Budget 2024 Comment: Skills pay bills. But who will pay for skills?

Some of my enthusiasm might be age related.

Tan Min-Wei | February 16, 2024, 11:27 PM


What S$500 course could you do that would change your career?

This was what I first wondered when I first learned about SkillsFuture in 2015.

S$500 worth of credits is not nothing, but it isn't going to be the economy changing program that the government tried to sell it as.

You can't retrain an entire workforce on S$500 a head.

Over the years that expanded to about S$1,500, a far more reasonable sum, but still somewhat lacking.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong’s 2024 budget introduces the kind of SkillsFuture I thought the program would be: a heavyweight, serious, sustained effort to change the way we approach skills and training in the workplace.

Here are the details:

S$4,000 more in SkillsFuture credit in May, to be used for selected training programmes with better employability outcomes.

Subsidies to pursue another full-time diploma at polytechnics, Institutes of Technical Education (ITE) and arts institutions from the 2025 academic year.

Monthly training allowances for selected full-time courses of up to S$3,000 a month, capped at S$3,000 a month, for up to 24 months in an individual's lifetime from age 40 or after.

S$72,000 to support S'poreans aged 40 and above to level up

There are many parts to it, but the part that jumps out at me is up to S$3,000 in the monthly training allowance.

Wong said that "this will support the full duration of a SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme, and more than half the duration of most qualifications issued by our Institutes of Higher Learning".

This represents a commitment of about S$72,000 per Singaporean at the age of 40 and above.

This is before accounting for the S$4,000 in additional SkillsFuture credits, or the resetting of subsidised rates for at polytechnics, ITE, and arts institutions.

This is for selected courses, understandably, not the wide open field the current credits allow.

Wong mentioned that the courses includes "part-time and full-time diploma, post-diploma, and undergraduate programmes, as well as courses for the Progressive Wage Model sectors".

But given the focus of the rest of the budget speech on artificial intelligence, finance, and technical skills, I hope that the selected courses will still represent a fairly wide array of options.

I must admit to a certain sense of disappointment that universities, and therefore masters programs, are not included in this list.

$4,000 would have represented a significant chunk of the NTU masters program I undertook, which proved massively beneficial for me.

I can see the need to take another go in time, and many could benefit from masters or MBA level programs.

Hopefully if the scheme works, in time it will be expanded, and hopefully in time for me to make use of it.

And Wong mentioned that younger Singaporeans will get the top-up when they turn 40.


The government has often encouraged employers to not look at an ageing population only as a problem, but to find positives in it.

But it often felt easier said than done, if that workforce needed new skills, the question was “who would pay for it”, “where would they go to learn them”, and “where would they find the time for it”?

In one fell swoop, these questions have been answered.

Government will pay for a significant chunk of it.

How much time should you dedicate to it? Up to half of your work month, or whatever percentage of your income $3,000 represents.

And you can look to well established institutions, such as ITE and polytechnics which have long been bastions of education and career training for Singaporeans.

For many of us, these institutions represent the places where we gain the skills to survive the first 10 to 15 years in the workforce.

It seems natural that it should be the place we would gain the skills to survive the next 10 to 15 years.

Sure, many hurdles remain, this doesn’t answer every single last question but it does take a significant hurdle out of the way, perhaps the biggest one.

And if you ever needed an endorsement for continuing education from something other than a Singaporean source: none other than former Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is going back to school.

Now (actually in 2015) you can too.

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