Budget 2020 Roundtable: No better time than now to send workers for training

As business slows amid the coronavirus outbreak, companies should make use of the downtime to send their workers for training and skills upgrading.

Labour MP Patrick Tay said this is one of several options companies should consider before resorting to retrenchment, adding that they should also use the opportunity to prepare for the long-term challenges of economic transformation and digitalisation.

In comments that now-struggling gig economy workers could take heart from, he noted that during the 2003 Sars outbreak, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) sent workers like tour guides and airline cabin crew for courses under its Surrogate Employer Programme. Freelancers and workers whose firms could not sponsor their training could get course fee funding and financial support from NTUC.

“We recovered and they could go back to their jobs in tourism and aviation. At the same time, every one was armed with something new – a diploma in hospitality,” said Mr Tay, who is NTUC assistant secretary-general.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said many firms face challenges that normally hold them back from sending their workers for training, like lack of time and high costs despite subsidies.

The virus outbreak means some companies now have time, and SkillsFuture Credit top-ups announced in the Budget will help with costs, he said.

He added that companies often find that training programmes are not relevant to their workers, and this is something that needs to be tackled.

In the Budget, it was announced that the Government will work with 40 large anchor enterprises to support training within their sectors.

Hailing the move, Mr Ho said: “Anchor employers training the rest of the industry will indeed be more relevant. If you improve that, then companies will see greater benefit in sending their employees for training.”

United Overseas Bank senior economist Alvin Liew noted that the new SkillsFuture top-ups are valid for just five years. He said this will hopefully send the signal that there is no better time than now to upgrade.

Associate professor of economics Walter Theseira suggested another option for sectors like food and beverage, retail and tourism could be to redeploy workers to other roles in the short term, citing the “huge surge in demand for part-timers to do temperature screening” as an example.

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