Speeches/Interviews

March 04, 2020

MOE FY2020 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Senior Minister of State for Education, Chee Hong Tat

Learn for Life – Ready for the Future: Charting the Next Bound of SkillsFuture

Introduction

1. Mr Chairman, we started the SkillsFuture movement five years ago.

2. The vision was to provide opportunities for all Singaporeans to develop skills mastery in different areas, and fulfil our fullest potential regardless of our starting points in life.

3. This is what SkillsFuture is about – an inclusive and empowering national movement to enable all Singaporeans to chart our learning journeys. It starts from our schools, where we lay the foundation and passion for learning. This is followed by continuing education, when students graduate and join the workforce. Constantly learning, re-learning, and even unlearning. And this continues after we retire, as part of active ageing.

4. Like the inspiring story that Mr Murali Pillai shared, learning is a never-ending endeavour.

5. And as Ms Denise Phua has rightly pointed out, lifelong learning is a key focus for MOE.

6. SkillsFuture provides the foundations to grow our economy, transform our enterprises, upskill our workers and create good jobs for Singaporeans.

7. It also enriches our lives, as we learn new skills and discover new experiences.

8. It is an essential pillar for building a society which is both pro-enterprise and pro-worker, and where multiple pathways lead to multiple peaks of excellence.

Skillsfuture – Progress and Achievements

9. We had three goals for the initial phase of SkillsFuture:

  • To engender a shift in societal culture towards lifelong learning.
  • To provide greater support for individuals to initiate and take ownership of their learning.
  • To strengthen Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) as the third pillar of our Continuing Education and Training (CET) ecosystem, complementing employers and private training providers.

10. We have made good progress so far. About 500,000 individuals and 14,000 enterprises have benefitted from SkillsFuture initiatives. Many were able to perform their work better after training, and earned higher wages.

11. I agree with Mr Gan Thiam Poh on the need for quality control and risk management.

12. We will continue to ensure the quality of our education and training ecosystem to support courses with clear employability outcomes, and raise the quality bar for training providers.

13. Since last year, the SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) has enhanced its capabilities to deal with fraud and abuse. It has set up a dedicated Division to focus on this area, and introduced data analytics and machine learning to detect suspicious claims, as well as more traditional methods, such as surprise checks and mystery shoppers. SSG will come down hard against errant training providers and individuals. Make no mistake; there will be zero tolerance for fraud and abuse. We will also review the legislation to further strengthen our regulatory and enforcement powers.

Strategy for the Next Bound of Skillsfuture

14. While we tackle the immediate challenges posed by COVID-19, we must remain focused on preparing Singapore for the future, and continue our push for lifelong learning and skills mastery.

15. Two years ago, Minister Ong assessed that we were about a quarter of the way there. Recently, he said we have achieved close to 50%. This is an improvement, but we are still only at the halfway mark. Advancing on the second half of our journey is what we want to achieve under the Next Bound of SkillsFuture.

16. We will continue to focus on training that equips our workers with job-relevant skills that enhance their employability. In particular, we want employers and enterprises, especially SMEs, to play a bigger role in supporting lifelong learning and to upgrade the skills of their workers.

17. At the same time, we will enhance support for individuals to initiate their own learning. This is important for Singaporeans who are self-employed, and those who want to pursue a different career or learn a new skill beyond their current industry.

18. We also want to provide more help for mid-career Singaporeans in their 40s and 50s, to give them greater support to reskill and stay employable, whether in their current jobs, or if they switch to another company or industry.

Key Initiatives in the Next Bound of Skillsfuture

19. The enhancements will be implemented under five areas.

(A) Strengthen Enterprise Pillar of Skills Ecosystem

20. First, we will strengthen our collaborations with intermediaries to help enterprises with transformation and skills training. These go hand-in-hand; the better our skills training, the more assurance we can give to our workers, and the faster we can transform our enterprises and economy. Many enterprises, especially SMEs, do not have the resources to conduct their own in-house training. We understand. This is where the partnership with intermediaries, such as trade associations, anchor enterprises and professional firms, can come in handy.

