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Why It Matters

Bold move to boost skills

On May Day, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) announced a tie-up that will offer working adults part-time university courses in areas where workers are in demand.

Apart from NTU, NTUC will be partnering other tertiary institutions to help workers, especially mid-career professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), to upgrade their skills.

NTUC will soon have $200 million more to subsidise such courses, with the Government contributing $150 million to the fund.

This is a bold move on at least four fronts.

One, if the plan is fully realised, 30,000 workers can pursue this skills upgrading path each year.

There are about 930,000 Singaporeans holding PMET jobs today. Over 10 years, the NTUC programme can potentially train about one-third of them. The sheer numbers make it one of the most important skills upgrading programmes to be rolled out in recent years.

Two, NTUC's training plan focuses on modules rather than attaining qualifications. This means workers can be trained quickly when the demand for skills changes.

Three, with NTUC's track record in getting things done and its membership heft - it has some 900,000 members and 270,000 associates and partners - it can mobilise enough workers to attend courses.

Four, the initiative gives NTUC a renewed shot at recruiting PMETs, a group it has less success in recruiting, compared with rank-and-file workers who form the bulk of union members.

But the NTUC plan might have unintended effects - it might, for instance, duplicate the government-run Workforce Skills Qualifications scheme that provides paths for workers to upgrade their skills.

Still, for workers, having more subsidised training options cannot be a bad thing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Bold move to boost skills'. Print Edition | Subscribe