market-testing by organizations demanding training, there is a greater inclination on the part of the service providers to customize programmes to induce retention of these organizations as loyal customers.

The Individual and Organizational Training Road Maps also continue to show evidence of customization of training programmes. At the Board of Commissioners of Currency (BCC), for example, Training Road Maps are drawn up for a three-year period for each staff covering the basic level to continuing levels of training. And while each staff member is to take the responsibility for developing the ITRM, the supervisor has also entered into the picture to help map out the plans. The BCC claims that the TRMs helped significanfly increase the number of training man-days from 5.0 in 1995 to 11.2 in 1997 (coming close to the mandated targets of 12 days) (see Public Service Division, 1998c: 8).

In terms of the application of current trends, mention also needs to be made of the fact that in the SPS, there is evident a strong practice of strategic human resource management (SHRM). SHRM focuses on human resources as being critical and this is also the indisputable conclusion that can be drawn from Singapore’s focus on its human resources. SHRM has change as a key component and as has been mentioned earlier, the core of the PS21 programme is also change and change management. Also evident in the application of current trends in the training domain in Singapore is the impact that programmes such as the National Education Seminar and the Community Immersion Programme have on the notion of embeddedness. The Government’s strong focus on these types of programmes speaks volumes about its commitment to make public servants aware of the context and dynamics of the public sector and their own role in society.

This discussion on the application of current trends will not be complete without taking a look at how the public sector in Singapore has so far internalized the training process and how change has been implemented. In that regard, two key trends can be cited here that are of primary relevance: (1) easier access to information and development of networked information system, and (2) standardization and usage of staff development frameworks.

Easier access to information

In early 1998, IPAM publicized its computerized Ministry Training Management System (MINTS) system which replaced its Training Module of the Central Personnel Information System (CPIS) and which was intended to provide agencies with online up-to-date information on training courses. By late 1999, however, MINTS itself had been replaced at IPAM by Training Information on System-wide Intranet (TRAISI), a networked training administration system developed by IPAM and the Ministry of Education. While different in name and scope, at a minimum, all these systems are designed to provide information on training courses offered by the Civil Service College (CSC). The information is classified by different job functions, competencies, and divisional status of staff. What it does is allow individual staff members to plan their training requirements in advance and to select for themselves preferred courses. All interested staff members are then kept on a first-come-first-served basis once they make their choice of training programme.

However, even though it is possible that TRAISI can allow for agencies to key in and maintain information on non-CSC courses, the general consensus of individual agencies is that there is a real danger that TRAISI will only duplicate what has already been developed in individual agencies. It is also believed that incorporating TRAISI in agency information system configuration may not be as cost-effective after all since it is quite possible that individual agencies will not be operating on the same platform. Thus, even though TRATSI was meant for system-wide implementation in February 2000, the date has now been pushed back to at least until mid-2000 until all these difficulties can be ironed out.

In the meantime, though, agencies have gone ahead with their own versions of information systems related to training. What systems such as these offer is the scope for easy manipulation not only by staff members but also by their supervisors in the preparation of Training Road Maps and the updates in the same once the training is complete. Hence, after a course is complete, the system records attendance, computes actual training hours, and compares this with planned hours. This facilitates an efficient implementation of the monitoring process for example on the number of training man-hours per staff member. The Ministry of Health’s Training Management System, HDB’ s and the CPF Board’s Training Info site in Lotus Notes, and the computerized training management system at the Prime Minister’s Office (Public Service Division) are just some of the more prominent examples of up-and-running systems in this sphere. Undoubtedly, then, there is a fair degree of planning to be done in these agencies once the push for implementing TRAISI becomes more manifest.

Standardization and use of staff development frameworks

The Public Service Division at the moment has instituted something known as a Staff Development Framework (SDF) to increase the level of training and staff development in ministries. The SDF is benchmarked against the People Developer Standard (PDS) of the Productivity and Standards Board (PSB) and just like the PDS, the SDF is targeted to be implemented in all ministries by the end of Fiscal Year 2002. There are several similarities between the PDS and the SDF although it is clear that the latter forms a core component of the former. A logical beginning point to analyze this symbiosis is to look at the dynamics inherent in the components and processes of the PDS (see Table 6).

