‘Not using the SkillsFuture credits? Your own loss’

Feb 11, 2016 03.49PM |

Mr Henry Leee

by Clare Thng

ASK Mr Henry Lee how he wants to spend his SkillsFuture credits and he paints a fantastical picture. He is a photojournalist snapping covert portraits of couples at weddings; he is a traveller armed with his Lonely Planet guidebook, bargaining in a Gyeongju market in fluent Korean; a skilled technician steadily rising up the corporate ladder. 

It is fantastical because it is not happening.

Not for now, anyway. These are some of the passions that the 60-year-old hopes to pursue by taking classes using the new SkillsFuture credits, but he won’t be using the credits until he finds his way out of his personal struggles over the past five years.

The 60-year-old has suffered from a stroke twice. The first one rendered the left side of his body severely impaired. Shortly after, he was retrenched by the biomedical company he had served for a decade. Another few years down the road, his wife decided to file for a divorce.

The ex-technician is among 2.5 million Singaporeans who have just received their $500 worth of SkillsFuture credits this year. With the credits, workers aged 25 and above can take Workforce Development Authority (WDA)-approved courses ranging from dim sum-making to financial accounting. The scheme projects the idea of “adding value to what you already know” to foster a culture of lifelong learning. 

While they can be used to spur the development of professional skills, Mr Lee said he would use the credits to explore his interests instead. Interests which he previously had little time or motivation to see to. With over 10,000 courses to choose from, the possibilities are endless for the self-described outdoor enthusiast. “I’d pick up photography,” he said, touching on how he might even fashion the hobby into a second career as a photojournalist. “Or maybe a new language, like Korean? I love to travel.”

“SkillsFuture credits gives everyone opportunities. If you don’t want to take them, so be it. It’s not the Government’s loss, it’s your own loss.”

The elderly man is of the view that the older generation may favour recreational over educational courses. “You can study so much… but once people look at your age, they never get back to you again” he said, referring to how companies were reluctant to hire older employees.

And having worked in four companies since 1976, he also noted how fresh graduates were more employable than those reaching the end of their career or retirees like himself. “So we might as well use the credits for a new hobby” he paused, laughing. “Plus it’s more ‘fun under the sun’!”

When asked how he would have spent the credits if he were still employed, Mr Lee cited courses that would have been relevant towards his job as a technician.

Having said that, however, he said that one possible drawback was that employees might risk taking courses that were of no relevance to their careers. He recalled how, at the age of 20 and equipped with an O level certificate, he had actively participated in a variety of IT courses before entering the work field: “I learnt all these software courses. Microsoft Office, computing skills. Elementary to intermediate, I learnt them all.”

However, during his early years as a technician, Mr Lee faced a daunting new arsenal of job demands that required hardware skills instead of the software ones he had honed, much to his dismay. He said: “I learnt all this new stuff but… in the end, I never use,” said Mr Lee. “It’s just-” he paused for a moment, “It could be a waste of time.”

Mr Lee, however continues to extol the virtue of lifelong learning. He remains optimistic about the scheme, wishing his younger self had such a privilege. The father of one even suggested that students participate in the scheme as well. “The earlier the better! It’s good for the economy in the long run,” he added. “Everyone in Singapore progresses together.”

Mr Lee said that he would strongly encourage his 23-year-old son, who is currently doing his National Service, to utilise these credits in the future. In fact, Mr Lee’s encouragement extended to everyone who had access to the lifelong credits. “We are all Singaporeans contributing to taxes. It’s not the Government paying, it’s the taxpayer’s money,” he added.

“SkillsFuture credits gives everyone opportunities. If you don’t want to take them, so be it. It’s not the Government’s loss, it’s your own loss.”


Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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