MOE FY2021 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Minister of State for Education Gan Siow Huang

Published Date: 03 March 2021 09:00 PM

News Speeches

Learn for Life - Equipping Ourselves for a Changing World

Mr Chairman

1. As a small country with no natural resources, Singapore's most valuable assets are our people. Hence, developing our people is a national priority, starting from early childhood, to tertiary education for our youths, and continuing education and training (CET) for adults to support their careers and aspirations.

2. Lifelong learning empowers each Singaporean to chart his or her own journey in life and gain fulfilment at work.

3. The SkillsFuture movement was started in 2014 to take lifelong learning to the next level. It creates multiple pathways for our people to upskill and reskill, either to develop mastery in their skills, or pick up new skills to start a new career path. SkillsFuture supports Singaporeans to learn for life, for lifelong employability.

Enabling Workers to Emerge Stronger from the Pandemic

4. One of the points highlighted in the Emerging Stronger Conversations is that lifelong learning is necessary to keep our workforce resilient.

5. We have built a comprehensive ecosystem of training support and skills pathways over the years. When COVID-19 struck, we were able to tap on the ecosystem to support our graduating students and workers.

6. We have taken great care to support fresh graduates from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnics and universities as they make the transition into working life. In my MOM speech just now, I spoke about the SGUnited Traineeships.

7. In addition, our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) have stepped up career facilitation assistance to the graduates, and provided free CET modules to help boost their employability. Many of our graduates have taken courses in areas such as data analytics and finance.

8. I agree with Mr Daryl David on the benefits of Work-Study Programmes. Our SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes bridge fresh graduates' transition into the workforce. Such opportunities are available at the diploma, post-diploma and degree levels, providing an applied learning pathway for our graduates to continue developing their skillsets in their chosen industry.

9. To ensure continued availability of such opportunities during this period, we have introduced wage support to employers that are participating in Place-and-Train Work-Study programmes. To support more students who are graduating this year, we will extend this measure to 31 March 2022. The companies will receive wage support of 45%, on top of the wage support under the Jobs Growth Incentive.

10. Ms Foo Mee Har highlighted the need to evolve our reskilling pathways to address job opportunities in the care, digital and green economy. This has been a key focus in our efforts to support mid-career Singaporeans whose livelihoods have been affected. We engaged key partners to provide training through the SGUnited Skills programme and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways – Company Training Programme to help job seekers move into new jobs, particularly in growth areas.

11. For the healthcare sector, one such training partner is the HMI Institute of Health Sciences (HMI Institute). As part of the SGUnited Skills programme, HMI Institute provides employment facilitation and career advisory services to its trainees.

12. Since August 2020, HMI Institute has enrolled 360 individuals, many of whom are mid-careerists, contributing towards the much-needed pipeline of manpower for our healthcare-related roles.

13. Altogether, close to 10,000 other trainees have enrolled in SGUnited Skills and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways – Company Training programmes, with the first courses having just completed in February.

14. The SGUnited Skills and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways – Company Training programmes will be extended by an additional year to 31 March 2022. This will provide continued support for Singaporeans to learn and thrive, as our jobs and workplaces change, and as businesses transform.

15. In the next phase, we will expand the capacity of in-demand courses and courses with good hiring opportunities in sectors such as Infocomm Technology (ICT) and Media, Professional Services, Healthcare and Advanced Manufacturing.

16. We will keep the duration of most courses to no more than 6 months, so that the trainees can transition to employment quickly, with the support of training partners.

17. While the pandemic has created a challenging operating environment, it also presents opportunities for employers to upskill their workers during the downtime, thereby getting them ready for new business processes.

18. We have supported employers in sending their workers for training through the Enhanced Training Support Package (ETSP). The ETSP supports eight sectors that have been more severely affected by COVID-19. About 155,000 training places have been taken up in these sectors, benefitting more than 72,000 employees across 1,300 companies. ETSP has been particularly well-utilised by the tourism and aviation sectors.

19. We will extend the ETSP to 31 December 2021. This will allow firms to send more workers for industry-relevant training to help their workforce emerge stronger post-COVID-19.

20. Due to the pandemic, a much larger proportion of training last year was delivered in a blended or online modality. Indeed, online training can provide greater convenience and reach. SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) is working with training providers to assess how this can continue to be enhanced while ensuring that the learning outcomes are met.

21. Ms Mariam Jaafar noted that while COVID-19 has limited opportunities for overseas exposure, leading global companies could be tapped to provide this in virtual formats for Singaporean workers and students. We agree and have been finding ways to do so. Some of our IHL students have been able to take on internships with overseas start-ups under the Global Innovation Alliance (Innovators Academy) programme via "remote internships". We will continue to explore how we can engage our partner companies and Queen Bees to expand such opportunities to more individuals.

