SINGAPORE - Small and medium-sized enterprises are set to get more financial support in training their employees, starting next Monday (July 1).
The new Productivity Solutions Grant (SkillsFuture Training Subsidy), worth up to $10,000 for each firm, can be used to cover 70 per cent of out-of-pocket training expenses.
This means that, coupled with existing SkillsFuture course fee subsidies of up to 90 per cent, the cost of sending an employee for a training course with a fee of $2,000, for instance, can cost an SME just $60.
Speaking at the launch of the SkillsFuture Festival on Friday (June 28) at the National University of Singapore, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat said: "Enterprise transformation and skills training go hand in hand.
"I am heartened to know that more employers are investing in training their workers, but the progress so far has been uneven."
Mr Chee cited a trend of SMEs investing less in training compared to larger companies, which was recently highlighted by the National Wages Council.
"They employ about 70 per cent of our workforce, but make up only one-third of employer-supported training," he said.
"For our broad middle-tier of SMEs to upgrade their capabilities and enhance their competitiveness, we have to do better when it comes to worker training. Otherwise, the skills gap could become a bottleneck that limits economic competitiveness."
The enhanced Productivity Solutions Grant with the new subsidy component was first announced at the Budget debate earlier this year.
SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) said this will help companies, especially SMEs, upskill their workforce alongside efforts to improve business processes and productivity.
The firms will need to submit their training plans for evaluation and approval by SSG.
Mr Chee said SSG is also working with intermediaries - such as trade associations, banks, IT companies and accounting firms - to develop training programmes for SMEs.
"Addressing training cost is important, but it is only part of the solution. Some enterprises, especially SMEs, may need more help with selecting the appropriate set of courses for their workers," he said.
"(Intermediaries) know their SME customers well and understand their business requirements, so they can provide tailored programmes to help SMEs digitalise and raise productivity."
For example, IT company IBM is working with SSG to develop programmes in artificial intelligence for the sector, said Mr Chee.
The SkillsFuture Festival, which is in its second edition, will run for six weeks and aims to reach out to over 200,000 visitors.
Activities such as workshops and talks will be held at places such as NUS and business hubs near Westgate and Changi City Point.
The festival is an annual event to "celebrate skills mastery and the pursuit of lifelong learning", and a good opportunity to take stock of the progress made, Mr Chee added.
One positive development, he said, is that more individuals and enterprises here are recognising the importance of lifelong learning, with the national adult training participation rate increasing from 35 per cent in 2015 to 48 per cent last year.
A survey by the Manpower Ministry also found that 52 per cent of job openings for professionals, managers, executives and technicians last year did not consider academic qualifications as the main factor. This was up from 42 per cent in 2017.
Said Mr Chee: "These outcomes are encouraging for our SkillsFuture 'report card', but our journey has just begun. There are more areas we can improve in... to make lifelong learning and skills upgrading a core part of our societal DNA."