Students notch up work experience before university

Many seek to learn about a specific industry and earn some money

Fresh out of junior college at the end of last year, Ms Poh Yong Han, 19 spent three months interning at the Ministry of Home Affairs, working on security outreach programmes and independent research on Singapore's political history.

Now, she has started work at a social enterprise start-up, all while volunteering, travelling and learning Korean.

She is one of many students seeking a taste of working life while waiting for their university terms to open. In Singapore, terms open in August and, abroad, mostly between late August and October.

More than half the 100 students from pre-university institutions that The Straits Times contacted are now in part-time or temporary jobs, and more than a third of them are interning.

Internships taken on by students range from those in statutory boards to small design firms, while almost all part-time and temporary jobs are in either the food and beverage (F&B) sector or tuition industry.

Internships focus mainly on learning skills related to professional industries, while part-time and temporary jobs are usually in more general areas such as F&B.

Four of the eight organisations offering internships contacted said they saw no change in the number of internship requests in the past two years, while the other four reported an increase.

Ms Vivien Chan, editor of Youth.SG, a lifestyle and news website, said: "We have definitely seen more pre-university students applying for our internships. More students do not want to waste their holidays, and are coming here for the work experience.

"There are even a few students here who are taking gap years, and this is something we did not have five years ago," she added.

Ms Por Hui Fang, 19, an intern at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), said: "I am working as a project assistant to get a feel of the work in this particular industry and know what to expect after university."

Like her, almost three-quarters of those on internships said they wanted to learn more about the specific industries.

Ms Elysia Lim, 19, who taught English and literature at a secondary school, said: "I derive joy from sharing my knowledge with others.

"On top of that I've learnt how to manage a class, handle unplanned circumstances and also improved my content mastery."

The most common motivation among those working was money. They earn $6.50 to $9 an hour.

"I am using the money earned to pay for my driving lessons and travels," said Ms Audrey Choo, 19, who has worked as a cashier, cook and waitress.

Of those polled, only six said they are taking a gap year before going to university.

Ms Ang Kia Yee, 20, who could have gone to university last year, took a break and will study English literature and creative writing in Britain this October. She has interned at local theatre companies, directed theatre productions and organised arts camps for secondary and junior college students.

She said: "I wanted to understand whether theatre is something I want to do in the future. I felt like I needed to understand the reality of writing and directing as a profession.

"I think the gap year is also a good break from school. It gave me a more hands-on experience. Some may think that taking a gap year may adversely affect chances for university applications, while some think that only people with poor A-level results take gap years."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Students notch up work experience before university'. Print Edition | Subscribe