Singaporeans aged 25 and older are given $500 by the Government to invest in learning, in a scheme that began in January last year.
This sum in their SkillsFuture Credit account is lifelong and can be used on top of existing government subsidies to pay for approved skills-related courses.
But more than a year later, I have yet to touch my SkillsFuture Credit, largely because I did not take the time to figure out how to use it.
Most Singaporeans are probably in the same boat, as only 5 per cent of those eligible, or about 126,000 people, have used their credit in the first year of the scheme. If you are wondering how to get started, here are some tips you may find useful.
CHOOSE A SUITABLE COURSE
Look up the SkillsFuture Credit course directory at https://courses.skillsfuture.sg, which has more than 18,000 courses for you to pick from. They range from creating a mobile app to a fine arts degree.
The courses are run by educational institutes, or supported by public agencies such as the Ministry of Health and People's Association, while the Massive Open Online Courses are by providers such as Udemy and Coursera.
Information collected by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) shows the popular courses in the scheme's first year are information and communications technology, language skills, productivity and innovation, and security and investigation.
Coding is now a popular skill, and there are 437 such courses as of Thursday (May 18). These teach languages and frameworks that run the gamut from C++ and Python to AngularJS and Hadoop.
Before choosing a course, do your homework on what skills would be most useful for the pursuit or work you have in mind.
A search for "floral arrangement" courses turned up 186 options. Whittling down this list seemed daunting, but given my unpredictable work schedule, I settled for something basic that I could finish in one sitting.
Setting the "course duration" filter to a maximum of one day reduced the options to just 28. Take your schedule into account and pick something convenient in terms of timing and location. It will help prevent you from giving up half way.
With $500 to spend, should I use it all at once or save some for later? Another consideration is how much am I prepared to pay out of my own pocket?
Course fees vary greatly. As of Thursday (May 18), full course fees range from $10 for a three-hour course for seniors on basic computer or phone skills, to $184,320 for a Bachelor of Laws degree from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.
There are sliders on the left side of the directory website to filter search results according to a minimum and maximum course fee.
Contact course providers to find out if subsidies are available for the courses you are interested in. If you are taking a course related to your work, your company may be willing to chip in towards the course fees.
The Government has pledged to provide periodic top-ups of SkillsFuture Credit, but has not said whenand how much.
MAKING A CLAIM
After registering for a course with a training provider, you may submit a claim via the SkillsFuture Credit Portal to pay the fees with the credit.
Claims can be submitted as early as 60 days before the course starts, up to the start date.The credit will go to the training provider, who will collect any outstanding fees from you after offsetting the credit used.
For online courses where credit payment to training providers is not available, you can pay upfront the course fee and make a reimbursement claim within 90 days after the course starts, with supporting documents.
Detailed how-to guides for SkillsFuture Credit use can be found at www.skillsfuture.sg/credit/help.
CAN I TAKE COURSES RELATED TO MY HOBBIES AND NOT WORK?
The $500 credit can be used on all courses listed in the directory. They have been curated to ensure they "offer high-quality and industry-relevant training", SSG said. It also said the credit aims to encourage "individual ownership of skills development and lifelong learning".
In short, you are free to improve your skills in any area. For example, I found an $85 basic plumbing course at Kallang Community Club on how to deal with leaky pipes and ways to save water.
For those who want to use the credit to improve their skills for work, take courses that would deepen your skills for jobs in high demand, like those in cybersecurity, said the president of Singapore Human Resources Institute, Mr Erman Tan.
"But there is a very wide range of courses in the directory. I don't think they're intended just to enhance your paper qualifications. They're more to increase your learning appetite," he said.