SINGAPORE - Union members who are aged 40 and above will soon receive more support to upgrade their current skills and learn new ones.
From July 1, they can use up to $500 a year to defray up to half of the out-of-pocket expenses for course fees. Younger workers will still get $250 a year.
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) announced this enhancement for its Union Training Assistance Programme (UTAP) in a statement on Friday (June 19).
The higher funding level applies until Dec 31, 2022. It can be used on some 5,300 courses listed on the NTUC website.
NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said he is particularly concerned for workers who are 40 and over, regardless of whether they are professionals, managers and executives, or rank and file workers.
"This group is double-sandwiched: middle class and often caring for ageing parents and young children," he said.
"I understand they're anxious because they're at a higher risk of losing their jobs and once (they're) out, it's harder to get back in."
He said that he hopes the additional UTAP funding together with the efforts of NTUC's Job Security Council, which matches workers at risk of losing their jobs with other openings before they are retrenched, will give mature workers greater assurance.
UTAP complements government support for training expenses, such as the SkillsFuture Credit. All Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive a one-off $500 credit top-up this year, with an additional $500 for Singaporeans aged from 40 to 60.
NTUC noted that union members can use both their SkillsFuture Credit and UTAP funds at the same time for courses that are listed under both schemes. In such cases, the course fee will be offset using the SkillsFuture Credit first and then the member can claim up to 50 per cent of the remaining fees from UTAP.
Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his national broadcast on Wednesday that the Government is making a concerted effort to help middle-aged and mature Singaporean workers by creating opportunities, such as the chance to work at companies and public sector agencies temporarily, while they prepare for more permanent jobs.
The labour market report released by the Manpower Ministry on Monday also said that about 72 per cent of local workers who were retrenched in the first three months of this year are aged 40 and above.
Mr Gilbert Tan, chief executive of NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute, which manages UTAP, said that as Singapore's economy is likely to face a long and hard road to recovery after Covid-19, it is important to create more training and career opportunities for mid-career Singaporeans.
"We want to reach out to them now and beyond the pandemic to raise their employability through the enhanced UTAP funding support, so that they can jumpstart with relevant skills when the job market picks up again," he said.
Project manager Johnny Ng, 42, who works in the shipyard industry, used UTAP along with other support schemes to lower the cost of taking up a Project Management Professional course and certification during the circuit breaker period.
He plans to take two other courses this year, if time permits.
"At different stages of life we need different support. We can see from trends that every decade or two, our current skill sets or experience will need to evolve," he said.
"If not, we will not be able to catch up with society moving as a whole. 'Evolution' is the norm."