'Externships' growing in popularity in Singapore

Students get to mesh job training with studies in shorter durations

Mr Ernest Ng, founder of hammock company Airmocks, with former "externs" Huang Hui Si (left), 24, and Toh Siew Ting, 22, both of whom are NTU students. "Each extern whom I worked with brought in a new perspective," said Mr Ng.
Mr Ernest Ng, founder of hammock company Airmocks, with former "externs" Huang Hui Si (left), 24, and Toh Siew Ting, 22, both of whom are NTU students. "Each extern whom I worked with brought in a new perspective," said Mr Ng. PHOTO: DANIEL NEO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Employees who spend less than one or two months at a company are usually frowned upon.

But "externships" - an alternative job training model for students that is common in the United States and Europe - are gaining traction here, giving students the flexibility of combining workplace training with their studies ahead of the Government's plans to introduce formal work-study programmes for university students next year.

Mr Looi Qin En, 22, co-founder of recruitment website Glints, said it introduced externships as one of the job categories on the platform when it realised that more polytechnic and university students needed flexibility when it came to getting work experience. "One of their pain points is that once employers find out that they cannot commit to a two- to three-month internship, they get rejected automatically."

Besides a shorter duration, which can range from one to six weeks, externships are aimed at exposing students to a wide range of roles and projects. They are more exploratory than internships, which usually place students in specific roles.

Since externships were launched on the website in May, over 130 employers, many of them from the start-up community, have listed more than 430 externships.

Employers have been more receptive to the model as Glints positions it as a way to help companies build up their talent pipeline, in addition to getting help with manpower during crunch time. "What we're seeing is that companies are using the externship as a full-time training programme - and after that they engage the students on a full-time or part-time basis," said Mr Looi.

Enrichment centre The Keys Global has gone a step further by modifying the externship programme to bring real-world training to students aged between 15 and 18.

Under its programme, which started last October, students pay $250 to $960 for a one- to three- week work experience programme with multinationals such as Bloomberg or Autodesk, or small and medium-sized enterprises.

Students have to tackle a challenge set by the company, such as thinking up social media strategies.

The students, who usually work at the enrichment centre instead of the company, are mentored by centre staff who hone skills such as problem-solving and data analysis.

They meet company representatives later to present their solutions and get feedback from them.

"Through this programme, companies get access to fresh ideas. Students get to interact with senior management and learn how to face market challenges and take criticism," said Mrs Ayesha Khanna, who co-founded The Keys Global.

She started the programme as she found that traditional internships are sometimes not useful for students who want to learn about the world of work.

'Helpful to hear from the young'

Ms Vandna Ramchandani, Bloomberg's Asia-Pacific head of philanthropy, engagement and recruitment, said it is in discussion with The Keys Global on future projects. "It was helpful to hear from young students on social media first-hand, as they are a generation that is so social media-savvy."

About 25 students have taken part in the externship programme at The Keys Global since last October, and the centre is in touch with a few secondary schools and junior colleges about externship programmes.

Eunoia Junior College said it will be offering its own externships - which allow students to be attached to professionals, including entrepreneurs and environmentalists - to "observe up-close the knowledge, skills and disposition required in the profession or industry".

Mr Ernest Ng, 26, who founded hammock company Airmocks, hired two "externs" this year, with both of them working for him for periods of about a month each. "Each extern whom I worked with brought in a new perspective. For example, they thought up new ways of reaching out to private households to market our product, such as using Facebook groups, rather than doing it the traditional way of meeting up with the management of condominiums."

One of his former externs, Nanyang Technological University psychology undergraduate Huang Hui Si, 24, said she was able to juggle two externships over the school holidays.

"It's not for everyone, especially if you are someone who needs structure and routine. But I got to learn more about the start-up environment, and I might work at Airmocks again even when school starts, if my schedule permits."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Externships' growing in popularity in Singapore. Subscribe