This article was written in collaboration with SkillsFuture Singapore. All views expressed in this article are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg based on our research. DollarsAndSense.sg is not liable for any financial losses that may arise from any transactions and readers are encouraged to do their own due diligence. You can view our full editorial policy here.
Whether you are a student who had to miss school, a fresh graduate who finds it difficult to land your first job, or a working adult who was recently retrenched or received a pay cut, 2020 has been a challenging year. All of us have had to manage uncertainties and compromises in our lives one way or another.
As countries begin to approve the use of COVID-19 vaccines, it’s time for us to start thinking ahead for how a post-COVID-19 world could look like, and how we can position ourselves to capitalise on future opportunities.
Investing In Both The Financial Markets And Ourselves
As reported earlier last year, many people in Singapore have already started their investing and trading journeys during the circuit breaker period. At DollarsAndSense, we also saw a spike in search traffic for investment and trading related articles.
When we think about investing, we naturally think about the financial markets. We consider financial assets such as stocks, bonds, ETFs and unit trusts that we can invest in. By investing in these assets, we hope to achieve a higher return on our initial investment.
Yet, all too often, when it comes to investing in ourselves, we put it off. We fail to recognise the real value of investing in ourselves. By investing time and effort in our skills and knowledge, the returns we stand to gain include better job prospects, higher salaries and good career progression over time. Isn’t this a similarly worthwhile endeavour?
Given the rapid developments in today’s economy, investing in our skills to 1) continue to remain relevant in our current job and 2) seize better opportunities in the employment world should no longer just be limited to our education years. As most Singaporeans typically start working in our early 20s, we may spend about four decades in the workforce before reaching the retirement age. During this period, we need to constantly keep ourselves relevant for the working world to stay employable.
Investing In Ourselves Requires Effort, But Payoffs Can Be Substantial
Similar to investing to achieve good returns in the financial markets, investing in ourselves requires time, effort and money on our part.
Just as we can’t expect to become a chef or speak Korean like a native after attending a course without effort and practice, learning work-related skills requires commitment. Picking up something new is always going to be challenging at the start. However, we should persevere.
Picking up new work-related skills can help us advance in our career, or enter in-demand roles in sectors that we have no prior experience in such as Construction & Facilities Management, Healthcare and Community Care and Infocomm & Media.
Upskilling Is Also Relevant For Those Who Are Currently Employed
There is a misconception that we only need to upskill ourselves when we get retrenched. This is entirely wrong. Whether we are currently working or not, upskilling – like investing – should be something we continuously seek.
Often, workers face a higher probability of being made redundant when they spend a long time working in a job without actually learning anything new. When the disruption inevitably sweeps through their industries, some of these workers find themselves let go quickly.
Rather than wait until we are unemployed before upskilling, we should proactively ask ourselves where future job opportunities are and identify skills gaps between us and the jobs we aspire to. Once we have identified the skills, we can go for the right programmes to obtain the relevant professional certification and knowledge required.
Our Investments Should Generate For Us A Positive ROI
As with any investments, a logical question to ask would be how much it costs. After all, we want to ensure that the expected returns from upskilling ourselves is higher than the initial cost. After all, what’s the point of upskilling ourselves if the programmes are too expensive and the opportunity cost is too high?
The good news, at least for 2020 and 2021, is that as part of the Singapore Government’s initiatives to support jobseekers, the SGUnited Skills Programme will heavily subsidise all Singaporean and PR mid-career jobseekers who are looking to enrol themselves in full-time courses to improve their employment opportunities. These subsidies are available for programmes under the SGUnited Skills Programme.
To find such programmes, go to the MySkillsFutureportal and search for them under ‘SGUnited Skills.’
Through a quick search, we found that there are currently 197 eligible programmes (as of 29 Dec 2020) spanning across 18 different industries. These are offered by Institutes of Higher Learning such as local polytechnics and universities and private training providers such as NTUC LearningHub.
While browsing through the various programmes, one thing you will realise is that the full course fees can be quite expensive with some courses costing more than $10,000. Thankfully, because of government subsidies, eligible Singaporeans and PRs looking to enrol in these programmes can enjoy a lower fee of between $500 for 6 months courses to $1,000 for one-year courses.
Let’s take the year-long SGUS Digital Marketing programme offered by Singapore Polytechnic for example. Even though the full course fee is $33,491, the nett fee for the program after the SkillsFuture subsidy is $1,000. That represents a whopping 97% subsidy, and on top of that, the post-subsidy fee can be paid for partially or fully using our SkillsFuture Credit.
For a 6-month long course such as the SGUS Programme in Healthcare Management offered by the Singapore University of Social Science, the full course fee is $9,706. However, the post-subsidy nett fee is just $500 and you can also pay for this using your SkillsFuture Credit.
On top of the fee subsidy, trainees will also receive an allowance of $1,200 per month for the programme duration. This is useful in helping to cover basic living expenses while attending the full-time programme. Of course, trainees can also work part-time or take on freelance work if their schedules permit. Take note though, that trainees have a minimum attendance to fulfil in order to receive the training allowance.
Besides the programmes offered by the Institutes of Higher Learning and private training providers, you can also consider enrolling in programmes offered under the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme – Company Training initiative. These are programmes developed and delivered primarily by market-leading companies in selected sectors, such as Siemens and PBA Robotics in Manufacturing, or Microsoft and SAP in ICT among others. For these programmes, training allowances are slightly higher at $1,500. Similarly, programme fees are subsidised heavily and would cost eligible trainees between $500 to $1,000 depending on the duration of the course.
At the end of the day, if we look at our training as an investment, we should also expect to achieve good long-term returns for ourselves and this means possessing the right skills to get good-paying jobs in growing sectors that are looking to expand. And with an investment of between $500 to $1,000 to pay for the course (payable with our SkillsFuture credits) along with a training allowance, this certainly looks like a good investment worth pursuing.
The good thing is that since the intent of SGUnited Skills Programmes are to support job seekers in finding employment through upskilling, the courses are designed to be modular such that trainees can easily exit the programmes mid-way through their training if they find a job. There is no penalty if you exit because you have been placed into a job (through the programme) or find a job on your own during the training period.
If we face challenges in securing full-time employment, why not consider the SGUnited Skills Programme or the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathway Programme – Company Training to help us upskill ourselves now, in preparation for employment opportunities in a post-COVID-19 world.
Want a TL:DR? Here’s an infographic to guide you on investing in your skills in 2021.