$22.5m in SkillsFuture Credit tapped

Many Singaporeans yet to use scheme to pick up skills; more than 16,000 courses on list

Safety coordinator Tan Zhen Sheng (right), 35, used his $500 SkillsFuture Credit on a part-time specialist diploma in workplace safety and health at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

From providing advice on wine to developing mobile apps, there is a wide range of courses that Singaporeans can sign up for under a government scheme to encourage them to pick up skills.

For the first eight months of this year, more than 80,000 people have signed up for the initiative, which gives Singaporeans aged 25 and older an initial $500 credit to pay for skills courses.

In all, they have used about $22.5 million under the SkillsFuture Credit scheme introduced in January for more than two million people.

While most Singaporeans have yet to use their credits, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) told The Sunday Times this is "an encouraging number for a start".

"We encourage Singaporeans not to rush as it is important for them to understand and learn about their skills and training needs and use their credit to achieve their skills training and career goals," it said. About 62 per cent of those who have used their credits are 40 and older.

The five popular areas of training are information and communications, security and investigation, personal development, food and beverage, and language skills.

The credits do not expire and will be topped up at various intervals, so they can be accumulated for more expensive courses.

SSG said "no decisions have been made yet on the timing and quantum of the next top-up".

Nonetheless, the SkillsFuture Credit scheme's uptake has grown in the past few months.

In Parliament in April, Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said over 18,000 people had utilised the credit in the first three months of this year, using about $5.2 million. Experts said the latest figure, while modest, is promising.

National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said only a small proportion of Singaporeans have tapped the scheme, as the credits have no expiry date. "There is, therefore, no urgency to use them. People might be taking a wait-and-see attitude, anticipating that the list of courses offered will only increase with time," he added.

The list of courses eligible for SkillsFuture Credit has expanded at a staggering pace. Today, there are over 16,000 courses, about 6,000 more than in January. They range from floral arrangement to business analytics.

Dr Seah said Singaporeans may be waiting for the right time - when they go through "a change in employment or a change in job scope" - before using their credits for courses. "This way, the skills they acquire can be more targeted."

The SkillsFuture Credit scheme is only one part of the Government's plan to get Singaporeans to think about lifelong learning. There is a plethora of initiatives under the SkillsFuture umbrella. These include the Earn and Learn scheme for fresh polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates to work and gain qualifications at the same time, and the SkillsFuture Study Awards for early and mid-career workers.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, said: "For an employee, his investment of time and effort in training will enhance his employability and lower the risk of job displacement due to obsolete skills. It is really up to the individual to see it as a necessity, and his own responsibility to ensure that his skills are still relevant to his job and to keep him employable."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline $22.5m in SkillsFuture Credit tapped. Subscribe