Maliki Osman, senior minister of state at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, talks to African Business about how relations between the city-state and Africa can be taken to the next step.
IN A VAST INDOOR aircraft hangar, decommissioned passenger planes and camouflaged fighter jets vie for space with bulbous helicopters reminiscent of an old James Bond film.
The lavish aerospace department at Singapore's ITE College Central might appear more like a billionaire's private collection than an education facility, but is a key part of efforts to boost the vocational skills of less academic Singaporeans.
The country's education system, ranked the best in the world according to a 2015 survey by the OECD, has long provided enviable opportunities for its students. A rigorous culture of high achievement and societal expectation, added to extensive government spending, means that few young Singaporeans are unprepared for the rigours of a competitive jobs market. For those who do not go on to leading universities, technical colleges like ITE provide an alternative route offering training in everything from hairdressing to computer game design.
Yet the general excellence of the country's facilities has a downside. Too many Singaporeans are reluctant to leave the comforts of their home nation--and abandon their children's excellent prospects--to take up business opportunities abroad.
"Once they have families, they have a harder time making the decision to move because of what they perceive as the impact on children. We do have an environment conducive to children and education that works," says Maliki Osman, senior minister of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to figures from the Department of Statistics, only 212,500 Singaporeans were based overseas in 2015. That represents a gradual improvement on the 157,800 who plied their trade abroad in 2004, but pales in comparison to the 1 m Chinese estimated to be working in Africa alone. The reluctance of Singaporeans to take the plunge is a cause of concern among local businesses hoping to expand in Africa and entice their skilled employees to the continent. Osman says that the country must continue encouraging young people to seek out new experiences if Singapore is to retain its competitive edge.
"The way to go is to expose young Singaporeans to parts of the world, through things like university exchanges, so that by the time they go into the working world they are more au fait with regions, and...