SINGAPORE - More than 90 per cent of SkillsFuture credit claims that people have made are work-related, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday (Feb 24).
The most popular courses that people have taken are related to information and communications technology, in line with the need for workers to keep up with technological disruption and changes, he said.
In response to a question about how to guide people in finding courses that are more relevant to their work, Mr Ong acknowledged that some older Singaporeans may use their SkillsFuture credits for lifestyle-related courses like learning a language, flower arrangement or baking.
"But I think I also don't want to be too judgmental - what is 'leisure' to me may be a profession to somebody else. (It) may be a home-based business for somebody else. What to me may be a language to understand a drama series may be a work requirement for somebody else," he said.
Mr Ong, who was speaking to reporters after visiting two training sessions at NTUC LearningHub in Bras Basah, said the additional SkillsFuture top-ups announced last week will help Singaporeans to continue learning even after leaving formal education.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had said in his Budget speech last week that a one-off SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 will be given to every Singaporean aged 25 years and above, and an additional $500 will go to those aged 40 to 60, to help them move to new jobs or new roles.
The Government had earlier given a $500 SkillsFuture credit to all Singaporeans aged 25 years and above in January 2016.
Mr Ong acknowledged on Monday that individuals also need more guidance to find the courses they need the most.
"We started off with letting a thousand flowers bloom, so we have many courses, but sometimes that also causes some confusion, where an individual doesn't know where to start, or what to learn," he said, adding that the range of courses should evolve to become more targeted for workers' needs.
To that end, the SkillsFuture portal, which contains resources on industry insights, job roles and training courses, has become more personalised in its functions and users can also see how their peers have rated certain courses.
More than 100,000 Singaporeans have also attended workshops and talks under SkillsFuture Advice at community centres or clubs to find out more about skills upgrading.
In the past five to six years of work under SkillsFuture, to reshape how people view jobs, skills and learning, there is a closer relationship between the education system and the SkillsFuture movement, said Mr Ong, adding that higher learning institutions today see themselves as institutes not just for young people.
Singaporeans are also taking more ownership of their learning and identifying what skills they want to learn, he said.
Mr Ong said two key areas the Government is working on is to get employers on board with the training process, and nudging Singaporeans towards suitable courses.
A key focus for the next five to six years, he said, would be to engage anchor enterprises, or 'Queen Bee' companies that play an essential role in the next phase of the SkillsFuture movement.
These companies that are leaders in their fields can train not just their own employees but the wider industry, raising skill levels of the whole value chain, said Mr Ong.
The Government aims to help in particular mid-career workers through the additional SkillsFuture credit top-up, he added.
"This is a age group where they may have achieved a certain level of seniority in their respective careers, but at the same time (are also) subject to quite significant change due to technological disruption," he said. "So for them there is a particular acute need for them to retrain, upgrade their skills."
Emphasising the need for retraining, Mr Ong said the pace of technological change will increase. "You are going to get more automation, more technology, more use of artificial intelligence computing powers, which means more and more human tasks now can actually be done by computers and technology," he said.
"So what is left for humans are really our skills - soft skills as well as hard skills. The deeper our skills are in various domain areas, the harder it is for technology to replace what we do.
"So (SkillsFuture) continues to be a very important way for us to stay ahead of the game, raise our competitiveness and for individual Singaporeans to stay relevant, and to be inclusive in our economic strategy," he added.
Ms Angelia Tan, 48, is taking a three-day course on computer networking fundamentals at NTUC LearningHub. Besides a $15 registration fee, the course fee of $153 will be covered entirely by her SkillsFuture credit.
"The additional top-ups will be very useful. It can be tough especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to sponsor such courses, which can cost thousands of dollars at private training providers," said the general manager at a tech SME that specialises in security services for law enforcement.
"It feels good to be back in a classroom learning again and being away from the regular work routine," she added.