SINGAPORE: Lifelong learning is expected to feature strongly once again in Budget 2016, as Singapore tries to raise productivity to compensate for slower growth in the workforce.
A highlight of last year's Budget was SkillsFuture and the push to encourage continuous training is set to carry on, with the Labour Movement calling on the Government to help workers re-skill and become more productive.
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has urged the Government to keep up the support for workers, through periodic reviews of the schemes under SkillsFuture. It added that it will work closely with the Government to encourage workers to make lifelong learning a part of Singapore's culture.
To help address the low productivity growth of recent years, the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), a training body initiated by NTUC, said benchmarks could be set sectorally to better reflect the different needs and challenges faced by each sector.
It also said businesses with higher productivity find it easier to attract and retain workers.
Mr Gilbert Tan, CEO of e2i, said: "To survive, you need to be able to be productive and I think if you are productive, your job becomes easier, more automated and better. Then, you’ll find it easier to attract the workforce to join your company.
“In today’s employment situation ... companies that can move into the productivity mindset of doing things are the companies that can attract the workforce, and reward the workforce accordingly."
According to SIM Global Education senior lecturer Dr Tan Khay Boon, increasing productivity takes time and the Government should help firms defray the upfront costs involved in buying machinery and sending workers for training.
He said: "It is difficult to require the employers to push for labour productivity at this juncture, because they might be more concerned with survival.
“So hopefully, there will be more assistance given to the small and medium enterprises, in terms of helping them to reduce their manpower costs so that they can first of all, secure their survival and secondly, push for further changes in their operations to enhance their labour productivity.”
As for helping workers move to growth sectors, an area highlighted by the Government is information and communications technology (ICT), where there is not enough talent to meet demand.
A senior IT professional said those without a technical background can make the switch, as the industry has many well-established training programmes in place.
Said Mr Howie Lau, president of Singapore Computer Society: "In the industry, we've seen many examples of folks from different backgrounds coming into the industry and doing well. This is because the platforms for training and platform for exposure and the job opportunities are there."
More recently, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said the infocomm industry needs to fill as many as 30,000 new positions by 2020.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver the annual Budget statement in Parliament on Mar 24. He earlier said the Government will be “particularly prudent” with this year’s Budget.