The SkillsFuture credits are in. Now what?

Jan 20, 2016 12.07PM |

by Kwan Jin Yao

I TURN 25 in April this year. And along with 2.5 million Singaporeans aged 25 and above, I just received my SkillsFuture Credit account activation letter from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), informing me of my account – with an opening balance of $500 in credit – to be used for training needs.

A brief letter signed off by WDA Chief Executive Ng Cher Pong emphasises that the credit “will not expire and can be used throughout [one’s] lifetime”, and the letter also comes with a glossy booklet detailing the steps for a career development plan, how others intend to use their SkillsFuture credit, as well as the assistance platforms available. Usage of the credit is a three-step process, through which Singaporeans are encouraged to first find approved courses through the online directory, then submit claims, before attending the courses.

Yet given their diverse aspirations and preferences, Singaporeans are left to decide the courses they are best suited for. Acting Education Minister for Higher Education Ong Ye Kung described the SkillsFuture initiative as one valuing what he or she already knows, and adding more value to it, but what does that actually mean for course-seeking individuals? And as a business and public policy student on track to graduate within the next two years, what are my choices?

Perhaps tracing my work experience will yield insights. And having interned in a bank and for a tech startup in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the importance of programming and coding was stressed by my colleagues, who were cognisant of technological changes in the industries. High school lessons in basic HTML and C++ have been helpful, though technology has – for instance – increased demand for interactive online databases and more complex modelling capabilities to handle big data. Even here at The Middle Ground, the crew has been experimenting with visualisation and analytic tools to report the news more innovatively.

“A complete amateur who wants to learn how to code and build stuff should start with [the programming languages] Ruby or Javascript, because the communities around these two are the largest and most active,” according to 26-year-old software engineer from PayPal, Laurence Putra Franslay, whom I spoke to. He recommends C for more serious learners, and adds that “Learning to code is beneficial not only for the building of applications, but also for problem-solving too.”

Both Ruby and Javascript courses are listed in the SkillsFuture course directory.

A friend in the National University of Singapore (NUS), fourth-year economics undergraduate Clement Wee, 24, noted that programming is the skillset which would complement training in his discipline, allowing him to run useful simulations. “Although in school we can do analysis with [statistical software package] Stata and Microsoft Excel, general programming skills and concepts are lacking,” he said.

“This is slowly changing with new modules and shifts in modular content, but these changes will not be implemented in time for my batch.”

Beyond practical abilities in academia or at the workplace, what about the soft skills? Years of volunteerism in the community and of co-curricular activities in the school may have been filled with learning opportunities, but can these experiences be built upon through formal courses?

In addition to financial literacy and management, my classmate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Fan Chi Fung, 28, would prefer to use his SkillsFuture credit on courses about reading body language, presentation skills, and neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP. “At my age,” he adds, “I need more soft skills than hard skills.”

Some of these soft skills may be perceived to be more recreational, even if they may be useful in daily routines. Baking and cooking appear to be popular options. Also my classmate at the public policy school, Shahira A. Aziz, 28, has tried nutrition courses on Coursera – an education technology company which offers massive open online courses, a number of which are available on the online directory – to prepare healthier meals for her two children.

She said: “The fact that [the SkillsFuture credit] can be used for online courses is a huge plus. Unlike in the past when I had to take courses related to my career, I now have greater ownership over the courses I want to take.”

She is interested in the psychology and language courses too.

Likewise, 24-year-old NUS economics undergraduate Tek Yong Jian said French cooking – or cooking in general – are his most likely choices. Schools such as the Asian Culinary Institute of Singapore, At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, and Shatec Institutes, and are offering certificates or diplomas in culinary arts, though they are mainly for Singaporeans who wish to pursue more long-term employment or career progression. Others looking to pick up more elementary skills can instead attend cooking lessons at the community centres or clubs, where sessions are arranged by the People’s Association.

So what now? What should I make of these options, even if they have been filtered from the over 10,000 courses in the online directory? And – as Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam penned in his foreword in the booklet which came with the account activation letter – maybe “there is no need to rush to use [one’s] SkillsFuture credit”. After all, having ascertained the importance of education and career guidance as well as the functions of career centres in Singapore, the first step should be to craft a trajectory for the future.

And no matter the ambition, it seems that decisions will continue to be pragmatic. Premised upon their careers or personal circumstances, Singaporeans like myself will spend our SkillsFuture credit to better ourselves – whether it is coding or programme, personal development, or the culinary arts – provided we have the stamina to complete courses we sign up for.

This series is in collaboration with Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA).


Featured image old-MIT-classroom by Flickr user Ryan Tyler SmithCC-BY 2.0 .

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