Subsidies ease cost of acquiring new skills

Visitors checking out the courses available at a SkillsFuture roadshow last year.
Visitors checking out the courses available at a SkillsFuture roadshow last year. PHOTO: ST FILE

Besides busy schedules, Singaporeans cited cost as another concern when looking to pick up new skills.

Mr Jonathan Lim, who is in the food and beverage line, said: "Courses are not cheap, but the subsidies definitely help make training more affordable."

The 43-year-old, who has gone for cooking and baking courses, said there are more subsidies now than in the past, with some going towards bearing the full cost of a programme.

The Ministry of Education and SkillsFuture Singapore, for instance, offer about $400 million a year in direct training subsidies for lifelong learning, which includes the provision of modular courses.

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Mr Suresh Punjabi, director of Singapore Polytechnic's Professional and Adult Continuing Education Academy, said: "There is generous funding and subsidies, for both individuals and employers."

He said a mindset change is more important, one in which skills upgrading is widely accepted. He added: "This will then lead to a virtuous circle and funding... will be secondary."

Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said it is "not simply a matter of money, as evidenced by the low take-up rate of the SkillsFuture Credit".

 
 

Only about 5 per cent of those eligible for the government programme signed up in its first year.

Rolled out in January last year for about 2.5 million people, it is meant to spur individuals to pick up skills. It gives every Singaporean aged 25 and older $500 credit to pay for courses.

More than 126,000 Singaporeans used it in its first year. The credits do not expire and will be topped up at regular intervals.

Experts noted that skills upgrading is not a one-off venture.

National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah, whose research focuses on the economics of education, said: "While most Singaporeans are open to the idea of lifelong learning there will undoubtedly be some inertia among pockets within our society to continually upgrade their skills."

Some Singaporeans, such as sales manager Edward Wong, feel that individuals have to take some ownership by paying for part of their training.

The 31-year-old said: "Otherwise, they may become complacent and attend courses without actually wanting to learn anything."

Calvin Yang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'Subsidies ease cost of acquiring new skills'. Print Edition | Subscribe