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Outgoing labour chief Chan Chun Sing at his last Mayday speech. The leadership of NTUC is passed over to Minister Ng Chee Meng.

Potential PM Chan talks about upgrading workers’ skills despite limited success of past schemes; Netizens remain unconvinced

In his outgoing speech as Labour chief on May Day (1 May), Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the labour movement will inject $200 million into a scheme which will aim to subsidise training for union members. He added that there was urgency in training and upgrading workers' skills amid an era of technological change.

Back in 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Government would provide a $3 matching grant for every dollar raised as funding support for NTUC-Education and Training Fund. Two years on, $50 million has been raised through sponsorship and the NTUC had thus received $150 million in matching grants from the Government.

Minister Chan said that the fund will be used to create training modules for union members, claiming that “all of us [at NTUC] chipped in because we believe in the value of training and preparing our workers for the next lap" and that such skills development was an area the union leaders must focus on.

"Three Ps - privileges, protections and placements - are important and still must be done. But we need to add to our skillset a fourth P – progression. Helping our workers ahead of time to make sure they stay relevant because we firmly believe that the best protection, the best welfare for workers, is a good job."

Netizens not convinced at Chan's rhetoric

Despite this, netizens were not all impressed. One Sun Lee commented on the Straits Times Facebook page that the root of native citizens being unemployed was due to the influx of foreigners who were willing to work for less. It was therefore not practical for such courses as a means of boosting employability.

Another  Martin Lee commented on the Channel NewsAsia Facebook page that this was more rhetoric than substance and is the “kind of mindless thinking Singapore doesn’t need”. Agreeing, Terence Chan added that it was his view that he was unable to see how the current pool is capable of doing what our late LKY is capable of doing.

HR Practitioner: Part-time courses will not mean much when every employer looks for a degree

According to a Linkedin note by a Human Resource practitioner, such schemes would have limited effect. He said that there was a long tradition of employers “emphasizing a degree as the first line of requirements”. It would accordingly be unrealistic for such a scheme to reverse this mind-set.

Furthermore, there are “reservations [on] how many gainfully employed mid-career PMEs with taxing jobs, financial obligations, and parenting duties could afford to find time” for such part-time studies. For those who persevered, he asked if “employers would prioritize 20 completed courses over one single degree?”

SkillsFuture only helps 6.3% of eligible recipients in its first year

Such schemes are not new. In 2015, the then Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced in his Budget Speech that the SkillsFuture national initiative will be launched. Every Singaporean aged 25 and above will receive an initial $500 credit which can be used on a range of Government-supported courses.

According to an article in the Straits Times in 2017, the Skillsfuture scheme has benefitted 126,000 people in its first year of operations. This was described as being “very encouraging” despite being a mere 6.3% out of 2 million people who have received such credits.

In December that year, it was revealed that criminal syndicates were being charged for fraudulent claims of some $40 million from the scheme.

How much do you trust a former army general with no corporate experience?

According to his CV, Chan was a President Scholar who graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Cambridge. He served in the army for 24 years from 1987 to 2011 where he eventually rose to the rank of Chief of Army. Subsequently, he left service and entered political office via a walkover at the Tanjong Pagar GRC during the 2011 General Elections.

During his tenure, he has served in various ministries, including Defence, Community, Youth and Sports, Social and Family Development before serving as deputy Chairman of the People’s Association and the Secretary-General of the NTUC. In a recent cabinet reshuffle, he was appointed as the Minister for Trade and Industry.

According to a CNA'S analysis, Political scientist Lam Peng Er said that this appointment would have exposed Mr Chan to a wide network of businesses and workers across various sectors while unnamed analysts said that this would enable Chan to have "checked off more boxes" as a potential candidate for Premiership

Given that the Minister has now made his first speech as the Minister of Trade and Industry, what do you think of his ability to grasp practical financial and business concepts?