Many Singaporeans, including myself, had been waiting fervently for 2016. Because this is the year SkillsFuture credits would kick in.
In case you have been living under a rock since 2015 budget announcement, SkillsFuture is "a national movement to enable all Singaporeans to develop to their fullest potential throughout life." SkillsFuture will enable you to take advantage of a wide range of opportunities – to help you realise your aspirations and attain mastery of skills.
This is made possible via SkillsFuture credits which individuals could use to offset approved training courses. Study awards are also provided for "strategic growth areas" to further encourage adoption. And you have the Earn-And-Learn initiatives which the government polytechnics are playing catch up on announcing.
Excitement has been building since the announcement in February 2015. SkillsFuture appears to be the next big thing since the introduction of Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC).
Similar to PIC, the amount of monies invested in it is in the billions. From 2016 to 2020, a total of SGD5 billion would be pumped into this initiative. That is a lot of money.
SkillsFuture for mid-career professionals
Many discussions have been centered on earn-and-learn programs for diploma and ITE undergrads. We are looking at functions from accountants to information system developers to hoteliers.
That is all good. Our younger generation would need all the help they can get to navigate the unfamiliar job market. But what about the mid-career segments?
According to the labor force 2014 report by Ministry of Manpower, the number of unemployed residents from the 30 years and above is standing at 52,200. To provide some perspective, the next measured group of 15 to 29 is at 29,500.
I am unsure why they start from 15 in the first place. I would think a 20 to 29 would be a better means of comparison.
Anyway, here are the exact segments used by MOM:
15 - 29
30 - 39
40 - 49
50 & over
Specifically for the ones from 40-year-old and above (36,700 unemployed), there is a new Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy. This is similar to the pre-existing WSQ program but the funding level is raised from 70% to 90%, subject to you being 40 years old and above.
The interesting bit is it appears you could even apply this over degree and post-graduate programs. Of course, these are not exclusive to unemployed. Employed residents could also tap on them.
Although I have my reservations how many gainfully employed mid-career PMEs with taxing job roles, financial obligations to fulfill, and (some) parenting duties could afford to find time to take a full-fledged degree and diploma program.
And it seems paradoxical to even consider that path since the whole purpose of SkillsFuture is for all of us to focus on skills and not qualifications.
The 5 billion dollar question: Can it boost your employability?
I believe it can but it comes with caveats. Firstly, you CAN certainly boost your employability with the right degree.
Let's be honest here. For decades, we have been brainwashed to study hard and become a graduate. The late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew even mooted the idea of assortative mating amongst graduates to produce more intelligent offsprings.
A newly minted SkillsFuture initiative isn't going to reverse the mindset. Even some government bodies and statutory boards are still emphasising degree as the first line of requirements.
Until the day they walk the talk, it would take another generation to change the mindset of hiring managers and employers. So that means a graduate degree would still be highly appreciated, not to mention giving you a foot in the door.
Significantly, it is still the best way to future-proof yourself if you could look outside of Singapore as an employment market.
Right after GE2015, I was blasted repeated by NewZealandNow Facebook ads. If you are not aware, NewZealandNow is an initiative by the New Zealand government to attract foreign talents to work and live in New Zealand.
So I went into the site to do some research. Guess what. Just like our S Pass and EP requirements, a graduate degree is one of the key criteria.
By the time Singapore no longer holds any professional future for you (semiconductor industry anyone?), you still have a partial ticket to survive elsewhere on the globe.
Secondly, if you decide to have more control of your time you probably would be taking a course via an online course provider such as Udemy or Coursera.
These have been one of the key surprise inclusions for me. Knowing how WDA operates on WSQ, allowing courses on Udemy or Coursera seems to run against their philosophy on WSQ programs.
Now you do need to realise taking a course on MOOC, much as you have flexibility, is tough. I would say it's tougher than taking a traditional course.
When you are taking an MOOC from the comfort of your home, you have your TV right in front of you and smartphone one reach away.
The dropout rate of MOOC is up to 95%. I tried taking it thrice and failed to complete once.
Even for people with the discipline to complete them, do you think employers would prioritise your 20 completed Udemy courses over one single degree? I don't think so too.
That doesn't mean it's a lost cause. What you need to do AFTER taking those courses is to apply what you learned into a portfolio that you could share in the future.
For instance, I have the intention to take a Writing Comedy for Business course once I get my SkillsFuture Credits. Should this be an area I wish to go into, I would apply this newly acquired skill set by setting up a blog and start writing.
Over time the content would build up, you would get better and you have an impressive portfolio to accompany your job application. That is far more powerful than any basic degree.
Practice is the key
I shared in one of my presentations on designing your future career that any school's objective is to consistently churn out students who are the same. Everyone will be taught the same way, with the same textbooks and graduate with the same certificate.
If you could afford the course with your $500 credits, so could your next-door neighbor or annoying office colleague.
My prediction (and you read it here first) is we will see a major news article showcasing the number of disgruntled mid-career PMEs who are still unable to secure employment after taking 2 certs, 1 diploma, and a dozen of MOOCs. Because that is how many are viewing SkillsFuture -- the magic pill that will solve your employability issue.
If everyone wears a one-inch heel, it would still make us look similar next to each other even though we are one inch taller than before. When everyone has the magic pill, you can't conjure up much.
Attitude is Everything
I tried tutoring a job seeker for free a few months back. It was during a panel discussion I participated in and he was one of the few that came to the microphone to raise a question.
He has been out of job for 2 years and wasn't pleased with the situation and the lack of results from employment centers. I sympathize with him and thought it would be great if I could help him gain his foot back. He could be my best walking signboard.
Unfortunately, it didn't turn out well. He was resistant to my suggestions and made very minimal effort in making the necessary changes to his resume.
I gave him an example to amend a sentence so he could use that as an example to apply over other sentences. In the end, he only adjusted the original sentence. And this happened many times.
Einstein said, "If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, and expect different results, that's insanity."
It made me realise why he remained unemployed. If you keep using a wooden stick to break a rock, the stick would break first before the rock.
You need to CHANGE your stick to a stick of dynamite. At that point, you only need minimal effort to light the match.
SkillsFuture would only raise your employability only if you want it to. And that means post-training work and efforts to create a portfolio for yourself.
Ultimately employers hire you to solve a problem. Throwing them your stack of certificates won't be able to. Showing them how you solve a similar problem before is much more appealing to any employer.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Adrian Tan is CEO of The Resource Group, a boutique HR Consultancy that focuses on helping SMEs. Before this, he was the MD of RecruitPlus which he co-founded in 2004 and led to two HR Vendor of the Year award. He was named the HR Entrepreneur of the Year by SHRI in 2013.