Longer stints in industry likely for ITE, poly students

Apprentice chefs Kenneth Yap and Emily Burnell (in front) with their workplace supervisors Richard Learmonth and Mark Haines (at back, from left). Emily works four days a week at The Restaurant Pendolino in Sydney and attends lessons at a Tafe Colleg
Apprentice chefs Kenneth Yap and Emily Burnell (in front) with their workplace supervisors Richard Learmonth and Mark Haines (at back, from left). Emily works four days a week at The Restaurant Pendolino in Sydney and attends lessons at a Tafe College once a week. -- ST PHOTO: AMELIA TENG

They could spend up to a year as interns or apprentices to deepen work skills: Indranee

Industry attachments for students in polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) may soon be extended to give young people more time to deepen their work skills.

This means having students spend up to a year, instead of just months, as an intern or apprentice in a company for training, and pick up tricks of the trade that cannot be taught in school, according to Ms Indranee Rajah.

"When you're with a company for a month... there's not much an employer can do with you, except to give you just a more cursory sense of the work," said the Senior Minister of State for Law and Education.

"But if you are with them for a longer period... when you have a real responsibility, then the experience is quite different because you actually have to produce and deliver."

Currently, polytechnics and ITE students complete work attachments that range from one to six months during their course of study.

That, said Ms Indranee, may be extended to between six months and a year. But practical training still has to be delivered within the duration of students' courses - two years in ITE and three years in polytechnics.

Ms Indranee was speaking to The Sunday Times in Melbourne earlier this month after a five-day study trip to Australia and New Zealand with members of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee, which she chairs.

This is the second such visit by the committee, which travelled to Germany and Switzerland in February to study the European model.

Both visits, Ms Indranee said, showed good examples of vocational training, validating some of what Singapore is doing right. "But it also tells us there's more to be done," she said.

For instance, the move to take learning out of the classroom and into the workplace can work only if the industry takes on a bigger role to train and mentor the students from the ITE and five polytechnics here, she added.

This means companies here must be prepared to take on the role of an educator like their German or Swiss counterparts, instead of just relying on the educational institutions to prepare youth in ITE and polytechnics for work.

German youth who have chosen vocational training, for instance, will join a company as an apprentice and spend three days a week training with their employer, and only two days in a vocational school, from age 15.

In Australia, apprenticeships in trades like construction and engineering last four years. Others such as those for aspiring pre-school teachers last between one and two years.

Students typically spend one day a week in a vocational school and the rest at a company, where they are also paid. A first-year apprentice could earn about A$20,000 (S$23,500) annually.

After completing their apprenticeships, youth in Australia can either start work or pursue higher education.

In New Zealand, organisations representing industry sectors make arrangements for students to attend workplace training conducted by both public and private-sector training providers.

What seems to be common to a successful internship or apprenticeship is a "structured curriculum" that the industry can contribute towards, said Ms Indranee.

She added that while the ITE and polytechnics here already have advisory committees that include industry practitioners, "there is probably room for even deeper collaboration".

Aspire committee members such as Mr Yeo Li Pheow agree that industry involvement has to be stepped up.

The Republic Polytechnic principal said polytechnics may work with industry partners to develop a training curriculum for students.

"In hospitality, for instance, we teach culinary skills in a training kitchen," he said. "Maybe these skills can be taught on the job in a real kitchen with customers waiting to eat."

Ms Indranee also emphasised the need for early career guidance, highlighting the Swiss career counselling centres which help teenagers as young as 13 discover their strengths.

The Aspire committee, which has 98 members on various committees charting future directions for polytechnic and ITE education, is expected to present its recommendations in the second half of this year.

ateng@sph.com.sg