21. We will work with a group of large anchor enterprises – also known as SkillsFuture Queen Bee companies - to drive enterprise-led training. Ms Foo Mee Har and Dr Intan asked about this. These anchor enterprises are industry leaders with deep sectoral knowledge, resources and extensive business networks. One example is Singapore Power, which is working with SSG and eight SMEs in its supply chain to build workplace learning capabilities. Singapore Power aims to bring in another 40 SMEs by the end of this year, and to eventually include the rest of the sector. By having companies like Singapore Power train beyond their own needs, they can uplift the capabilities of other enterprises and other workers in the entire sector.

22. Over the next five years, we aim to partner up to 40 anchor enterprises to reach out to 4,000 companies, especially SMEs.

23. To further support their transformation efforts, SMEs can tap on the $10,000 SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit. I spoke about this yesterday at MTI's COS. SMEs can also benefit from many existing grants and subsidies to improve productivity, redesign jobs and train their workers.

24. Mr Douglas Foo asked about training of emerging and future skills. SSG has worked with the IHLs to curate the SkillsFuture Series courses focusing on such skills. There are 34 Skills Frameworks that employers can use to plan their talent pipeline for emerging and future jobs.

25. We will tap on intermediaries such as trade associations and chambers (TACs), anchor enterprises, IHLs and professional firms to provide guidance to employers on emerging skills. For example, SSG has worked with PwC Singapore and universities like INSEAD and SMU to launch a number of Masterclasses for SME business leaders. These will benefit around 100 individuals this year.

(B) Deepen Workplace Learning Capabilities Through Nace

26. Next, we will intensify efforts to help employers develop stronger workplace training capabilities.

27. The National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning - or NACE - was launched at Nanyang Polytechnic in 2018. NACE has engaged over 250 companies, of which 100 have started to implement workplace learning programmes.

28. We will expand NACE to two more IHLs over the next few years. The next one will be at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) later this year. By 2025, we aim to help over 1,200 enterprises build best practices in workplace learning and work-study capabilities.

(C) Grow Work-Study Programmes into a Mainstream Pathway

29. These efforts will complement our plans to expand the Work-Study pathway.

30. We launched the first slate of SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes in 2015, with close links to the industry. Students can apply what they learned in school to their workplaces, and bring practical experiences and problem statements from their jobs back to the classrooms. Employers welcome the programme as it helps them attract more young Singaporeans. It is a win-win arrangement.

31. About 5,500 students have benefitted from Work-Study Programmes since the launch in 2015, and about 1,400 companies have participated so far.

32. We will expand the SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes into a mainstream pathway in the Next Bound of SkillsFuture. We aim to offer this pathway to 12% of each age cohort by 2025, which translates to about 5,000 intake places, an increase from the current 3.5% or 1,600 places.

33. Work-Study Programmes are useful to prepare our students for the workforce. But applied learning is not confined to Work-Study Programmes; internships are another important avenue.

34. Mr Faisal Manap suggested having a national level framework to establish common standards in internships, and facilitate matching of students to internships. Such a framework has been in place since 2015. This was one of the recommendations by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee chaired by 2M Indranee Rajah. IHLs ensure that their students on internships are provided with structured mentorship from the participating companies, with clear learning outcomes. More than 90% of polytechnic students undergo structured credit-bearing internships in their final year of diploma studies. These cover a wide range of industries, including culinary, retail, hospitality, healthcare and early childhood education. So, it was not factually accurate for Mr Faisal Manap to say that internships are mostly for technology and finance sectors. It is broader.

