MPs call for more guidance and flexibility on SkillsFuture

March 5, 201510:08 am289 views
MPs call for more guidance and flexibility on SkillsFuture
MPs call for more guidance and flexibility on SkillsFuture

Singaporeans should be given more guidance in choosing what courses to enrol for under the SkillsFuture programme outlined in this year’s Budget, MPs told Parliament yesterday.

Under the SkillsFuture drive to help citizens master new areas of expertise and keep Singapore competitive, citizens aged 25 and above will get $500 in SkillsFuture Credit from next year to offset the cost of upgrading themselves.

Suggestions for the scheme, a key feature in this year’s Budget, were aplenty on the first day of the Budget debate, with 14 out of the 25 MPs who spoke addressing the new scheme.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) suggested that Singaporeans could be guided to spend their credits with “a longer-term view of their careers, rather than choose impulsively based on short-term interests”.

Nominated MP Rita Soh said that the courses should have flexible schedules so that more workers could attend them.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) called for the SkillsFuture Credits to cover more courses such as master’s programmes at local institutions.

She said: “Why not broaden the selection of courses to let Singaporeans decide for themselves (what to take)?”

But Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) was concerned that doing so might “lead to the mushrooming of different courses of widely varying merit”.

If so, workers may not get the training they need, he added.

MPs who spoke said the process of accrediting courses also had to be robust.

Dr Chia, Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and NMP Chia Yong Yong asked how the Government will ensure the quality of the courses and trainers.

Doing so will ensure that the money pumped into the SkillsFuture programme is put to good use, said Ms Chia, who called for key performance indicators to track and measureits success.

Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) said that in the long run, “the sum total (of SkillsFuture) must be good for Singapore’s workforce”.

MPs also said that for the SkillsFuture effort to truly take off, a change in the mindset of both employers and workers is critical.

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) said workers need to be motivated and take ownership of their skills upgrading.

“While the Government is providing the catalyst to drive the culture change through SkillsFuture, its success will lie in how individuals, businesses and industry play their part,” she said.

Employers should do their part to train their workers, said Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Ms Foo, who added that companies should not reduce their training budgets, but should instead step up their in-house training and give study leave to employees attending courses.

Mr Heng Chee How (Whampoa) said older workers should not be left out of this training drive.

He said companies still operate as if workers will retire at 55 or 60, and reason that there is no point investing in the training of older workers.

But Mr Heng, who is Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and a National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general, said such an assumption is flawed as older workers are much less likely to switch to other companies, compared to their younger counterparts.

There is also a need to reach out to low-wage workers to let them know how they can benefit from SkillsFuture, said Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC).

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) reminded the House that rapid technological advancement hollows out middle-skilled jobs.

“There are no other alternatives to meeting this onslaught other than constantly upgrading and sharpening our skills to remain relevant and versatile,” he said. “SkillsFuture may well be the secret weapon that we need in the new landscape.”

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