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Fund set for S$200m boost to help workers learn new skills in universities

SINGAPORE — An education and training fund could potentially get a S$200 million boost to help mid-career workers pick up new skills in universities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the May Day Rally at Downtown East on Sunday (May 1).

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SINGAPORE — An education and training fund could potentially get a S$200 million boost to help mid-career workers pick up new skills in universities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the May Day Rally at Downtown East on Sunday (May 1).

Under the NTUC-Education and Training Fund, the Government will match S$3 — by up to S$150 million — for every S$1 that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) raises. 

The kitty will be used to generate subsidies for skills-upgrading courses tailored for working adults provided by Institutes of Higher Learning partners, starting with the Nanyang Technological University. 

The initiative is an extension of what the NTUC has been doing with the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education. 

Noting that Singapore, like all countries, faces deep and structural changes brought on by globalisation and technology, Mr Lee said the only way to overcome these challenges is to transform the economy so that good jobs continue to be created, and provide opportunities for workers who are vulnerable to the rapid changes to upgrade themselves.

And workers, particularly those who are at risk of losing their old jobs, must play their part by seizing opportunities to stay relevant for the future economy, he stressed.

“We are going all out to help all workers to upgrade (and) uplift (themselves) ... (to) get new jobs,” said Mr Lee, citing a new scheme to defray the cost of hiring retrenched mid-career workers as an example. “What is necessary (is for) individual workers to help yourselves.”

Mr Lee also urged employers to be “open-minded” about giving a chance  to workers who are in-between jobs, or in the process of picking up skills specific to the industry or company. Companies should also help their existing workers upgrade themselves to benefit their business, he added.

Stressing that the Government’s focus has been on keeping people employed, Mr Lee debunked calls for unemployment insurance, which he said was an “evergreen” topic raised during parliamentary sessions.

In contrast to such schemes, which require workers to fork out a portion of their salaries so that they get subsidies when they are out of work, the Government extends support to workers by paying for measures to help them “get a job, upgrade yourself and make yourself more valuable”.

Mr Lee also said that against the backdrop of changing industries and jobs, the shape of Singapore’s workforce is also changing — the proportion of professionals, managers and executives (PMETs)  is going to rise from the current 54 per cent to two-thirds by 2030.

Unionists and leaders of professional associations interviewed said it is a still a work-in-progress for workers, particularly mature PMETs, to adapt to the concept of re-training and acquiring new skills.

President of Chemical Industries Employees’ Union Effendy Mohd Shariff, whose company will be retrenching 77 workers across all ranks in a year’s time, noted that it is challenging to push workers, particularly PMETs, to even take a short course.

This is because they are used to having job security after having stayed in the same company for many years and certain mindsets have already been entrenched, he noted.

Mr Joseph Kwok, president of Financial Planning Association of Singapore, added that older workers are less prepared to switch industries or pick up new skills.

“They thought that they got this job for the rest of their lives ... so now we need to help these PMEs to transit to new areas of the financial industries,” said Mr Kwok, who said his members can tap the new training fund to pick up programming courses, for instance, to widen their repertoire of skills.

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