Training has dipped for professionals because bosses are unwilling to release them from work due to manpower shortages in a tight labour market.

But lower-wage workers faced no such constraints. A growing number have been sent for skills upgrading thanks to government subsidies, according to a survey released by the Manpower Ministry yesterday.

 The biennial study found that 59 per cent of professionals, managers,executives and technicians (PMET) attended structured training programmes last year, down from 63 per cent in 2010.

Some 51 per cent of clericalsales and services workers were trained last year, a dip from 54 per cent in 2010.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Chan Chong Beng said many firms are unable to set aside time for staff training due to manpower shortages.

He added that some employers are also reluctant to invest in training because workers are job-hopping frequently as they have more bargaining power in a tight labour market.

"Why would an employer want to train a worker only to see him getting hired by someone else after a few months?" he said.

The dip means bosses spent less on training last year, according to the Survey On Employer Supported Training. The average training cost per employee after grants were deducted was $362 last year, falling from $449 in 2010.

But at least the blue-collar workers saw a slight bump in their training. The proportion of production and transport operators, cleaners and labourers who went for skills upgrading courses was 58.3 per cent last year, up from 56.5 per cent in 2010.

In all, the average share of workers trained went down to 57 per cent last year from 58 per cent in 2010.

The numbers are not encouraging. Mr Patrick Tay, NTUC director for legal services and the PME unit, said firms are focusing more on day-to-day operations because of uncertain economic times.

Yet, employers who have sent workers on courses have found it can boost productivity and staff retention.

One such boss is Mr J. S. Wong, chief executive of information technology firm TalariaX, who sent four engineers for a project management course earlier this year. One of them has since been promoted to project manager.

"I want my staff to be able to see a career path in my company," said Mr Wong. "That way, I can better retain them."