Update on the Next Bound of Skillsfuture

22. Even as we tackle the near-term challenges that the pandemic has brought about, it is important that we continue to keep an eye on the future that lies beyond. We are therefore pressing on with our plans for the Next Bound of SkillsFuture, which Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about.

23. A key thrust of the Next Bound of SkillsFuture is enhancing the role of enterprises in developing their workforce. Ms Foo Mee Har has emphasised the importance of this and I fully agree.

24. We continue to help employers invest in the skills development of their workers. We have onboarded 22 SkillsFuture Queen Bees and supported more than 400 enterprises, most of which are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Queen Bee companies include private sector leading firms such as IBM and Prudential. They form business communities with enterprises to address common skills needs and co-create solutions in their sectors.

25. Ms Janet Ang asked how our IHL educators can strengthen support for our SMEs' training efforts. Today, our polytechnic lecturers do industry attachments with companies, including SMEs. We have been ramping this up to ensure that they remain in touch with industry developments. As they undergo such attachments, they could use their institutional knowledge to help bring technology solutions to enterprises and also help their host companies strengthen their training plans. So it's a win-win situation.

26. In addition, companies can benefit from consultancy services provided by the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning – or NACE for short. NACE was established in 2018 to strengthen the capabilities of companies to deliver training at the workplace. Thus far, NACE has supported about 530 companies in building workplace-based learning capabilities.

27. To support employers in pursuing enterprise and workforce transformation, we launched the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit in 2020. So far, 3,400 eligible employers have sent their workers for SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit-supportable training programmes.

28. SSG's Skills Frameworks serve as an important common reference point across training providers and employers, as they provide key information on career pathways, job roles, as well as existing and emerging skills required for the job roles in different sectors. I agree with Mr Patrick Tay that we need to encourage the adoption of the Skills Frameworks.

29. That's why I was happy when the Institution of Engineers, Singapore, (IES), established a National Engineering Career Progression Pathway, in alignment with the Skills Framework. The scheme opens a non-academic route for engineering technicians and technologists to move towards the Chartered Engineer status, hence promoting employee recognition and career development based on technical skills and work experience. IES has set a strong example of how industry associations can take the lead in building new skills-based pathways. I hope to see more associations drive such change in their respective domains.

30. Complementing the focus on enterprises is our effort to encourage individuals to take ownership of their skills development. Mr Yip Hon Weng asked for the latest statistics concerning SkillsFuture Credit usage.

31. More than 188,000 Singaporeans utilised their SkillsFuture Credit in 2020, up from about 156,000 Singaporeans in 2019.

32. The number of claims also increased by about 30% from 2019 to 2020.

33. We will continue to provide personalised guidance, in the form of SkillsFuture Advice workshops and seminars, and Skills and Training Advisory at job fairs or community events – many of which are organised by the Community Development Councils (CDCs).

34. I thank Ms Denise Phua for highlighting the lifelong learning needs of persons with disabilities. For this group, besides the common course offerings, they can also choose from 30 SkillsFuture courses customised for them, covering areas such as ICT, food and beverage and customer service. We will continue looking at how to strengthen the training ecosystem to support their needs.

35. Under the Next Bound of SkillsFuture, we will also focus on helping mid-career workers transition to new and emerging employment opportunities.

36. To this end, we have been ramping up our provision of training programmes and strengthening the partnership between SSG and Workforce Singapore (WSG) to improve employment outcomes of Train-and-Place programmes. From July to December 2020, we launched over 300 programmes, including SGUnited Skills and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways – Company Training programmes, which I mentioned earlier.

37. Looking beyond the pandemic, we expect to build on the groundwork and evolve these programmes into Career Transition Programmes. This will strengthen our slate of offerings to our mid-career workers in the steady state.

38. We constantly seek to ensure that our training programmes deliver outcomes. I thank Mr Sharael Taha for his suggestions. Our course fee subsidies are tiered, with the highest tier tied to those with work related outcomes.

Continued Investment in Skillsfuture

39. Given the tight fiscal environment, we are also mindful about how we resource the Next Bound of SkillsFuture.

40. First, we are continually reviewing existing schemes, to focus our funding on training that delivers strong employment outcomes.

41. Second, when the Enhanced Training Support Package ends this year, we will revise the absentee payroll funding to a more sustainable rate. This complements the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit that will continue beyond 2021.

42. Lastly, in line with the SkillsFuture message for individuals to pursue their own training pathway and take up industry-relevant modular courses, we will phase out the SkillsFuture Qualification Award which is tied to completion of full qualifications.

43. We will implement these changes from 1 January 2022 onwards.

Conclusion

44. I am heartened by the tenacity demonstrated by Singaporeans in the past year, from our workers to employers. As we set our sights on economic recovery, we will continue to support Singaporeans in their lifelong learning journey towards skills mastery. Through SkillsFuture, we will enable Singaporeans to strive for their goals, and emerge stronger together.

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