SINGAPORE - Small and medium-sized enterprises will get more financial support in training their employees.
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat told Parliament on Monday (March 4) that a new Productivity Solutions Grant (SkillsFuture Training Subsidy), worth up to $10,000 for each firm, can be used to cover 70 per cent of out-of-pocket training expenses.
This means that, coupled with existing SkillsFuture course fee subsidies of up to 90 per cent, the cost of sending an employee for a training course with a fee of $2,000, for instance, can cost an SME just $60.
Mr Chee also announced a series of measures to uplift the training ecosystem, from making it cheaper and easier for providers to meet standards, to even exporting their courses overseas.
But even as he described training and skills upgrading as "critical elements" of transforming a business for the future economy, he urged employers to recognise and reward workers as they climb the skills ladder.
"I urge employers to recognise and support skills-based hiring," he said.
Already, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), the agency which plays a key role in skills training, has rolled out Skills Frameworks across 27 sectors which set out career pathways and the existing and emerging skills required. SSG has engaged over 2,500 firms to encourage them to use these guidelines.
Responding to Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC), he highlighted that companies can use the new subsidy for training that is aligned with their industry's Skills Framework.
"I have asked MTI and MOE colleagues to keep the application process simple, so that more companies can benefit from PSG and the training subsidy," Mr Chee added.
Moves to encourage lifelong learning, which Mr Chee said "needs to be part of our cultural DNA", is already showing progress. For instance, about 465,000 Singaporeans took part in SkillsFuture programmes, and 96 per cent of SkillsFuture Credit claims were for work-related courses, he said in his reply to question from Nominated MP Lim Sun Sun on the effectiveness of SkillsFuture programmes.
"We have been tracking the progress of SkillsFuture since its launch in 2015. I am glad to report that training participation rates have increased from 35 per cent in 2015 to 48 per cent in 2018," Mr Chee said. "We are also seeing encouraging training outcomes. From a survey of 3,500 learners who attended work-related training in 2018, more than 80 per cent said they were able to perform better at work six months after the training."
A recent survey also showed that for those who were out of work, Workforce Skills Qualifications training, which focuses on work competencies and offers industry-recognised certification, increased their employment chances by up to 3.5 percentage points in the year after training.
"The same study showed that employed individuals who attended WSQ training enjoyed a real wage premium of up to 5.8 per cent on average in the year after training," Mr Chee added.
At the same time, he said that the skills ecosystem needs the active participation of higher institutions, including polytechnics and universities, where continuing education and training already forms part of their mission.
The number of work-learn programmes in the institutions, which allow students to study for a qualification and work concurrently, has increased from 15 in 2015 to 123 in 2018, benefiting over 3,500 individuals, said Mr Chee. "We will introduce more work-learn programmes with different modalities. The institutes of higher learning have also provided more SkillsFuture Series courses. Today, we have about 1,300 courses across eight emerging and priority areas."
Mr Chee also said the Nanyang Polytechnic opened the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning in July last year, to help companies improve training skills. To date, 27 companies have successfully implemented basic workplace learning systems.
In a reply to Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mr Chee said that SSG will be making some changes later this year to reduce compliance costs for training providers and make it more convenient for them to seek regulatory approvals.
First, the number of regulatory fees for private education institutions will be cut down from nine to three, with an annual cost saving of $380 to $640 for each provider.
SSG will simplify the licensing process for providers who offer both WSQ and private education programmes. It will also reduce the cost incurred by WSQ training providers in issuing e-certificates, an effort since 2014.
Mr Chee said that so far, the certificate fee has gone down from $2.60 to $1.20,. He added that SSG will further reduce this, and savings can be passed down to training providers and students.
Emphasising the need for companies to prioritise worker training, Mr Chee said: "As companies restructure and transform with technology, they should also build capabilities in their workers to help them move up the value chain.
"Transformation must be 'technology driven, people led'," he said.
"Using technology alone is not adequate if the workers are not trained to optimise these tools. If we do it well, enterprise transformation should result in higher profits for the company and higher pay for our workers - a win-win outcome."