35. On the matching of students to internships, a centralised model as suggested by Mr Faisal Manap may not produce better outcomes than the current approach. The way companies currently offer internships is through partnerships with our IHLs. The IHLs know their students well and what industry opportunities are needed to deepen their learning. So it is not quite the same as companies filling job vacancies through open recruitment. The two processes may appear same-same, but they are different.

(D) Enhance Support for Individuals to Pursue Lifelong Learning

36. Let me now touch on how we are empowering individuals to learn for life.

37. The SkillsFuture Credit was introduced in 2015 to bring about an important mindset change — that each of us must take charge of our personal learning journey towards skills mastery.

38. The $500 SkillsFuture Credit has been well-utilised. More than half a million Singaporeans have used their Credit. Amongst them, close to 40% have either fully used up their Credit, or are close to doing so. More than 90% of SkillsFuture Credit claims were for work-related and industry-oriented courses.

39. We will provide a top-up of $500 to the SkillsFuture Credit for every Singaporean aged 25 and above this year.

40. Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked if some workers could start using the top-up before 1 October. The SkillsFuture Credit top-up is designed to support individuals with their lifelong learning needs beyond the COVID-19 crisis. That's why the Credit is valid for five years, till 31 December 2025. The original start date was 1 January 2021, but SSG has done what it could to bring it forward to 1 October 2020, while ensuring that the top-ups are administered accurately and used appropriately. SSG will look at the possibility of allowing appeals on a case-by-case basis. For example, for those who are in between jobs and need to use the Credit for training to get a new job. For individuals who are currently employed, we would encourage their employers to provide them with the training during this period, tapping on the Absentee Payroll and training subsidies provided by SSG. The employees can then keep their SkillsFuture Credit for use later, within the five-year window.

41. Mr Png Eng Huat spoke about training support for mature freelancers, and he made reference to the Surrogate Employer Programme which Mr Patrick Tay mentioned during the Budget Debate.

42. Sir, all Singaporeans and PRs, regardless of employment status, are eligible to receive course fee subsidies for MOE and SSG-funded training courses. Those who are aged 40 and above can receive further subsidies of up to 90% under the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy. It does not matter if they are employees, self-employed or they are in between jobs. For employees who are sent for training by their companies, their employers will typically cover the post-subsidy course fees. For others, like freelancers, they will pay the 10% co-payment on their own, and they can use their SkillsFuture Credit for the out-of-pocket costs. So contrary to what Mr Png said yesterday, self-employed persons and freelancers aged 40 and above will receive up to 90% in course fee subsidy, no different from an employee. And this includes courses for freelance trainers, which Mr Png mentioned in his cut.

43. Mr Patrick Tay had raised the Surrogate Employer Programme in the context of providing a training allowance to self-employed persons while they go for training, to help them during this COVID-19 outbreak period. Yesterday, MOM announced the new Self-Employed Persons (SEP) Training Support Scheme, where all self-employed persons will be provided with a training allowance over the next three months, when they attend courses under the SkillsFuture Series and selected sector-specific training programmes. This is different from the SkillsFuture course fee subsidy I explained earlier, which is not linked to the Surrogate Employer Programme. The 90% course fee subsidy is one thing, the training allowance is another. Let's not mix up the two.

44. Sir, SkillsFuture is for all Singaporeans at every stage of our lives.

45. I agree with Ms Foo Mee Har on the need to support individuals in navigating the courses available. We will provide customised recommendations on training options through the MySkillsFuture portal, including quality and outcomes ratings of courses. And we hope this will help individuals decide which courses are more relevant and of a better quality.

46. For individuals who prefer face-to-face support, we have been working with the libraries, Community Development Councils (CDCs), the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), and People's Association (PA), to provide SkillsFuture Advice workshops to help individuals find out about different SkillsFuture initiatives and plan for their training. More than 100,000 individuals have participated in these workshops, and even more will benefit in the years ahead.

