Why It Matters

Vocational training push

Institutes of higher learning (IHLs), from universities to the Institute of Technical Education, now account for only 8 per cent of vocational adult learning courses. But they will soon be taking on a bigger role, with the launch of the SkillsFuture Series of subsidised courses last Saturday.

Set to cost $70 million over the next three years, the scheme will train 50,000 Singaporeans annually by 2020 in key areas of growth, such as data analytics and cyber security, through bite-sized courses.

The move signals a concerted push to get IHLs, particularly universities that have been traditionally focused on academia, to have an active and direct role in addressing economic challenges faced by Singapore in an age of disruption.

Taking up such short courses can help workers determine whether they have the aptitude for a new role in a changing industry, or if they can switch to a completely different sector in need of manpower.

Some adults might be deterred from taking up such vocational training as professional certifications may not carry the same level of prestige as a qualification like a master's degree.

Last year, only 42 per cent of the workforce went for training that was relevant to their jobs.

But since some of these new SkillsFuture Series courses can be accumulated into academic credits that allow one to get a master's degree after several courses, this can attract more professionals to take up training in sectors that need manpower.

Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung also announced that ministry funding for "purely academic" master's courses in universities could be reviewed, as more is spent on vocational training instead.

This could also be an incentive for universities to make their postgraduate programmes more relevant to industry needs.

Still, it is important that the value of such academic programmes does not get undermined at the expense of vocational training, given that they deliver intangible skill sets like critical thinking that are still valued by employers across all industries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Vocational training push'. Print Edition | Subscribe