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SkillsFuture top-up for mature mid-career Singaporeans, more support for ITE grads: Forward SG report

The Forward SG exercise found better respect and remuneration were needed for "hands" and "heart" jobs, as well as more recognition of varied education paths to help students fulfil their potential.

SkillsFuture top-up for mature mid-career Singaporeans, more support for ITE grads: Forward SG report

The Forward SG report noted that more can be done to better recognise "hands" and "heart" jobs. (File photo: iStock)

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  • The government will study how to help younger Institute of Technical Education (ITE) upgraders defray the costs of obtaining a diploma
  • Mature mid-career Singaporeans will receive a substantial top-up of their SkillsFuture credit to support reskilling and upskilling
  • A support scheme will be introduced for those who lose their jobs, with targeted assistance for those in lower- and middle-income groups

SINGAPORE: As the evolving Singapore Dream eschews material wants, a love for learning that goes beyond traditional markers of success must similarly cut across the classroom and workplace.

These findings from the Forward SG exercise were released on Friday (Oct 27), following over 16 months of engagements with more than 200,000 Singaporeans. The report highlighted two key shifts required for Singapore society: First, to embrace learning beyond grades; and second, to respect and reward every job. 

Among the approaches put forth to achieve these was a "substantial" SkillsFuture credit top-up for mature, mid-career Singaporeans to reskill and upskill.

At the same time, Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates will be encouraged to upgrade early to reduce the gap between their starting salaries and that of university graduates.

"Mindset shifts alone cannot effect societal change. The types of jobs in our economy, levels of job remuneration and career prospects across various industries must also be consistent with what we value," the report said.

GIVING EVERY CHILD A GOOD START

A "good start" is not about academic preparation, but "imbuing the right values and a love for learning in our children". This includes investing in preschool educators, the report highlighted.

Plans are in place to ensure 80 per cent of children have a place in a government-supported preschool by around 2025. In October last year, the Early Childhood Development Agency announced it would provide an additional 22,000 full-day preschool places with the five anchor operators. 

That same month, Minister for Social and Family Development Masogos Zulkifli said that teachers in government-supported preschools can expect their monthly salaries to increase by 10 to 30 per cent by 2024

"Special attention" will be paid to closing early developmental gaps for children from lower-income families. Preschool enrolment and attendance for these children aged three to four years old tend to be lower than the national average, the report said. 

RECOGNISE DIVERSE EDUCATION, CAREER PATHWAYS

In school, supporting more diverse pathways means "rebalancing our priorities – from narrowly focusing on academic performance and paper qualifications, to embracing wider competencies, life skills and other personal attributes", the report said. 

The frequency of school exams across all levels has been reduced to free up time and space for children to grow. Aptitude-based admissions to autonomous universities have also been broadened. 

More "customisations" to the education system are in the works. For example, streaming will be abolished and replaced by full subject-based banding from 2024. 

The government is also exploring how adaptive learning technologies, artificial intelligence and deep analytics technologies can enable further tailored curricula to individual students' needs. 

It will increase support for students with special education needs in mainstream and special education (SPED) schools, as well as in Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs). In addition to providing more resources and training for staff in mainstream schools and IHLs, the government will also strengthen the professional development of educators in SPED schools. 

In a move to broaden the definition of merit, more emphasis will be placed on "holistic education". In the Direct School Admission process, support will be increased for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But schools alone can't fully help students attain their evolving aspirations or redefine success, the report acknowledged. As such, the government will develop more partnerships between schools, such as for CCAs, to provide students with more opportunities.

Community partners and industry players are also encouraged to work with the Education Ministry and other academic institutions on education modules for students and adult learners.

UPSKILLING EARLY 

Recognition for diverse career choices entails rewarding all jobs more fairly. Existing initiatives like Workfare, the Progressive Wage Model and the local qualifying salary have helped reduce wage gaps, but the report noted that more can be done to recognise "hands" and "heart" jobs. 

