askST: Working while studying is hard, but worthwhile

The Singapore Institute of Technology has received a total of 1,572 applications for the SkillsFuture Work-Study Degrees since they were launched in 2017. It started offering the pathway in six degrees but has now expanded this to 15.
The Singapore Institute of Technology has received a total of 1,572 applications for the SkillsFuture Work-Study Degrees since they were launched in 2017. It started offering the pathway in six degrees but has now expanded this to 15.PHOTO: SINGAPORE INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Mr Chua Kah Sheng completed a year-long internship in data analytics at the Defence Science and Technology Agency.
Mr Chua Kah Sheng completed a year-long internship in data analytics at the Defence Science and Technology Agency.PHOTO: SINGAPORE INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

Students get to pick up job-hunting skills and knowledge, secure advance job offers

Q The universities, especially SIT and SUSS, are going big on combining work and study, and students spend up to a year on work-study programmes. There are also apprenticeship-like degree programmes. Are they really beneficial?

A Yes, all six universities are emphasising internships and work-study programmes, especially the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and the Singapore University of Social Sciences, which are focused on applied learning.

Let me explain how the programme works at SIT and what the benefits are.

At SIT, the Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP) is a big part of the undergraduate experience.

The university, which takes in mostly polytechnic graduates, stresses that the IWSP is not an internship programme but a work-attachment programme.

Students spend eight to 12 months on a full-time work attachment. In fact, in the current academic year, some 1,100 SIT students are out on work attachments.

The university has nearly 500 companies offering work attachments to its students.

There are many benefits for students. To begin with, students are required to apply for IWSP jobs, as they would for any other job.

That means you stand to gain a lot of knowledge and experience in writing resumes that will interest the recruiters. You also learn how interviews are conducted and the questions that are asked and even about salary negotiation.

Once on the job, not only do you gain practical job skills, you also get to explore a potential career. And sometimes, going by some of SIT's well-known partner companies, you get to find out what it is like working for a multinational corporation.

Through the attachment, you get to bring real-world knowledge back to the classroom. In all, it is a powerful way of learning.

 
 
 
 
 

SIT's employment figures further demonstrate its effectiveness.

More than 70 per cent of SIT's class of 2019 who went through the IWSP received advance job offers from their employers, even before they graduated.

SIT, along with the other five universities, has in recent years also started offering SkillsFuture Work-Study Degrees where students alternate between work and study.

Under this degree programme which draws inspiration from the renowned German and Swiss system of apprenticeship, students keen on careers in growth sectors, such as information security and hospitality business, can go to work in companies and receive full or partial sponsorship to study for a degree in a university.

The programmes see undergraduates spending up to four days a week at work with the programmes' partner employers - who co-design the programmes - with at least a day set aside for study. This can vary through the course of the programme.

Students can also alternate between working and studying over the semesters.

And upon completing their studies, they could secure full-time jobs with the firms.

The demand for these degrees is growing and all six universities are mounting more of them in partnership with different industries.

SIT, one of the first to offer these degrees in 2017, has received a total of 1,572 applications for them since they were launched.

It started offering the pathway in six degrees but has now expanded this to 15.

The number of companies partnering SIT in this initiative has increased from 14 to 35 since 2017, including Accenture, Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and Singtel .

Mr Chua Kah Sheng, 27, who graduated last year from a work-study degree, said in his final year, he was attending classes at SIT for only half a day each week.

The other 4½ days were spent at the DSTA, where he was doing a year-long internship in data analytics. He said the experience and skills he picked up during his internship were applicable to his school modules as well.

"I am able to better think from the user's perspective - like how the solution I've come up with can be of use to them - instead of doing something for the sake of doing it," he said.

Mr Chua who received a partial sponsorship from DSTA for his 3½-year course, now works as a data scientist in the agency.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2020, with the headline 'Working while studying is hard, but worthwhile'. Print Edition | Subscribe