400 sign up to Earn and Learn

New WDA initiative allows poly, ITE grads to gain work experience in chosen field while furthering their studies

More than 400 vocational students and graduates have applied for a new scheme that allows them to further their studies and work at the same time.

The Earn and Learn scheme, launched in March by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), caters to polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates.

So far, about 100 of the applicants have been hired by 49 companies across eight sectors, including food manufacturing and logistics. More than 80 per cent of the trainees are from polytechnics, while the rest are from ITE.

About half of the 400 applicants have not been placed on the programme because they are still studying or doing their national service.

The scheme, which spans 12 to 18 months, combines job training, mentorship, projects within the company and, possibly, overseas attachments.

Based on early signs, interest is strong, said WDA chief executive Ng Cher Pong. "We're hoping to create as many places as possible to cater for fresh poly and ITE graduates who are interested in this," he said.

WDA will also introduce the Earn and Learn scheme in another four sectors this year - construction, aerospace, public transport and power. Employers in these industries will start taking in trainees from this month until December.

Earn and Learn participants are paid around $2,000 a month while trying out various roles in their chosen fields. They may work for four days and devote one day to studies.

At the end of the programme, an ITE graduate will receive a diploma, while a poly graduate will obtain an advanced or specialist diploma.

Modelled on German and Swiss apprenticeship programmes, the scheme is part of the national SkillsFuture movement, which aims to help Singaporeans develop specialised job skills. The aim is to have one in three ITE and poly graduates on board by 2025.

Mr Ng spoke about the scheme on the sidelines of a global skills competition for youth in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which he is attending as part of a Singapore delegation.

The event started on Tuesday and will end tomorrow, and contestants from 60 countries will compete for medals in skills such as aircraft maintenance and restaurant services.

Regarding the scheme, Mr Ng said there has been "a good spread of interest" across sectors. Some, such as logistics, received more enthusiasm from companies, while students showed more interest in areas such as games development.

He added that even students who are not ready for the programme are keen. "They tell us in advance that they would like to be considered for the programme when they're ready," he said.

Mr Ng Ming Yang, 20, one of the 22 young people representing Singapore in Sao Paulo this year, is keen to get on the scheme as he can gain work experience.

"I hope to work for a few years before going to university so that I can first get a better understanding of what the industry is like," he said.

The young man, who graduated this year from Nanyang Polytechnic with a diploma in precision engineering, said he hopes to win at least an excellence award in his category.

During the four-day contest, he will be required to cut out products from materials like aluminium and steel, based on technical drawings.

He said: "Many of my competitors from Japan, South Korea and Thailand are apprentices, so they have an advantage in having work experience. So, winning a medal would be a bonus for me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline '400 sign up to Earn and Learn'. Print Edition | Subscribe