Table 6
Dynamics of the Components and Process of the People Developer Standard
Components Dimensions Processes/Evidences
Other notable features of the People Developer Standard
  • Launched by PSB in December 1997, the Award is given every quarter.
  • The Award is renewed every three years to ensure currency.
  • The Singapore Government has a target that all public sector agencies will have been certified People Developers by the end of Fiscal Year 2002.
Commitment (on the part not only of the organization, i.e., corporate level, but also the manager, and the individual staff member) Involvement of:
  • organization in setting the vision and in supporting the staff development process
  • managers in translating business plans into staff development plans
  • individual staff members in developing a realistic Career Development Plan, one that will contribute to the goals of the organization
Conduct Training Needs Analysis (TNA) for all staff keeping in mind the business objectives of the organization aad the corporate planning cycle
Develop Total Training Plan (TTP) aimed at providing staff with requisite skills, and taking into account the training focus of the individual agency and the Training for Life focus of the Civil Service
Prepare and integrate Career Development Plan (CDP) with the TTP (while it is possible that either may undergo amendments in this process, it is far likelier that the CDP will be re-aligned to the TTP)
Allocation of resources for implementing staff development plans Make available financial resources and expertise (i.e., budgets for funding the programmes and staff for implementing the plans)
Implementation
  • Action taken to implement staff development plans
  • Monitoring of processes (to be differentiated with the evaluation activity evident further on down the PD process)
Communicate opportunities to all staff members, and discuss plans during quarterly work reviews and annual appraisal exercises
Implement induction programmes to ease staff into their jobs (e.g., First Day Procedures at Public Service Division)
Monitor the utilization of training places by staff
Follow-up Recognition to staff for involvement Acknowledge participation of staff in training
Supervisors conduct post-course review with staff to confirm and follow-up on the learning acquired (time frame depends but is usually within six months from completion of programme; a pre-course assignment as a benchmark is a prerequisite)
Evaluation of staff development activities vis-à-vis business objectives Managers conduct a system review to assess the suitability, and impact, of existent training programmes (the link to overall mission objectives is key here)
Improvement in entire “people development” process as a result of evaluation Organizations use feedback to improve existing programmes and plan future ones

Source: Adapted from various official publications and the Productivity and Standards Board, http://www.nsb.gov.sg/training/PeopleDeveloper/components.html, 1999.

There are at the moment slightly over 100 public and private sector organizations that have attained the PDS and earned the People Developer Award. It is not surprising though that the vast majority of them are private sector organizations and the handful of public ones that can be cited here include the Prime Minister’s Office (Public Service Division), Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA), Housing and Development Board (HDB), and the Supreme Court. There are a few that are on the verge of making an application for the same (the Ministry of Health, for one, is slated to apply in September 2000).

The SDF, for its part, consists of six of the components that are also highlighted in the PDS: Training Needs Analysis (TNA), career development, induction, communication, evaluation, and review. The TNA is used for mapping out gaps not only at the upstream organizational level (for example in business objectives) but also at the downstream and individual level (to enhance performance of a staff member). The induction component is designed to ensure that the new staff members are familiar with the existent organizational culture and values and is designed to ease them into their new jobs. Interestingly, while some agencies (such as IPAM) consider induction to be a form of training (see Civil Service College, 2000: iii), others (such as the Ministry of Health) do not (see the Ministry’s Training Logbook, 2000).

In the SDF, as in the PDS, the twin processes of evaluation and review play a significant role in the training domain. While the significance of these two processes has always been evident in the literature, very few organizations around the world have in reality been able to institutionalize them to any satisfactory degree. In the Singapore Public Service, given the ensuing target of attaining a particular level of staff development in each public agency, these two processes have received considerable attention. While “evaluation” ensures that learning objectives propounded prior to (and during) the training programmes are put into actual practice, “review” takes this process one step further and enables an organization to engage in continuous improvement in staff development systems.

