FIVE years after its launch, a national skills upgrading programme has finally seen its share of adopters among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hit double digits.

The share of SMEs sending their workers for Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) certification doubled from 8.4per cent last year to 16.8per cent this year.

That is according to the latest survey of 16,900 companies by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA), carried out between June and October this year.

Buy-in to the government-subsidised retraining courses under WSQ from larger companies - those with 100 workers or more - continued to grow strongly, to 58per cent from 41per cent.

On the whole, one in five firms here has signed employees up for WSQ certification, up from one in eight last year. The scheme has trained 553,000 workers to date, a 42 per cent year-on-year increase.

Said WDA chief Chan Heng Kee: 'Smaller companies usually take more convincing to come on board. The improving numbers tell us that they are taking their cue from larger companies and are now confident about the WSQ.'

He added that attempts to reach out to SMEs by offering 'bite-sized' courses held at more convenient times and venues also helped raise take-up rates.

The WSQ programme is part of a national push to upgrade the skills of workers. Companies or individuals can sign up for general or industry-specific training courses that culminate in assessment and certification.

The programme began with a focus on courses for rank-and-file workers. But courses for managers and professionals have been added in recent years.

Other survey results revealed yesterday showed an increase in awareness among companies about the availability of WSQ training - up four percentage points to 42per cent.

Companies and trainees are also reporting better post-training work performance and productivity.

Ms Janice Ong, general manager of retail chain Build-A-Bear Workshop, which employs 70 workers, said her employees benefited from the interactive retail-related classes, which involved role-playing, and now demonstrate greater confidence handling customers.

'We've seen a significant rise in thank-you notes from customers.'

But most SMEs - 83 per cent of them, according to WDA's survey - are still not participating.

When contacted, boss of Fuqing Marina Bay Seafood Restaurant Huang Cheng Gui said he has not heard of the scheme.

He added that chefs who joined his restaurant were well-trained and needed no further culinary training, but he would consider sending waiters for certification.

Mr Tony Tan, who owns Betel Box Backpackers Hostel and Tours, said the hospitality courses under WSQ have little relevance to his firm.

He said: 'The classes are not tailored. They don't understand the backpacker business and tend to assume that all hospitality lodgings operate in one manner.'