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Here’s What Savvy People Are Doing With Their SkillsFuture Benefits

Feeling uneasy about the job situation in Singapore?

It was recently reported that by government estimates, the ratio of job vacancies to unemployed people stands at 0.71. What this means — and this could be an optimistic estimate — is that there are seven jobs for every 10 persons seeking a job. In actual numbers, about 50,000 people lost their jobs or were furloughed during the last quarter, and 150,000 received pay cuts of over 25 percent.  

Since the advent of Covid-19, our government leaders have warned that Singapore’s economy will face structural changes, some industries will be permanently disrupted, and jobs will disappear. At the same time, new ways of doing things will open up new opportunities for everyone, but only if they are up to the task.

You would also have noticed the publicity blitz around the need for “upskilling.” It has been largely driven by our national SkillsFuture movement, which aims to provide Singaporeans with opportunities to develop themselves at all life stages. 

“We will never be done upskilling our people. This is especially so for workers who have left school many years ago and did not benefit from the more recent improvements in our education and training system,” said Chan Chun Sing, Singapore’s minister for trade and industry, in a national broadcast.

“Our promise is this: We will create opportunities for all Singaporeans, no matter how old you are, to improve your lives at every stage of your careers. So long as you are able and willing, we will support you. Every Singaporean, regardless of background, can have the chance to take on the new jobs being created.”

Make The Most Of Your SkillsFuture Subsidies

Even if your household has not taken a hit during this time, you may be worried about career viability, and perhaps you’ve been looking into new skills for remaining resilient in the workforce. For over-40s in particular, you will enjoy considerable government support if you decide to invest in your education — while these schemes are still in place, you may want to make full use of them.

In fact, some of our adult education subsidy schemes have been around for several years, but they are likely garnering more attention in these times. For instance, there is the SkillsFuture Mid-career Enhanced Subsidy, a scheme for Singapore citizens aged 40 and above that was implemented in 2015. Under this scheme, eligible individuals will receive higher subsidies (of up to 90 percent of fees) for over 8,000 SkillsFuture Singapore-supported courses. More significantly, they are also entitled to a waiver of at least 90 percent of programme costs for MOE-subsidised full-time and part-time courses, ranging from Nitec to postgraduate programmes in the following institutions:

  • Autonomous Universities (National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore Institute of Technology, and Singapore University of Social Sciences)
  • Polytechnics
  • Institute of Technical Education
  • LASALLE College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

At these highly subsidised rates, a locally recognised part-time degree programme could cost a mid four-figure sum, depending on what you pick.

If you are interested in pursuing further education with SkillsFuture support, it can be confusing to figure out your benefits on your own. Our advice would be to write to the school, let them know your age and financial situation, ask specifically about the government funding that you might be eligible for, and get a cost estimate from them. 

Also, note that different institutions will have different application windows, for instance, you can apply now to SUSS for their January 2021 intake, but if you’re considering something at the NUS School of Continuing and Lifelong Education, applications will likely be in the later part of the year for the August 2021 intake. Look out for e-open house events, where you can hear from faculty members and ask them questions. 

If you’ve missed an application window and don’t want to wait too long to step up your learning, consider attending short-term courses that are held periodically through the year. For short courses, you can use your SkillsFuture credit to offset the costs. Hazy on the details? Here’s a summary: 

  • In 2015, every Singaporean aged 25 and above received a one-time S$500 credit. This credit does not expire, and it is claimable for a wide range of SkillsFuture-eligible courses
  • In 2020, all Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive another one-time SkillsFuture credit of S$500, which you can currently use to offset course fees at local institutes of higher learning and the NTUC LearningHub. If you’re more interested in short SkillsFuture-eligible courses, sign up for courses held on or after 1 October 2020, and you will be able to claim for those as well. 
  • In 2020, there will also be a third S$500 credit for Singaporeans aged between 40 and 60; details regarding the use of this credit have not been finalised. 
  • The 2020 credits have an expiry date — you will have up to 31 Dec 2025 to utilise the funds. 

If you are unsure about your credits, whether a course is claimable, or how to go about submitting your claims, please enquire with SkillsFuture or check with the course provider. 

One more thing to bear in mind: many others are also looking into upskilling right now, so expect stiff competition. For those thinking of pursuing their studies in a brand new field, you may want to hedge your bets by applying to both diploma and degree programmes — even if you have postgraduate qualifications — or seek advice from the school about how to better your chances of gaining entry. 

Not sure where to begin? It so happens that we’re still in the midst of SkillsFuture Month, which will run till August 16. During SkillsFuture Month, you can look forward to (mostly) virtual events that will give you more information about training opportunities for jobseekers, especially mid-careerists who have been affected by the Covid-19 economic fallout. Visit the SkillsFuture Month page to see what the featured events are, and if you are interested in any of the workshops, do sign up quickly as spaces tend to fill up fast.

Be A Strategist: Plan Your Upskilling

To get serious about upskilling, you need to prepare for a long-haul effort. And if you do enrol in a course, remember that you’re not there merely to meet classroom requirements or attain certification, but to fulfil the ultimate goal of moving into a new role and excelling at it.

First, you can browse the Skills Framework site by SkillsFuture to be better informed about your industry. Click on the page for your sector, and you’ll find information on:

  • Career pathways
  • Occupations and job roles
  • Existing and emerging skills
  • Training programmes for skills upgrading and mastery

With this information, you can think about the roles that you might want to move into, and the skills that are needed to fit those roles. You’ll also want to consider if your desired role or industry will continue to have relevance in the “future of work” — you can get some perspective by referring to resources such as the World Economic Forum’s “Jobs of Tomorrow” report, released at the beginning of this year. 

The report lists seven emerging professional clusters:

  • Data and AI
  • Engineering and Cloud Computing
  • People and Culture
  • Product Development
  • Sales, Marketing and Content
  • Care Economy
  • Green Economy 

In the report, you’ll also find predictions about emerging jobs in these sectors, and the top 10 skills that will be needed for such jobs. In particular, mathematical and technical ability will be useful in the digital age, but it will need to be paired with soft skills such as critical thinking, storytelling, and interpersonal ability to be truly relevant. If you are lacking in one or both of these aspects, this is where you can kickstart your upskilling journey. 

Still hesitant about diving straight into a course? Talk to your friends who work in industries that you’re interested in, and ask them to look over course descriptions for you and give their honest opinion. In fact, simply bringing up your interest in upskilling during casual conversations may throw up interesting facts; for instance, your friends may be connected to headhunters and they may have current information to share about the qualifications and skills that employers value. Friends may also have recommendations for cheap or free online courses that can give you a taste of what to expect — if not, you should seek out these opportunities on your own, by looking for courses designed for beginners, helmed by engaging lecturers who will capture your interest with real-world examples.

“Everybody needs to always think about their education and upskilling their career,” says a recruitment specialist, who is of the view that the mere act of pursuing education signals to an employer that you have initiative and are committed to lifelong learning. 

“And I think it becomes especially poignant at times like this when everybody is thinking about their careers, their future, and how they remain relevant in their industry.”

Need more upskilling and career advice? Sign up for free professional coaching with Workforce Singapore.

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