SINGAPORE - He was a construction coordinator who lost his job after he was sentenced to three years' jail for unlicensed money lending.
With a criminal record, Amir (not his real name), 30, was concerned that it would be tough to find work after his release from prison later this year. But a programme he joined while serving time in prison has substantially eased his concerns.
On Wednesday (April 27), the first-time offender was part of the inaugural batch of 17 inmates who graduated from a precision engineering training programme under the TAP (Train And Place) and Grow initiative in a ceremony at the Changi Prison Complex.
The event was attended by Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
Through this initiative launched in 2020, Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) works with employers across various industries, training institutions and community partners to set up training academies in prison to help the inmates with employment assistance.
All 17 who enrolled in the programme have graduated and will be employed, after their release, in such roles as quality assurance technicians or machinists by members of the Singapore Precision Engineering and Technology Association.
Speaking to the media in a virtual interview on Tuesday, Amir, who hopes to eventually pursue a career in 3D modelling design, said: "I committed my offences because I was greedy and quite immature then. When the opportunity for easy money was in front of me, I didn't hesitate, I just took it.
"I never thought I would I get caught. But once I did, everything fell apart. I lost my full-time job, time I could spend with my family and even lost my partner... I feel blessed that I could get my life back on track."
Like the other inmates in the programme, Amir did not have direct experience in precision engineering but joined the programme to make the most of his time in prison and also because he felt it followed on from his experience in the construction sector.
The four-month programme contained more than 300 hours of training and included coding, data analytics and engineering mathematics modules.
In his opening speech at Wednesday's ceremony, Associate Professor Faishal said there were many opportunities in the precision engineering industry.
He said: "Precision engineering is a critical enabler for the manufacturing industry. It supplies crucial products and expertise to manufacture complex components and equipment for industries such as semiconductors, medical technology and aerospace.
"So, it is a very important industry, and you are very fortunate to be able to learn and go into this part of the industry."
The graduates, who were awarded the Workforce Skills Qualifications advanced certificate in precision engineering, can also apply to enrol in a part-time diploma programme in this field with Nanyang Polytechnicafter their release.
Another graduate, Xavier (not his real name), said he struggled with certain modules at the start but eventually managed to cope.
The 53-year-old, who was serving a 12-year jail sentence for drug-related offences, said: "I struggled with mathematics as it's been over 30 years since I last studied it... but some of the other inmates who are good in maths helped me and I was able to cope. Also, the lecturers were patient and good."
Xavier, who will be released later this year, hopes to become a machinist, as he is interested in machines and how they turn raw materials into finished products.
Mr Tan Yick Loong, assistant director at Partnership@YR in YRSG, said the programme participants gave feedback that the course had been an eye-opener.
Explaining the criteria for selection, Mr Tan said those who express interest must attain a certain grade in a literacy and numeracy assessment. Those who fall slightly short may be sent for a refresher course before attempting the test again.
Apart from precision engineering, the TAP and Grow initiative also works with partners from the media and logistics sectors. Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament in March that the initiative will be expanded to the food services sector.
Mr Tan said the food services industry provides an opportunity to upskill inmates to above entry-level jobs and that the sectors are chosen for TAP and Grow based on several factors, including how they fit with the profile of inmates, most of whom lack paper qualifications.
He added: "We are seeing the world moving from a more knowledge-based economy to a skills-based economy. So in that regard, we are looking out for industries that offer career and skills pathways that are suitable for our profile of ex-offenders.
"If you look at precision engineering as an example, you do not need to have diploma-level qualifications to enrol for this course. All you need is to be proficient up to a certain level in mathematics and English... to transit into this industry."