Speech by Er. Dr. Lee Bee Wah speaking in Parliament on the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency bill on 16 Aug 2016
Mdm Speaker, I applaud the Government for setting up the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency, or SSG. This shows the Government’s commitment to helping Singaporean workers survive and thrive in a world that is changing faster than ever.
Many people may not be aware that the real wage in Singapore has grown 1.1% per year from 2011 to 2015. Meanwhile, real wages in the US have been basically stagnant over the past four decades, and in Britain and Germany, they have been stagnant over the past decade. I think we can see how that has affected their societies and politics. By contrast, Singapore has managed to protect rank-and-file workers to a certain extent, against global trends of technology displacing workers.
At the same time, we must not forget that real productivity growth was at only 0.4% per year in the same period. Wage increased 1.1%; but productivity only increased 0.4%. So, we have a way to go in our productivity drive. Given that sectors with higher productivity growth have higher real wage growth, productivity growth is key to our workers doing well in the years to come.
I have noticed an issue in our push towards continuous learning and high productivity. From the feedback from my residents, it seems like that there may be some mismatch. The courses that the residents wanted to take, are not in the list of SkillsFuture Credit courses. And the courses that are available are not those courses that they want. So, according to my residents, SkillsFuture Credits cannot be used for certain professional qualifications like Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Information System Auditor. And these are qualifications that are highly sought after in the marketplace. Perhaps, there are other professional courses that the residents wanted to take as well.
I think SSG will have to periodically review the courses offered, and include courses that Singaporeans request for if they are suitable. This will enable it to fulfill its mission of funding courses that are responsive to the needs of industry.
Another potential issue is the number of people using their SkillsFuture credits. 18,000 used their credits in the first three months of the programme, but the number could taper off as many people do not find the time or motivation to upgrade themselves. I hope the SSG will come up with a plan to reach out to Singaporeans who have not used their credits yet. SSG could remind them of their credits and offer guidance on how to use their credits.
There are also course providers who jumped onto the bandwagon, hoping to make money from the Government. According to my residents, there are course providers who hard-sell their courses at shopping centres and busy town centres.
According to one resident, he was approached by a course provider at Khatib central, so he was told, “You don’t need to pay. The Government will pay for it. At the end of the course, you will get a free iPad.” He signed up for an English course for Adults,”成人英语课程”. And he said that when he started to attend the class, the course instructor was not well-prepared and the course instructor was from another country which is predominantly Chinese-speaking. The way he puts it, “他的英语都不比我的英语好.”I hope there will be more audits on the quality of the instructors and how well prepared they are.
Please allow me to summarise in Chinese.
Some residents told me that the SkillsFuture credits cannot be used for some professional certifications, such as internal auditors or IT auditors. I hope SSG can periodically review people’s feedback, and consider adding or removing some courses. After SSG is moved to MOE, I hope it will continue to communicate with MOM on our manpower needs and promote lifelong learning to benefit Singaporeans.]
We can continue to coordinate manpower needs so as to maximise its benefits to our economy and our people. Mdm Speaker, I support the Bill.