The SDF then ensures that there is no wastage of resources since it places a premium on ensuring that the right training is matched to the right staff member. This is where TRAISI and all other agency-specific information system configurations come into the picture. The other corollary benefits of the SDF are then to enable a better fit between training and meeting organizational business objectives and to also motivate staff members towards better career development planning since a Training Needs Analysis is required for each staff member.

Conclusion

What is rather interesting about the Singapore public bureaucracy is that unlike others, it does not remain happy with the status quo. The question that is always asked is: “how can this be done more efficiently?” This obsession with efficiency has actually enabled Singapore to develop a world-class Public Service that has since the very beginning been at the vanguard of the country’s phenomenal success. There are various reasons for the efficiency and effectiveness of the SPS. Much has to do with the commitment shown by the leadership in putting in place a system that rewards performance and that values the worth of the human resources. The Government’s stated commitment to HRD is also matched by its actions. By and large, it has been rather evident that the Government has taken a very serious view of the need to ensure that public servants have adequate scope for capacity enhancement opportunities. Not only has the time allotted for training increased (to 100 hours now) but the budget for staff training for the SPS has also shown significant increases (in 1986, the amount was S$2.31 million which by 1994 had increased to S$5.21 million and currently could well be in the neighborhood of S$8-9 million). The amount of money spent on training for each civil servant has also shown noticeable increases (from S$33 in 1986 to S$120 in 1994 to anywhere between S$300 and S$400 now).

OECD (1992: 7) says that the recurring diagnoses of HRD programmes around the member countries show that HRD activities in the public sector can be successful if: (1) there is support from the leadership and if there is suitable location of the central agency in charge of public sector HRD, and (2) the idea of a developmental, learning organization is emphasized. On both these counts, Singapore has shown that its HRD programmes are of world quality. The PSD is located in the Prime Minister’s Office, and learning – both of the individual as well as the organizational variety – is given top priority. It has also ensured that public officials do not lose touch with what is happening on the ground, and programmes such as the Community Immersion Programme are useful vehicles to bring about that interface between the policy-makers and the general public. The focus on continuous learning also deserves mention here as a key reason why the SPS is so efficient and effective. Given that change (in processes, technology, and application of that technology) is always occurring, to stand still and rest on one’s laurels would be foolhardy. This philosophy then translates into the necessary and sufficient conditions of human resource development: it is not adequate to merely solve present needs (the necessary condition), there must also be strong focus on looking at the future (sufficient condition).

There are a few areas, however, where more attention could be directed in the realm of human resource development and training. For one, it is readily apparent that much needs to be done to more rigorously assess the extent of learning in organizations and transfer of knowledge. IPAM is getting into assessing the extent to which this has taken place as a result of its own training programmes, but by its own admission, this is on a small scale. This higher level of analysis of the impact of training programmes is very important in order to understand the totality of their embeddedness in public sector capacity enhancement.

It is also apparent that there is a mismatch between the stated commitment to more training days and the amount of money set aside per staff member per year. The S$300 or so that comes to be the share per staff member is not adequate for the person to be trained for ten days, even on IPAM courses. Given that in the Singapore Public Service participation in activities related to WITs and SSS tends to be regarded as being trained (ostensibly, on-the-job training), it is easy to see how the training targets are likely not only to be met but also exceeded (as is indeed happening in many cases). But these activities cannot normally be regarded as leading to HRD but rather more to workplace efficiencies. Hence, it can be argued that they should not technically come under the rubric of training. There is thus a need for the reformulation of this approach to training.

Finally, it is quite apparent that it would help to generate a more complete set of measures of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the training and HRD environment in the Singapore Public Service. The information – if it does exist – is not readily available to outsiders, and even within the pertinent organizations it would appear that putting more focus on a set of measures for which regular, extensive, and reliable data is collected would enable a more rigorous VFM-centered analysis. Notwithstanding these limitations, there is no doubt that Singapore has been very successful in its stated objective of shaping a capable, forward-looking, and effective public sector with focus on continuous improvement. It is this phenomenon of a strong and qualified Public Service that is widely regarded as one of the key components of good governance in Singapore and one that will play a large part in ensuring the sustained presence of the country in the global economy.

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