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'Time for targeted SkillsFuture top-ups' in Budget

Observers say criteria for recipients, courses and funding could be refined

One observer suggested that funds be allowed for classes that teach 'specific in-demand capabilities' like digital literacy.


FOUR years after the SkillsFuture campaign gave every Singaporean over 25 an initial S$500 to spend on learning, labour market watchers are again looking for a credit top-up.

But they also stress a need for what Dilys Boey of Ernst & Young called "more targeted utilisation of the training dollar" - whether it is by being more selective about the courses SkillsFuture Credit can be used on or with who gets more funds.

Amid the economic hit from the deadly coronavirus outbreak, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has already hinted at plans to enhance SkillsFuture. Outlining potential business support measures, he said on Feb 1 that the government plans to build the scheme, which was not around during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis of 2003.

Indeed, Citi analysts Kit Wei Zheng and Ang Kai Wei wrote on Tuesday that part of the Budget's virus relief package will likely focus on "protecting jobs, through wage support and training grants via SkillsFuture", given that some small businesses were struggling even before the outbreak.

Now, flagging "structural mismatch of jobs and skills" in the economy, Ms Boey, who leads EY's people advisory services in Asean, told The Business Times that funds could be earmarked "for specific in-demand capabilities, for example, in digital literacy".

As for workers who might need a hand up, Liew Li Mei, international tax leader at Deloitte, suggested granting top-up amounts based on age, with Singaporeans above 40 years old potentially getting the most.

Such a move could prompt older Singaporeans "to take ownership of their training and development to remain relevant", she said.

Meanwhile, Maybank Kim Eng senior economist Chua Hak Bin proposed that funds be given annually, compared with the original pledge of "periodic" top-ups. The allowance could also go to younger Singaporeans - and even permanent residents, "albeit with a lower credit", he said.

The National Trades Union Congress last year called on the government to dish out another S$500 in credits, but that did not come to pass.

Still, NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay, also People's Action Party MP for West Coast GRC, told BT last month that a top-up would help both employees and freelancers.

He has identified older workers, professionals, managers and executives as groups that could do with extra targeted help from the Budget.

Martijn Schouten, from the Singapore people and organisation team at PwC South East Asian Consulting, said the Republic leads the way regionally in its skills drive, with schemes such as SkillsFuture and the sectoral industry transformation maps in place.

The government could also tie up with industry groups and companies for "mass reskilling programmes" that give technical and financial help at companies facing disruption, he said.


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