Singapore Budget 2015: Every Singaporean above 25 to get $500 for a start under SkillsFuture

SINGAPORE - Every Singaporean aged 25 and above will receive an initial $500 of SkillsFuture Credit, which will be topped up at regular intervals and not expire.

The credit can be used on a range of Government-supported courses, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Budget speech on Monday.

He told Parliament that the Government is rolling out a variety of skills upgrading programmes targeted at a broad swath of Singaporeans, from students still in school to workers with more than a decade of experience.

In announcing the details of the scheme known as SkillsFuture, he emphasised the need to foster and continually renew what he called deep skills that are critical for the next stage of Singapore's economy.

"We must become a meritocracy of skills, not a hierarchy of grades earned early in life," he said.

Mr Tharman also sketched out his vision of Singaporeans taking charge of their own upgrading by making use of new and varied ways of learning such as weekend workshops and online learning. New educators and trainers, including industry practitioners, will be accredited to complement academics. 

"We must make it possible for every individual to decide on his or her own learning journey: when to go for fresh infusions of skills or knowledge, and whether it should be in specialised professional training, acquiring soft skills, or developing a new interest."

SkillsFuture will pour over $1 billion a year from now to 2020 on initiatives such as career guidance for students, enhanced internships, and subsidies for mid-career learning, among others. About $600 million a year over the last five years have already been spent on continuing education and training. 

More attention will also be paid to career development even before one enters the workforce. Polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs) will house professional career counsellors while making internships more structured for two-thirds of polytechnic courses and half of ITE courses over the next two years.

In addition, fresh graduates from polytechnics and ITEs can work and study for an industry recognised qualification at the same time.

Under the Earn and Learn programme, they are matched to suitable employers where they undergo on-the-job training.

But Mr Tharman made clear that the Government hoped to encourage workers to "learn at every age". For Singaporeans aged 40 and above, a minimum of 90 per cent of training costs for Government approved courses will be subsidised. 

For instance, a mid-career Singaporean pursuing a part-time engineering undergraduate course will pay $6,800 instead of $17,000, a reduction of 60 per cent.

The Ministry of Education will also provide multiple subsidies regardless of age for modular courses, which Mr Tharman said offers flexibility for workers balancing their families, careers and learning. 

Other funding in the form of awards are also available. Singaporeans who want to build specific skills in growing industries can apply for the SkillsFuture Study Award, which will be introduced in 2015 in phases. About 2,000 such awards will be given out annually.

About 100 SkillsFuture Fellowships a year will be awarded from 2016 to those who want to further develop their skills to an even higher level.

Lastly, industry partners are being tapped to support the SkillsFuture push. Companies will take part in the Leadership Development Initiative, where Singaporeans are groomed to take on corporate roles and responsibilities in the future.

Other collaborative efforts include sectoral manpower plans for all key industries by 2020, and a shared pool of people with specialised skills, known as SkillsFuture Mentors, which small- and medium-sized enterprises can tap on.

More details can be found at http://www.skillsfuture.sg/