THE Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) has dangled a new $2.7 million carrot to train 2,500 security guards in the next two years.

But while industry players welcomed the move, they are uncertain if it can ease the manpower shortage in the sector, citing other challenges such as the need to boost pay and work conditions.

Announcing the training initiative at a one-day security industry conference yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said the $2.7 million fund will "provide security professionals with opportunities to gain specialised skills".

The WDA does not have a target on the proportion of new or existing guards to train, but its deputy director Christopher Koh expects the bulk of the $2.7 million to go towards helping trained guards improve their skills.

Singaporeans and permanent residents can get a 90 per cent subsidy to pay course fees. The subsidy works out to $990 for those training to be licensed guards and $720 for existing guards upgrading skills in areas such as using security equipment.

The WDA has trained 60,000 security guards since 2006, but only 36,000 are actively working.

Industry watchers said some 50,000 guards are needed, meaning there is a shortage of 14,000.

Asked on the effectiveness of the latest move, Mr Koh said: "It will at least fill up some of the gaps that exist in the industry."

Mr N. Silva, president of the Union of Security Employees, which represents 11,000 guards, said the manpower shortfall can ease only if the working conditions get better, and those who have left return to the sector.

"Some don't even have a proper place to eat or rest," he noted.

Security guards are among the bottom 10 per cent of lowest-paying jobs here, according to the Manpower Ministry's annual report on wages last year.

Given the labour shortage, most companies will find it hard to spare staff for training, said Mr T. Mogan, president of the Security Association of Singapore, which represents 150 companies.

Mr Nazarisham Mohd Isa, operations director of Jasa Investigation and Security Services, said the profession's image should be boosted to draw more workers.

"No one wakes up early in the morning and straight away says 'I want to be a security officer'... the perception of the public is that security is still like a retirement kind of job," he added.

At the conference yesterday, Mr Masagos also announced that the police have further tightened the requirements on guards.

They will now have compulsory training before they can handle X-ray machines and metal detectors. The new rules will help the guards "add value to their jobs, be more productive and differentiate themselves from others", he said.

The annual security conference, organised by the WDA and Security Industry Institute, drew 250 people.