SINGAPORE - It is a supermarket with a twist. At first glance, the shelves of the gleaming white booths seem to be lined with colourful groceries.
But a closer look reveals that a paper cutout of some bok choy is in fact a brochure for an advanced course in social services. A bag of pretzels elaborates on a diploma in tourism, while a jar of pickled carrots contains information on metal scaffold erection training.
This is the SkillsFuture Marketplace, a new roadshow through which the public can find out more about how they can spend their $500 from the SkillsFuture Credit scheme to upgrade themselves.
Organised by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), the inaugural roadshow was launched on Saturday by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is chairman of the SkillsFuture Council.
At least 6,000 people are expected to attend the roadshow, which is held in the courtyard of Westgate mall in Jurong and will run for two days from 10am to 9pm each day.
Through the SkillsFuture Credit scheme, more than two million Singaporeans aged 25 years and above will get a starting credit of $500, which they can spend on a variety of Government-approved courses. They will receive the activation letters for their SkillsFuture Credit by end January, according to the WDA, which has already started sending them out in batches.
About 10,000 courses in 57 areas, including building and construction, hospitality and arts and entertainment, are available through the scheme, for which the Government has set aside more than $1 billion.
The credit, which does not expire, will be periodically topped up and can be used on top of other government subsidies.
DPM Tharman said that the scheme is unique because of its broad demographic - its users could be young people in their first job, homemakers thinking of returning to the workforce, mid-career professionals contemplating a job switch, or even retirees still keen on lifelong learning.
"It also does not matter where you start from," he added. "Whether you are a graduate or someone with a masters degree, or you started work straight after leaving school, it does not matter. SkillsFuture empowers all of us to go further, and to renew ourselves as we go through life.
"After all, no one can seriously tell what they will be doing 10 or 20 years after leaving school. What we learn when we are young is just the start of a journey of personal learning and self-renewal. We adapt to changes in the job market, and we discover new strengths in ourselves as we go through life."
He said that more courses will be added to the roster in the second half of 2016, which will include selected courses by the National Silver Academy, for example.
The roadshow is WDA's effort to raise public awareness of how to use their credit, on top of the account activation letters and step-by-step guide booklet that will be sent to all eligible Singaporeans.
Visitors are given a shopping basket which they can fill with brochures, as well as a shopping planner with a bar code, which they can scan at the various booths by training providers. At the checkout counter, they can print out a list of the courses they have indicated interest in, or e-mail it to themselves.
More roadshows are in the works for February, although the WDA was not able to confirm when and where they would be held.
Mr Bryan Tay, director of training provider DioWorks, said this weekend's roadshow provided them with "instant exposure to the public.
"It allows us to reach heartlanders, people who are just milling around in the mall and who might not otherwise realise how we can help them use their credit," he said.
DioWorks is the local partner of global online portal Udemy, which offers online video courses in a range of areas such as business development, health and fitness, and photography.
Travel agent Alice Ee, 45, came all the way to Jurong from her home in Hougang to find out more about the courses on offer. "I really wanted to learn more about SkillsFuture Credit but I had a lot of trouble finding out information online," she said. "The design is great. I like how the information for each course is indicated clearly on the back of the 'food'."
Production coordinator Zulkipli Md Khalid, 51, was browsing the shelves for courses that would prepare him for a second career - in security, for instance, or plumbing.
He said: "I've been in engineering at the same company for 25 years now, but now the economy is not so stable. If anything happens to my job, I need something to fall back on."