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SkillsFuture and its impact on the workforce

The SkillsFuture program in Singapore was launched in 2015 with a comprehensive vision to develop a highly skilled workforce by encouraging lifelong learning and skills mastery. The program represents a significant investment by the Singapore government in human capital to ensure that Singaporeans are equipped to face the ever-evolving job market, characterized by rapid technological changes.

SkillsFuture aims to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to develop their fullest potential throughout life, regardless of their starting points. Through this national movement, the initiative supports every Singaporean to advance their careers based on skills and expertise. The program’s intent is to foster an ecosystem of lifelong learning, driven by a deep personal motivation to achieve excellence through knowledge, application, and experience. It is about taking ownership of one’s skills development and future career path.

Since its inception, SkillsFuture has rolled out a wide range of programs targeting different demographics – from students at the onset of their career paths to mid-career professionals looking to upskill or reskill. Key initiatives include the SkillsFuture Credit, which provides Singaporeans aged 25 and above with an opening credit to pay for approved courses, aiming to foster a habit of continual learning. Additionally, the program has expanded to include enterprise-based schemes to support companies in employee skill development, aligning workforce skills with industry transformation.

Expected outcomes from SkillsFuture

After 7 years of operation, what did the SkillsFuture programme accomplish?  Is the programme worked as intended, we should see the following outcomes:

  • More Singaporeans should be benefiting from the Skillsfuture programme in terms of quantity and quality.

  • If the Singapore workforce’s career mobility was improved by the programme, we should see little to no impact on unemployment rates even through periods of technological revolution.

  • If the intent was also to build a highly skilled workforce, we should also see labour productivity increase in time.

SkillsFuture Adoption

Over the years, SkillsFuture has continuously adapted and expanded its offerings to meet the changing needs of the Singapore workforce and economy. It stands as a cornerstone of Singapore’s strategy to build a resilient and competitive workforce equipped to support a robust and sustainable economy.

More than 500,000 Singaporeans and 20,000 enterprises have leveraged SkillsFuture credits annually since 2021. Data also suggests that the quantum of the skillsfuture grants for each

person has been increasing steadily as well. Evidence suggests that the uptake for Skillsfuture has been increasing and benefiting more Singaporeans.

Impact on Unemployment

The chart shows the Singapore’s unemployment rates over the years.  Since 2000, we have seen 4 instances of high unemployment:

  • 2000 – Dot Com bubble

  • 2002-2005 – Economic Slowdown and Sars outbreak

  • 2008 – Global Financial Crisis

  • 2020 – Covid pandemic

Aside from these instances, Singapore has remained at full employment and unemployment remained steady for the country as well as for residents.  While not conclusive yet, data suggests that SkillsFuture did not have the opposite effect.

Impact on workforce productivity

Data shows that Value-Added per employee has been steadily increasing before 2015 and thus cannot be attributed to SkillsFuture alone.  But there is evidence to suggest that it may have had an impact on a few sectors, such as Real Estate, Manufacturing, Wholesale & Retail Trade and Transportation & Storage; which all showed notable improvements after 2015.

Data further suggests that value add per employee varies by company size by Revenue. Data suggests that the productivity improvements were largely among the larger sized companies. Firms with less than $100M in revenue showed no marked changes in Value Add per employee.

Key Takeaways

All the above is based on publicly available data source, in this case, data from the Singapore Department of Statistics.  Unfortunately, public data is often hampered by a low level of data fidelity and coherence.  Despite this limitation, I hope that this example illustrates the possibilities when you ask the right questions and source for the right data…new questions and new insights can arise. 

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