Saturday, February 24, 2024

Make Polytechnics Great Again !

If we go beyond CPF reforms, the biggest game-changers are the ones for mid-career changers over 40 who can go back to a Polytechnic to study for a diploma and draw a monthly allowance of up to $3,000 a month. 

I do not have any policy details right now, but I want to share some thoughts on this important game-changer that will create a massive seismic shift in the way we look at educational institutions today, which will upend any of my previous posts on polytechnic education.

At first glance, this looks like a welfare scheme that will give unemployed mature workers a two-year reprieve while they retrain for a new career with no guarantee of an actual job at the end of the course, but if you look carefully at the policy, it would be hard to abuse. Folks who have been unemployed longer than a year do not have a salary track record to get payouts from the scheme. The scheme is also keyed to half your original salary, so it barely covers all living expenses for most mature workers. At first glance, this may not be a successful policy as it benefits the few and may not result in re-employment.

Now, if you are willing to go beyond looking at the scheme as a welfare program for folks who are on the verge of unemployability, I think the genius of the program stands out.

The first effect is that folks are not forced to become gig workers, so they have better options for at least the next few years, which can reduce chronic underemployment. 

The second is the amount of entrepreneurial fervour it can generate. 

Many MNC executives need a risk-controlled option to transform themselves into SME owners. This can become a pipeline for the transformation to take place. 

Imagine I am a successful, mature executive who has a few colleagues who are concerned about restructuring and predict that our careers will be over soon. I can hatch a plot to start a business, but before I can create a minimally viable product and get funding, I need time to pick up the latest skills for running a new business. A few partners can enrol in a Polytechnic to pick up some missing skills and spend the next two years preparing the ship for launch while drawing a small allowance. If the business plan does not work out, I can still get re-employed as a plan B, which is all about optionality - the government is using tax dollars to give you a call option on your human capital. As Polytechnics provides me with access to young classmates and many ITEs grads fresh from NS, I can even build a labour pool from my classmates and provide jobs for them.   

There are a couple of things I hope to see from details in 2025:

a) First of all, bureaucrats will try to plug all loopholes. The path should not be closed to successful executives who are NOT involuntarily unemployed and can generate plenty of income while being a student. I'm selfishly putting this on the table because I foresee a lot of temptation to do this.

b) There should be a decent drop-out provision where someone can drop out of Poly when they find a job or launch a business. This person should be able to suspend welfare payments and still be entitled to a future remaining stream at a later date. Dropping out should be viewed as a success and normalised in a Polytechnic.  

c) As it stands, the core curriculum in most Polys just meets the needs of O-level graduates. Mature students need core subjects that are more relevant to them, like basic business operations and planning, online marketing, prompt engineering, and, of course, personal finance. Significant reforms need to happen here because I'm not inspired by the current Poly core syllabus. I'm taking into account this work as Polys now needs to cope with an O level, ITE, and mature professionals' intake. 

d) In addition to internships, students can work with VCs and Incubators as a subject. They can try their hand at business 

e) Some mature students should be allowed to teach a specialised to get credits.

Anyway, after speaking to a few friends with no problems generating income from their own businesses, everybody seems interested in attending a Polytechnic in 2025 to pick up some AI skills. 

I have even started combing the Poly websites.

This is because I'm confident of earning a decent income from my businesses even as a Poly student, but I am worried that some clause will stop me from enrolling in an institution. I can farm the $3,000 into my CPF or SRS, which I will need to do to hit the new ERS.  

Finally, we now have a credible plan to end the comparison of Polytechnics against JCs. In 2025, Polytechnics will become a new beast, a very strange institution that brings different Singaporeans together to carve out some kind of new entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.

Or I'm just a dreamer. 


  1. Govt has been trying to use polys as platforms to upskill & reskill older workers for the past 25 yrs, with limited success obviously.

    The only really sustainable advanced dip programs are those with tie-ups to large govt or govt-linked employers, usually uniformed groups e.g. legal studies for SPF/ICA, nursing for MOH/govt hospitals, engineering for SAF.

    This new policy is basically throwing money to solve the issue. It may also help to maintain enrollment with the declining cohorts of young S'poreans lol.

    1. Agree. I would like more transparency on the employment rates of mature workers after a diploma course too.