NTUC training fund for skills upgrading hits $100m mark

A total of $25 million has been raised for a National Trades Union Congress training fund to help workers upgrade their skills, said labour chief Chan Chun Sing.

As the Government will match each dollar raised by three dollars, this means the NTUC Education and Training Fund has $100 million to date. This is halfway to its $200 million target.

Investment income from the fund will be used to subsidise course fees for union members for more than 3,200 training courses, capped at $250 a year.

Mr Chan said yesterday that such skills upgrading is crucial to help workers cope with structural changes like technological disruptions, which can mean that "career transitions will become the norm".

Speaking at the May Day Rally, he said the fund will also be used to develop quicker ways of creating courses to keep workers up to date with current trends.

Today, it can take a year or more to roll out a module. This includes three to six months to figure out market demand, another three to six months to curate a syllabus, and a few months more to get workers to go for training.

But this speed at which the courses reach people is "just too slow for the new economy", said Mr Chan, who is a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

He painted a picture of workers having apps through which they could download "bite-sized" modules a day or two after an event.

Referring to mobile games, he said: "If you can imagine Pokemon Go, Candy Crush, when a new module is launched every few days, can you imagine the same kind of gamification for learning?"

NTUC will work with 14 institutes of higher learning to offer such bite-sized, modular courses.

He also stressed that NTUC must continue to reinvent itself, and unions cannot be the only way the labour movement reaches workers.

Unions are one of five prongs of the labour movement, said Mr Chan as he illustrated this strategy with a picture of a starfish with five arms. The four other groups the NTUC wants to reach are:

•Professions and professionals, managers and executives;

•Small and medium-sized firms;

•Freelancers and the self-employed; and

•Migrant workers and foreign domestic workers.

Freelancers are not recognised as employees in many other countries or entitled to enjoy the labour movement's benefits, he noted. "We do not let semantics stop us in Singapore. As long as they collect a pay cheque, we will reach them."

The NTUC has embarked on a drive to stay relevant by representing more workers and reaching a wider range of Singaporeans.

To this end, NTUC's social enterprises are exploring an integrated set of services such as healthcare and eldercare for Singaporeans from cradle to casket.

For instance, insurance provider Income and supermarket chain FairPrice can help with a baby's needs. "We want that relationship to continue as they grow up," said Mr Chan, adding that NTUC's social enterprises could also serve young children, working adults and seniors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'NTUC training fund for skills upgrading hits $100m mark'. Print Edition | Subscribe