SINGAPORE: The SkillsFuture programme remains “one of the most important economic and social strategies for Singapore’s future”, said Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung on Monday (Feb 24).
Speaking to reporters at NTUC Learning Hub, Mr Ong noted that since SkillsFuture was launched five years ago, the participation rate has improved from about 30 per cent to almost 50 per cent, and that he expects it continue increasing.
“This round of SkillsFuture credit we are topping up to reinforce the message that all of us, we actually have a role to play," said Mr Ong.
On Feb 18, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in his Budget 2020 speech that all Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive a one-off S$500 SkillsFuture top-up as part of the Government’s efforts to support workers in developing new skills.
Each Singaporean aged 40 to 60 in 2020 will also receive an additional S$500 SkillsFuture credit this year. Both of these top-ups will be available for use from Oct 1 this year and will remain valid for only five years, until Dec 31, 2025.
“I think some of the biggest achievements (in the) last five, six years, is that we have synergy - more and more synergy with the education system and SkillsFuture,” said Mr Ong.
He noted that when SkillsFuture was launched in 2015, automation and the use of artificial intelligence were rising trends. These trends are still growing today.
“What is left for humans (are) our skills, soft skills as well as hard skills. The deeper our skills are in our various domain areas, the harder it is for technology to replace what we do.
“This continues to be a very important way for us to stay ahead of the game, raise our competitiveness and for individual Singaporeans to stay relevant and to be inclusive in our economic strategy,” said Mr Ong.
Mr Ong said the next step for the SkillsFuture programme is to achieve synergy with companies’ efforts.
In his Budget speech, Mr Heng had said that the Government aims to train sectors and value chain partners of up to 40 large anchor enterprises.
“Anchor enterprises are supported by many SMEs (small and medium enterprises). By helping raise the skills of workers in these SMEs, the entire supply chain benefits,” he had said.
Adding to this, Mr Ong said: “Essentially (these are) companies that are leaders in their field, that can train not just for themselves, raise the skills level not just for their own employees, but also for the entire industry, for the whole value chain.
"I think they can play a very important role in the next phase of the SkillsFuture journey.”
Mr Ong was observing SkillsFuture classes that were being carried out at the NTUC Learning Hub, together with Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat.
Mr Chee also spoke to reporters, saying that this phase of Singapore's economic development “requires our enterprises to transform to improve their competitiveness and productivity”.
“We know enterprise transformation must go hand in hand with skills upgrading so we bring our workers along so that our workers can benefit from the transformation efforts,” said Mr Chee.
“My belief is that the better we can do skills upgrading, the more assurance we can give to our workers and the quicker we can transform our economy and our enterprises.”
Ms Tan Hong Pin, who is the general manager of security company Omni Integer, has used her SkillsFuture credits to take up a course on networking fundamentals.
Ms Tan said her colleagues have enrolled in SkillsFuture courses to expand their knowledge of technology systems in order to better support their customers and offices.
The company's productivity has increased by about 30 per cent since its workers began taking up classes, said Ms Tan.
“Before SkillsFuture, we used our own money or the company sponsored the courses. It could cost thousands of dollars, courses like these are not cheap to begin with,” said the 48-year-old, who has worked in the security industry for the last 20 years.
“But with SkillsFuture, we have a lot of additional (credits) to play with, so with the additional S$500, because I qualify (for the additional credits), I can take about three to four courses this year alone.”
When asked about those who spent their SkillsFuture credit on leisure-based activities, Mr Ong urged people not to be "too judgmental".
“What is leisure to me may be a profession or a home-based business for somebody else. What to me may be a language to understand a drama series may be a work requirement for somebody else. So I won’t want to prejudge,” he said.