SINGAPORE - As the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, fewer employees are tapping the SGUnited Traineeships Programme, which provides training opportunities for fresh graduates.
At the height of the programme, between June and November in 2020, about 3,900 graduates participated in the scheme.
But during the same period last year, there were about 1,700 trainees, a 55 per cent drop from the year before, said Workforce Singapore (WSG).
The programme was launched in March 2020 to help fresh graduates land jobs amid the weakened demand for skilled workers caused by the pandemic. The Government funds 80 per cent of their allowance.
Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said last month that as at end-November, about 11,500 graduates have taken up traineeships since the scheme was launched.
"With the economy showing signs of recovery, fewer graduates are participating in the scheme," Mr Tan added.
There were more than 6,500 host organisations in the programme as at November last year, said WSG.
In response to queries on whether the scheme will be extended for another year after its final intake of 2021 graduates in March this year, a WSG spokesman said: "The Ministry of Manpower and WSG will continue to monitor the labour market situation before deciding on future plans."
Mr Lam Yi Young, chief executive of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), told The Sunday Times that the programme has been useful in helping SBF members cope with the manpower situation during the pandemic to build up capabilities for recovery and growth.
SBF said last year that Singapore lost many foreign workers, as they chose to return to their home countries or were retrenched, thus leading to the drop in non-resident employment rates during the pandemic.
The programme also gave fresh graduates practical on-the-job training and experience, added Mr Lam.
According to an SBF survey conducted from July 26 to Oct 1 last year, the proportion of companies that reported being negatively impacted by the pandemic dipped to 32 per cent last year, from 63 per cent in 2020.
The survey polled 1,096 companies across key sectors. About 80 per cent are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), while the rest are large companies.
Mr Lam said more companies are also optimistic about continued recovery and growth, with 47 per cent expecting the business and economic climate to improve and another 40 per cent expecting it to remain around the same as last year.
He added: "The job market situation has improved for job seekers over the past year.
"Given a choice, job seekers would prefer to secure full-time jobs over traineeships. Companies that are recovering well also intend to hire employees on a full-time basis instead of onboarding trainees.
"Collectively, the above could have contributed to the reduction in the number of onboarded trainees over time."
But Mr Sim Gim Guan, executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), said employers in sectors that are still badly hit would welcome the extension of the programme as economic recovery remains uneven across industries.
He added: "Given the economic uncertainty due to Covid-19 and its impact on revenue, many businesses had to manage their costs, and were not quite ready to increase their headcount. The SGUnited Traineeships Programme provided employers the option to train skilled manpower ahead of demand picking up."
Even if the programme is scaled down, retail and food and beverage businesses are unlikely to be affected as very few of them took part in the scheme in the first place.
A spokesman for SG Tenants United For Fairness (SGTUFF) said the real need in such sectors is having experienced full-time staff who can take on various roles such as sales associates, cooks and cleaners, and can stay for more than just a few months.
He added: "This programme can be useful for bigger SMEs that are not in crisis mode and have the resources of time and money to train, mentor and develop these young trainees that can only stay a few months in the company."
Bukit Panjang MP Liang Eng Hwa told ST that the SGUnited Traineeships Programme has been crucial in motivating companies to hire fresh graduates, who may otherwise be unemployed.
"Now that the economy and job markets have improved, we need to focus on helping these graduates get placed into longer-term employment. It necessitates a different programme that focuses on longer career plans and deeper skills acquisition," said Mr Liang.
He noted that attention should be given to those who still cannot find full-time employment after six months.
"This requires concerted job-matching efforts as well as targeted wage incentives for companies to hire these graduates," added Mr Liang.
Employees who had their start as trainees said the programme was a good stepping stone to landing full-time jobs.
A 25-year-old Nanyang Technological University graduate who wanted to be known only as Ms J. Chua had applied for more than 100 jobs after she graduated in May 2020 before landing a traineeship in a technology company.
"The traineeship was a good platform for me to learn, and when I was converted to a full-time role in November that year, I was able to fully contribute instead of having to learn about the job from scratch," said Ms Chua.
Mr Akram Ramadan Misrawi, 25, had also applied for multiple jobs after graduating from Nanyang Polytechnic with a Diploma in Multimedia and Infocomm Technology in May 2020.
Mr Ramadan, who was born with skeletal dysplasia, which affects the growth of his lower body and fingers, told ST: "I had planned to look for a job that matched my studies in IT upon graduation. As a person with a disability, I am aware that my chances of getting a full-time job might not be easy, but I never gave up."
He eventually landed an operations support traineeship role at NCS Group in August that year.
Mr Ramadan was offered a permanent position in the same company in February last year.
"I feel that the SGUnited Traineeships Programme is extremely beneficial to fresh graduates as it helps build up their professional experience during this challenging period and lets them stand a better chance of securing a permanent job in the future," he said.