Training hours dip as bosses 'can't spare workers'

Workers are spending less time in training, a decline that began four years ago, according to the latest official figures. -- ST ILLUSTRATION: LEE
Workers are spending less time in training, a decline that began four years ago, according to the latest official figures. -- ST ILLUSTRATION: LEE

But more employees are getting trained, reports labour force survey

Workers are spending less time in training, a decline that began four years ago, according to the latest official figures.

But the Labour Force Survey Supplement on Training has also found that more workers are getting trained.

Almost one-third of the resident workforce, meaning Singaporeans and permanent residents, is attending structured training to improve job skills, a proportion that has been rising since 2011.

These trainees, however, spent an average of 12.2 days each on such training courses in the 12-month period ended June last year, reported the Manpower Ministry survey.

This is a drop from levels in the annual period ended June 2010, when average training days peaked at 17.1. The figure fell to 15.9 days in 2011 and 13.9 days in 2012.

Employers interviewed blame the labour crunch for the slide, saying they cannot spare employees for long periods away from work.

The situation at furniture systems manufacturer Ewins is typical of many small and medium-sized enterprises.

While more employees are being trained, it can no longer send them away for a week at a time, said its marketing director, Mr Mark Yong. They now look for shorter two-day or two half-day courses, he said.

It is a similar situation at the Tung Lok restaurant chain. A 16-week English course it ran in 2012 was reduced to four weeks this year, said the group's executive chairman, Mr Andrew Tjioe, who is also president of the Restaurant Association of Singapore.

With the tight labour situation in the food and beverage sector, long courses also aggravate worker frustration because "those who are not in training have to take on the work of those who are", he added.

Some companies try to strike a balance by staggering training schedules, while others forgo courses that are less germane to the employees' line of work.

Bag and shoe retailer Charles & Keith International used to send Singapore sales staff for courses on Microsoft Excel and understanding profit and loss.

Now, they attend an induction programme and mainly sales training, said its executive director, Mr Fong Shee Beng.

This year, he hopes to find courses employees can attend before or after work hours.

To meet the new demand, training providers NTUC LearningHub and Kaplan are offering online modules to supplement classroom learning. Kaplan is also breaking up courses into shorter segments which can be held at the premises of its clients.

The Singapore Workforce Development Agency is also fixing the duration of courses to suit labour-short employers "without compromising the quality of training", said Mr Kenneth Wong, spokesman for the national training body.

For example, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the retail sector can opt to have at least 70 per cent of training conducted on their premises, and while employees are actually working.

But some companies, like Orchard Hotel, give their staff more coaching to arm them with skills to help in other departments when needed.

It is a "chicken and egg" problem, noted general manager Tony Foo of precision engineering company Microcast.

"In this tight labour market, we need employees to do work. But if we procrastinate and do not send them for training, it will be worse next time because they would not be productive," he said.

joseow@sph.com.sg

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