Tuesday, 10 January 2017

SkillsFuture Credit saw 126,000 users in first year (2016)

126,000 learn new skills using SkillsFuture Credit
IT courses most popular; more partners such as INSEAD to offer training under scheme
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2017

A national programme to spur Singaporeans to pick up skills and encourage lifelong learning saw more than 126,000 people using it in its first year.

They studied a wide spectrum of subjects ranging from programming and data analysis to baking bread and offering advice on wine.

In the coming months, more partners such as graduate business school INSEAD will come on board to offer courses under the SkillsFuture Credit scheme.

It was introduced last January for more than two million people, and gives Singaporeans aged 25 and older an initial $500 credit to pay for courses. The credits do not expire and will be topped up periodically, so they can be accumulated for more expensive courses.

SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) revealed in an update yesterday that 34 per cent of those who tapped the initiative last year used it more than once. About 63 per cent of the users were aged 40 and older.

Information and communications technology was the most popular training area across all age groups. Older Singaporeans tapped their credits to learn simple skills such as using basic computer functions, while younger Singaporeans enrolled for courses on emerging skills such as data analytics.

Other popular areas included languages, security and investigation, and productivity and innovation.

Hoping to equip himself with emerging skills, transport planner Zhang Weisheng used his SkillsFuture Credit on a data visualisation and communication course.

"I am quite convinced that this is an area that will be relevant in the future," he said.

The 31-year-old, now pursuing an online course in Java programming, noted that there are many courses that Singaporeans can use the credits for. "It is a small encouragement for people to go out there and upgrade themselves," he said.

One of the SkillsFuture drive's main goals is to help Singaporeans adapt and stay relevant in the face of global uncertainty.

Last October, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singaporeans should take downturns in their stride and soldier on.

He urged Singaporeans to tap SkillsFuture schemes to prepare to switch jobs or industries as the economy shifts - "to learn, unlearn and relearn things all your life".

Courses eligible for the scheme rose steadily from more than 10,000 last January to over 18,000 by December last year. These are offered by more than 700 training providers.

SSG said it will continue to identify and bring on board "high-quality training providers".

These include graduate business school INSEAD and online platforms Udacity and edX, all of which will be offering courses eligible for the SkillsFuture Credit within the next few months.

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. SkillsFuture Credit cost about $37 million last year, compared with SkillsFuture funding of about $400 million every year.

Said Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung: "SkillsFuture Credit has been a very useful tool to raise the awareness of Singaporeans to take charge of their own skills upgrading. But it is a small part of a much larger system to support lifelong learning."

National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said the SkillsFuture Credit scheme's uptake "signals that people are receptive to acquiring new skills and knowledge that could potentially help them perform better in their existing and future jobs".

Government funded nearly 1 Million training places: SkillsFuture chief
380,000 people went for courses in 2016; SkillsFuture chief says mindset change remains priority
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2017

In an effort to get Singaporeans up to speed in a world with constant disruptions, the Government funded nearly one million - 920,000 - training places last year.

This is up from 830,000 in 2015.

Some 380,000 people went for government-funded training in courses as varied as computer coding and pastry-making, up from 350,000 in 2015.

But even as more Singaporeans heeded the call to undergo skills mastery and lifelong learning, mindset change does not come easily, observed SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) chief executive Ng Cher Pong.

Have Singaporeans' attitudes towards the perennial need to master new skills really changed, he wondered in an interview with the media last Friday, where he shared an update on the progress of the national SkillsFuture movement.

"Mindset change is not easy to measure, and it certainly won't change overnight," he said. Thus, the priority going forward would be to continue finding ways to drive a mindset change among Singaporeans. "We don't want to be blindly chasing numbers... we don't want to just see numbers going up but (where) at the back of it, the mindsets haven't really changed."

Mr Ng said more details on engaging companies and individuals will be revealed in a few months' time.

SkillsFuture was launched more than two years ago, as part of a nationwide drive to encourage Singaporeans to continue upgrading their skills, regardless of where they started from. Mr Ng says he gives it a decent B grade, if numbers alone told of its progress.

Last year was a busy one for the national drive. There was the roll-out of the SkillsFuture Credit scheme, which gives every Singaporean aged 25 and older $500 credit to pay for skills courses. It was introduced last January for about 2.5 million people.

More than 126,000 people, or about 5 per cent of those eligible, used it in the scheme's first year.

Mr Ng said "there is really no rush to use it", explaining that the scheme was designed such that the credit does not expire and will be topped up at intervals. He urged Singaporeans to think carefully and not spend the credits on any course that comes to mind.

Over 500 modular courses have been introduced at polytechnics and universities. These bite-sized courses, aimed at working adults, may even be "stackable" towards qualifications such as degrees, he said.

All Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic courses are also on track to have their internship programmes enhanced by 2020. These longer and more structured internships have clear learning outcomes and better mentorship, and are part of full-time diploma courses, Nitec, or Higher Nitec courses. At the end of last year, two-thirds of about 290 polytechnic and ITE courses have enhanced their internship programmes.

Going forward, some initiatives under SkillsFuture will be tweaked, said Mr Ng.

In the second quarter of this year, a one-stop online portal will be launched to help people plan for their education and training needs.

More modular courses will be rolled out, and there will be a greater push for more workplace and online learning opportunities.

SSG will also step up advisory services to help Singaporeans navigate the myriad pathways to reach their potential. Besides these, Mr Ng said more will be done to engage individuals and firms, particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises.

Steady Progress in Implementation of SkillsFuture Credit

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