These encompass professional tradespeople like electricians and plumbers, and many in the healthcare and aged care sectors. They are often not as "well regarded" as those in "head" work – the knowledge-related, white-collar roles, the report said.

New initiatives will be developed to support those who want to pursue such "hands" and "heart" careers. 

Finally, the government will also study how to help younger ITE upgraders defray the costs of obtaining a diploma to encourage them to upskill and upgrade early, and give "greater recognition" to those who do.

"When they graduate, we can also top up their Central Provident Fund (CPF) to give them a head start to purchase a home or save for their retirement," the report proposed. 

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who chaired the Forward SG exercise, in January highlighted concerns around the starting salaries and career progression for polytechnic and ITE graduates in comparison with their peers from university. The median starting salary for university graduates was about twice that of ITE graduates and one-and-a-half times that of polytechnic graduates. 

"These salary gaps can be narrowed over time if ITE graduates upgrade and refresh their skills. Many already do so by getting a diploma or more in their working years. This enables them to secure better career prospects with higher salaries," the Forward SG findings suggested. 

SKILLSFUTURE A "KEY PILLAR" 

The Forward SG engagements found that many Singaporeans did not only want to upgrade their skills, but also undertake a "significant reboot" in the middle of their careers to grab new opportunities.

However, many highlighted the barriers to doing this: "Uneven" in-house training, a lack of subsidies, having to juggle personal responsibilities and simply feeling daunted by the thought of going back to school. 

SkillsFuture will become a "key pillar of our social compact", the report said. To support mature mid-career Singaporeans, their SkillsFuture credit – which can be used to pay for courses – will get a "substantial" top-up. 

Training allowances will also be given to these Singaporeans as financial support when they take time off for full-time, long-form training. Those who already have a publicly funded diploma or higher qualification will also get more support to obtain another publicly funded diploma.

Employers must also embrace lifelong learning, such as by hiring mature mid-career applicants who have made a career switch. In doing so, they boost the company's productivity and "become more attractive to potential jobseekers", the report suggested.  

At the same time, the government will explore ways to share "reliable occupation and training data" with employers and hirers to improve job matching. 

Mr Wong, who is also the Finance Minister, had announced in his Budget speech in February that employers could soon tap on "jobs-skills integrators" to ensure better training and placement of workers in their industries.

Support scheme for those who have lost jobs

More workers may be displaced from jobs in a volatile economy despite the government's efforts, the Forward SG report noted. 

Such workers often face a dilemma between accepting a job offer immediately and holding out for something that better suits their skills. Some may rush into jobs to pay the bills and find themselves in "ill-fitting" jobs in the long run. 

To address these issues, the government will introduce a new scheme designed to support re-employment.

The scheme should "encourage workers to do their part and take personal responsibility for their careers", so they can work towards their goals and find jobs that fit their skills and experience. 

The report outlined three possible features of the scheme: 

  • Financial support that is conditional upon workers doing their part to actively search for jobs every month 
  • Targeted assistance for such workers in the lower- and middle-income groups, who are more likely to face financial pressures
  • Appropriately sized benefits, complemented by existing social assistance schemes for more vulnerable households and training allowance from SkillsFuture
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INVEST IN SINGAPOREANS, KEEP ECONOMY OPEN

Even as Singapore keeps its economy open, the government will better support Singaporeans with the potential to shine as specialists and leaders in their respective fields locally and globally.

"In particular, we would like to develop and nurture more Singaporean corporate leaders, especially for top regional roles in MNCs (multinational corporations)," the report stated. 

At the same time, the government will ensure the foreign workforce "remains complementary to Singaporeans" by continually managing the flow and calibre of foreign employees. 

This year, the Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS) was implemented for Employment Pass (EP) applicants. The points-based system evaluates the extent an EP candidate complements Singapore's workforce.

Employers are required to uphold fair employment practices and take a strong stance against discrimination in the workplace. 

"We urge Singaporeans to continue to be big-hearted and accepting of those who are different from us," the report stated.

Source: CNA/gy(cy)

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