Work-study programmes may be becoming unpopular among Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students, but they are catching on among adults.
This year, about 850 took up work-study programmes supported by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), with courses ranging from aircraft maintenance to landscaping and early childhood education.
It currently has 22 such programmes.
This is a big jump from the nearly 30 trainees who enrolled in 2008 at two continuing education and training (CET) centres. Around 20 CET centres offer work-study programmes now.
Over the last seven years, some 4,300 have gone through these work-study programmes, in which trainees go for lessons, work at a company and earn an allowance before graduating with Workforce Skills Qualifications.
The ITE offers similar courses for fresh secondary school-leavers, leading to a National ITE Certification (Nitec) or Higher Nitec.
But despite many of ITE's 250 employer-partners offering more places due to the labour crunch and higher allowances of up to $1,400, from $800 to $900 five years ago, enrolment is down.
Five years ago, ITE's work-study programmes attracted around 1,000 students a year, but this has fallen to about 600.
"The problem is not the supply, but the demand," said Mr Ting Kok Guan, ITE's divisional director for industry-based training. There are more than 1,000 training places across 35 traineeship courses, he said.
One key reason for the waning interest is that parents today are better able to support their children's education and want them to focus on studies for as long as possible. Mr Ting said parents feel that "17 years old is too young to go and work".
Said 21-year-old ITE student Phua Yong Lin, who opted against traineeship while studying for a Higher Nitec in leisure and travel operation: "I don't need to support my family, and I'm afraid I cannot juggle working and studying; it's quite intensive."
The Government is pushing to make practical training a key component of vocational education.
Earlier this year, a committee set up to relook vocational education - led by Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah - visited countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, to study their established apprenticeship systems.
The committee will release its recommendations by the end of the year.
Since last year, ITE and employers have held talks with parents to explain the value of traineeships.
Mr Ting also suggested companies recognise the two years of apprenticeship as work experience, and give trainees a head start over their peers from the full-time courses, he added.
"It's about having more skilled workers in the industry," said Mr Ting. "Parents and students must recognise that skills training is valuable... it equips them with skills that will meet the economy's needs."
Human resource experts said that older people are more open to work-study programmes because they are more sure of which profession they want to pick, while many sign up because they are switching careers.
The Government also plays an active role in adult learning through training grants, said Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm PeopleWorldwide.
"But students generally prefer to just study as they're not sure what they want," he said.
Mr Yong Jun Koi, 19, went on the traineeship route for his Nitec in info-communications. He spends every Monday at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio, and the other four days with IT company DS Solutions, which sends him out to clients such as Alexandra Hospital to fix IT systems.
"If you can learn and get work experience at the same time, why not? I knew the basics even before I touched my textbooks," he said.