Monday, 10 October 2016

SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy: Over 52,000 get help to upgrade skills

SkillsFuture subsidy aids those aged 40 and above to improve skills in mid-career
By Olivia Ho, The Sunday Times, 9 Oct 2016

Mr Zulkifli Baba, 48, has been a senior technician for more than 15 years, but at the back of his mind was always the worry that the rapidly changing economy would render him no longer relevant.

"Technology keeps changing, skills keep getting higher," he said. "I knew I needed to remain an asset to my company to keep my job."

When the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy was rolled out in October last year, he leapt at the chance to upgrade himself for a lower cost.

The scheme gives mid-career Singaporean workers aged 40 and above higher subsidies when they take courses to upgrade their job skills. They will have fees subsidised by up to 90 per cent for over 8,000 courses approved by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), the agency overseeing the national movement to promote lifelong learning.

More than 52,000 Singaporeans have used the subsidy since it was rolled out a year ago, said SSG chief executive Ng Cher Pong.

Speaking to reporters yesterday at a SkillsFuture roadshow at Waterway Point mall in Punggol, he said the scheme has become ever more relevant during this period because of the labour market slowdown.

He said: "As the economy restructures and businesses face uncertain times, it is even more pressing for individuals to be equipped with the right skills - not just for their current jobs, but for jobs in the future."

The recent labour market report for the second quarter shows that the overall unemployment rate rose from 1.9 per cent in March to 2.1 per cent in June.

There is also a lower rate of re-entry into employment, while the number of job seekers have exceeded the number of vacancies for the first time since June 2012.

Mr Zulkifli spent about $300 on a leadership and people management skills course by Mendaki Sense, the training arm of self-help group Mendaki. Without subsidies from SSG and Mendaki, he would have had to pay $4,032.

"If there was no subsidy, I would have had to think twice," said the father of four. "I'm the only person working in my family and money would be tight."

Another worker who used the mid-career subsidy was Ms Gloria Loh, 44, a senior supervisor at a baby product retail store. Ms Loh, who took a specialist diploma in retail management with the support of her employer, said the course made her more confident in her job. "Nowadays in the news, we are always hearing of retrenchments here, retrenchments there. I told myself, I should get better skills. Nobody can help me but myself."

$22.5m in SkillsFuture Credit tapped
Many Singaporeans yet to use scheme to pick up skills; more than 16,000 courses on list
By Calvin Yang, The Sunday Times, 16 Oct 2016

From providing advice on wine to developing mobile apps, there is a wide range of courses that Singaporeans can sign up for under a government scheme to encourage them to pick up skills.

For the first eight months of this year, more than 80,000 people have signed up for the initiative, which gives Singaporeans aged 25 and older an initial $500 credit to pay for skills courses.

In all, they have used about $22.5 million under the SkillsFuture Credit scheme introduced in January for more than two million people.

While most Singaporeans have yet to use their credits, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) told The Sunday Times this is "an encouraging number for a start".

"We encourage Singaporeans not to rush as it is important for them to understand and learn about their skills and training needs and use their credit to achieve their skills training and career goals," it said. About 62 per cent of those who have used their credits are 40 and older.

The five popular areas of training are information and communications, security and investigation, personal development, food and beverage, and language skills.

The credits do not expire and will be topped up at various intervals, so they can be accumulated for more expensive courses.

SSG said "no decisions have been made yet on the timing and quantum of the next top-up".

Nonetheless, the SkillsFuture Credit scheme's uptake has grown in the past few months.

In Parliament in April, Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said over 18,000 people had utilised the credit in the first three months of this year, using about $5.2 million. Experts said the latest figure, while modest, is promising.

National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said only a small proportion of Singaporeans have tapped the scheme, as the credits have no expiry date. "There is, therefore, no urgency to use them. People might be taking a wait-and-see attitude, anticipating that the list of courses offered will only increase with time," he added.

The list of courses eligible for SkillsFuture Credit has expanded at a staggering pace. Today, there are over 16,000 courses, about 6,000 more than in January. They range from floral arrangement to business analytics.

Dr Seah said Singaporeans may be waiting for the right time - when they go through "a change in employment or a change in job scope" - before using their credits for courses. "This way, the skills they acquire can be more targeted."

The SkillsFuture Credit scheme is only one part of the Government's plan to get Singaporeans to think about lifelong learning. There is a plethora of initiatives under the SkillsFuture umbrella. These include the Earn and Learn scheme for fresh polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates to work and gain qualifications at the same time, and the SkillsFuture Study Awards for early and mid-career workers.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, said: "For an employee, his investment of time and effort in training will enhance his employability and lower the risk of job displacement due to obsolete skills. It is really up to the individual to see it as a necessity, and his own responsibility to ensure that his skills are still relevant to his job and to keep him employable."

80,000 improve job skills or explore new interests
By Calvin Yang, The Sunday Times, 16 Oct 2016

Some have tapped it to upgrade their job skills; others have used it to try out new interests.

More than 80,000 Singaporeans aged 25 and older utilised the SkillsFuture Credit from January to August this year.

Mr Lee Hock Seng, a security officer at the Indian Heritage Centre, took advantage of it to enrol in a Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications security training course at Temasek Polytechnic in January.

"I wanted to use the credits to improve my security knowledge, which can help me in my work," he said. "I wanted to be a better security officer."

During the three-day course, Mr Lee, 70, attended practical lessons, such as hands-on training and simulation exercises, which boosted his confidence at work.

He had previously spent four decades at the Ministry of Health, where he held management positions. The father of two and grandfather of four retired six years ago and went into the security line.

"I didn't want to stay at home and do nothing," he said. "I wanted to try out a different career and keep learning."

Another Singaporean, safety coordinator Tan Zhen Sheng, 35, used his credits to pay for a portion of his part-time specialist diploma in workplace safety and health, which began in January.

The 11-month course allows him to learn about safety measures and industry best practices. "It exposes me to new knowledge and helps me to maintain my competitiveness at work," he said.

The father of four young children took up the course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic to increase career advancement opportunities.

"For a family man like me, it can be quite taxing to fork out money for a course," he said.

"The credits help make such courses more affordable."

Mr Tan hopes to take up more courses in future, and also to promote the habit of lifelong learning among his children. "I hope to inculcate this value in my kids, and encourage them by setting a positive example," he said.

No comments:

Post a Comment