"Never too early or too late" to learn a new skill: DPM Tharman

SINGAPORE - It is never too early or too late in life to pick up a new skill, and Singaporeans must adopt a culture of learning throughout their lives, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

In a Facebook update on Monday morning, he cited the examples of two senior folk he met last week while on a study trip to visit community colleges in the Bay area around San Francisco in the United States.

One, a 67-year-old lawyer, was taking a course in metalworking at De Anza College in Cupertino because he "wanted to make things with his hands", Mr Tharman said.

The other, a retiree who enjoyed cooking, was enrolled in a culinary arts course at Laney College in Oakland and offered to make Mr Tharman "a better cook".

The retiree also had a fellow trainee who was a structural engineer in her 30s but wanted to switch to the restaurant trade.

Mr Tharman said he was struck by the student population of community colleges in the US, where "people of all ages enroll - and often in the same class".

"Some are fresh school leavers. Quite a few are university grads who want to pick up a practical skill to help them in their careers," he said.

"And some are at the end of their careers, just wanting to pick up a hobby."

He said Singapore must create a culture where "it's never too early or late to learn".

The Government is supporting this mindset with the SkillsFuture movement, which "will make it easy for everyone to learn whenever they wish", he added.

Singaporeans can take courses in polytechnics, Institutes of Technical Education (ITE) or universities, or through new lifelong learning institutes and other training providers.

"The courses can be short and bite-sized - a few weeks or months," added Mr Tharman. "Or modules that can be stacked up to form a longer course. And either taken online or in actual classes and labs."

Mr Tharman, the chairman of the SkillsFuture council, was in the US last week to study different and new models of continuous education and to attend International Monetary Fund meetings.