47. We are planning to expand the reach and enhance the training guidance under SkillsFuture Advice via the Career Centres, in collaboration with partners like the unions and career advisors, including private sector entities that provide such services on a commercial basis. This will supplement the assistance for individuals provided through the portal and existing SkillsFuture Advice workshops.

(E) Strengthen Career Transition Support for Mid-Career Workers

48. Finally, the Next Bound of SkillsFuture will focus on our mid-career workers in their 40s and 50s. We will help them refresh and rejuvenate their skillsets, so they can remain employable and benefit from new opportunities.

49. DPM announced a comprehensive set of measures under the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package. The other ministries – MTI, MOM, MCI – have touched on some of these initiatives yesterday.

50. MOE will work with MOM and MTI to increase capacity and placements for reskilling programmes. We will ramp up the capacity for career transition programmes at CET centres, to complement other reskilling programmes such as Professional Conversion, Place-and-Train and Tech Skills Accelerator Mid-Career Advance for ICT jobs.

51. Mr Zainal Sapari asked if these career transition programmes could be more targeted at mid-career workers. Currently, many of the reskilling programmes are Place-and-Train, where individuals are first matched with an employer before they start their training. We will add to these by expanding the career transition programmes, as suggested by Dr Lim Wee Kiak. Individuals will be trained before they receive career support services, such as advisory and placement from CET centres. There is less certainty of placement compared to Place-and-Train, but this provides greater flexibility in the eventual choice of job. It also allows us to train more individuals in industry-relevant skills to enhance their employment prospects, and offer employers a job-ready candidate at the point of placement. Both types of programmes have their usefulness and their relevance as they serve different groups of Singaporeans. They complement each other.

52. From 2020, these different reskilling programmes will collectively increase the placements of Singaporeans in their 40s and 50s. Our aim is to double the numbers in five years.

53. We will also provide an additional $500 SkillsFuture Credit (Mid-Career Support). In other words, a worker aged 40 to 60 this year will receive a total SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $1,000. If he has not used his first $500 from 2015, he will have a total amount of $1,500.

Recalibrating Skillsfuture Spending

54. In the Next Bound of SkillsFuture, we target to benefit a total of 28,000 companies and one million individuals over the next five years.

55. We will need more resources to support these enhancements.

56. Over the next five years, the Government will spend about $1.4 billion on the Next Bound of SkillsFuture. We are investing even more in SkillsFuture, compared to the first five years.

57. At the same time, we have to review our existing initiatives, and reallocate our resources across the different areas.

58. We will review course subsidy rates, together with our Enhanced Subsidy Schemes. We will continue to subsidise course fees up to 90%, with more support for courses that lead to clearer employment outcomes. This is in line with the calls from several Members.

59. Schemes that have become less relevant over time, such as the SkillsFuture Qualification Awards, will be gradually phased out.

60. We will also be making some adjustments to Absentee Payroll. The larger enterprises are currently benefiting more from this provision. We will review the rates and set a maximum amount that each company can receive, so that the funding support can be distributed to more companies.

61. We were planning to make these changes together with the enhancements under the Next Bound of SkillsFuture.

62. However, with the COVID-19 situation, we will defer these changes to a later date, and focus our efforts for now on helping businesses and workers tide through the current challenges.

63. One recent change we made was to increase the course fee subsidy to a flat-rate of 90%, and raise the Absentee Payroll rates to $10 per hour for sectors like tourism and air transport which are worse-hit by the drop in tourist arrivals. The intent is to help companies and workers during this difficult period. And as DPM said, if the situation calls for it, the Government is prepared to do more.

64. Ms Sylvia Lim asked about the appeals process for the Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA). We had discussed the usage of PSEA in this House in November last year. I thank Ms Lim for acknowledging that course quality and relevance are valid factors in deciding which programmes can qualify for PSEA usage. Ms Lim is right that PSEA monies are not subsidies per se, but they comprise mainly Government top-ups, which come from public funds. We have a responsibility to safeguard the interests of all account holders by upholding the quality and relevance of approved courses, to guide Singaporeans on which courses would produce better outcomes for them. But I understand Ms Lim's point in the case of her resident, due to his unfortunate family situation. I will share her feedback with MOE colleagues to see how we can improve the appeals process for handling exceptional cases.

(In Mandarin) Key Initiatives in Next Bound of Skillsfuture

65. Sir, please allow me to do a quick summary of the above in Mandarin.

65. '技能创前程计划'是推动新加坡继续发展的关键政策。它支持技能培训与终身学习,帮助企业转型和提升竞争力。在过去五年里,我们取得良好的进展。接下来,'技能创前程'将进入下一个阶段。

[SkillsFuture will continue to be a critical enabler for Singapore's next phase of development. It supports skills training and lifelong learning, which go hand-in-hand with workforce and enterprise transformation. We have made good progress with SkillsFuture in the past five years, and we plan to take it into the next bound.]

66. 新阶段的一个重点项目,是加大力度,支持国人投入终身学习。今年25岁或以上的新加坡公民可获得'技能创前程培训补助' 500 元津贴。有效期是五年。

[One of the key initiatives under The Next Bound of SkillsFuture is to enhance support for individuals to pursue lifelong learning through a SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 for every Singaporean aged 25 and above this year. This will be valid for five years.]

67. 此外,四十到六十岁的新加坡公民可以获得额外500元津贴,帮助他们提升技能, 加强他们的职场竞争力。同样的,有效期也是五年。所以,四十到六十岁的新加坡公民,今年总共可以获得1,000元的津贴。

[On top of this, mid-career workers between 40 and 60 years old will receive an additional SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 for them to reskill, upskill and access placement opportunities. Likewise, this will be valid for five years. That means Singaporeans who are in their 40s and 50s can receive a total of $1,000 this year in SkillsFuture Credit top-up.]

68. 我们也将把'技能创前程工读计划'发展为主流的学习管道。每年,百分之十二的学生能参与这项计划。这将让雇主受惠,也给学生提供更多学习的管道与选择。

[We will also be growing the Work-Study Programmes into a mainstream pathway. Every year, 12% of students will be eligible to join the Work-Study Programmes. This will allow employers to benefit, in addition to providing more pathways and options for students.]

Expanding Ihl Pathways to Support Lifelong Learning

69. Mr Chairman, the Ministry of Education is committed to building a strong foundation for our students in schools, offering quality education at the IHLs and lifelong learning thereafter.

70. Minister and Second Minister covered the initiatives in schools earlier.

71. Our IHLs have similarly embraced the spirit of recognising aptitudes, skills and experience over qualifications, and translated this philosophy into their admissions policies, enhancing porosity across the different pathways.

72. First, for A-Level students who do not progress to the AUs, we will help them obtain a Polytechnic Diploma within a shorter time. For a third of the polytechnic diploma courses, they will be able to graduate with a diploma in two years instead of three years.

73. Second, we will expand aptitude-based admissions at NUS, NTU and SMU. This enables more students to be considered based on non-academic aptitudes and strengths, and broadens holistic recognition of individuals beyond grades.

74. Third, we will expand pathways for working adults to enrol in full-time diploma courses, including those who have part-time Nitec, Higher Nitec or WSQ diploma qualifications. We will do so by recognising their relevant work experiences and the skills they have acquired.

75. These changes in higher education reflect the spirit of SkillsFuture to provide multiple pathways, support continuous learning and deepen our focus on skills.

76. They are part of MOE's efforts to build a continuum of education and learning opportunities for every Singaporean, starting from young, through our adult and working life, and after we retire, as part of active ageing.

77. Let us work together to build a nation of lifelong learners with a deep passion for new knowledge and skills; to grow a society that values skills mastery and recognises different peaks of excellence; and to nurture a people who are resilient and resourceful, and ready to seize the opportunities that come our way.

78. Thank you.