Being fresh out of school means you’re starting with a clean slate. You have hardly any work experience — unless you’ve done internships, industrial attachments or part-time stints in a job that may not be related to your study.
You may be young, more energetic and command a lower salary than experienced counterparts. Yet frustratingly, many job advertisements proclaim “fresh graduates are welcome to apply” but state that “at least two years of relevant experience” is required.
Confused? You’re not alone. There are many just like you out there: Fresh out of school, with the same salary expectations, and similar educational backgrounds. And during “peak” periods such as after the final semester of the school year, where there is an influx of newly-minted graduates in the job market, employers will have their hands full of hires who — much like yourself — are still wet behind the ears.
Even if you have amassed some experience and possess good technical skills, a three-month industrial attachment may not be enough for a fresh graduate to gain soft skills such as project management, problem-solving and negotiation, or to truly be exposed to being part of a corporate culture.
Work-study programmes: The beauty of ‘Earn and Learn’
One solution to finding employment, especially now that the Covid-19 pandemic is shrinking the job pool, is to gain longer-term job experience through work-study programmes that provide a good mix of hands-on learning and theory.
In Singapore, the SkillsFuture Work-Study Programme (WSP) is designed to give fresh full-time graduates from the Institute of Technical Education or one of the five local polytechnics, such as Singapore Polytechnic (SP), a head-start in careers related to their discipline of study.
To apply, fresh graduates can check out available WSP programmes at their preferred eligible tertiary institute. If they meet the requirements, they can submit their WSP participation form together with their resume. The resume will then be forwarded to all participating WSP companies for review and followed up with a shortlisting process for interview — similar to a typical hiring process.
Once accepted and hired by the company, the fresh graduate will then formally submit his or her WSP online application form and commence simultaneous employment and study.
The WSPs offered by SP, specifically, last 12 to 18 months depending on the course. Applicants will be matched to a job related to their discipline of study and undergo structured training with the possibility of wage or career progression beyond the programme, depending on the employer.
Here are more ways a work-study programme can be beneficial to your employability:
1. Find full-time employment and gain experience quickly after graduation
Via SP’s WSP, successful applicants not only become full-time employees, but can pursue specialised or higher education at the same time. As the WSPs are designed in collaboration with the industry’s needs to ensure sector relevance, participants will be groomed to take up suitable job roles within the organisation.
To a fresh graduate facing a global recession, this is a huge boon.
Being able to concurrently work and study also reduces opportunity cost. A typical fresh graduate might only be able to pursue either work or study; the former route means forgoing higher education, while the latter means missing out on a monthly salary and practical work experience.
2. Gain access to structured in-company learning and mentorship
The programme is a collaboration between the school, the company and SkillsFuture Singapore, so there will be synergy and positive learning outcomes from the candidate’s 12- or 18-month-long work-study period.
SP ensures its WSP students undergo facilitated learning, on-the-job learning and work-based projects.
At Shell Singapore — one of the pioneering companies onboard the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme for the energy and chemicals sector — former WSP student Muhammad Kaiser Mohd Yusof, 25, received field training that was closely aligned with classroom training. As an Advanced Diploma in Chemical Engineering student, the programme helped to meet the process technician’s aspirations for concurrent work and study.
Similarly, for Ms Jeslyn Sam, 24, an assistant tech services specialist at Ingram Micro Asia and former WSP student (Specialist Diploma in Cyber Security), the structure and opportunities provided for by the programme was welcome.
She says: “I was given opportunities to participate and lead projects related to security management and incident response. Each module in the course was also properly scheduled so that we had the time to study for it.”
As a result, Ms Sam was able to land a permanent job role related to cyber security.
In addition, each WSP candidate is assigned a mentor from the company to guide them in navigating work challenges, support their continual development, provide insight on corporate procedures and keep them on track when it comes to meeting their study or career objectives.
In short, mentorship helps to set them up for success. In contrast, a fresh graduate working at another company may lack structured supervision or direction.
3. Apply and deepen skills of what’s learnt in school
The beauty of working and studying in a related field is that WSP candidates can immediately apply key concepts learnt to their work. Their hands-on knowledge of the industry also enhances their understanding of course materials.
For example, participants in SP’s digital content marketing WSP get to learn video-storytelling techniques, web analytics, and social media creation and management. By getting their feet wet in a digital content marketing agency and being involved in client campaigns, the WSP participant will be able to apply concepts learnt, while honing their practical skills.
SP also offers a work-study post diploma (specialist diploma) in cyber security, one of the sectors in Singapore that is keenly looking for talents. The candidate studies modules that include security management and incident response in school, but has to respond, investigate or pre-empt actual cyber security breaches or loopholes at the company.
This was the experience of Mr Lee Kun Feng, 24, an associate threat analyst with managed detection and response services provider Proficio. As a former WSP student, he took up the Specialist Diploma in Cyber Security which helped him keep abreast of the ever-changing cyber security and threat landscape. By studying as he worked, this opened up his mind to other learning opportunities around him.
He adds: “Being able to invest time in self-improvement and acquiring new knowledge helps to change our thought process and how we operate while working as we learn about new techniques and skills.”
In larger corporations, where a role may be further broken down into individual job scopes, an employee may not oversee a project from beginning to end. But as part of WSP training, candidates can observe every part of the process to gain a good overview of their field of study — setting them up for supervisory or managerial roles in the future.
4. Envision a clear career progression pathway
Companies that work with schools for the WSP have a talent development plan in place for the candidates, so there is always a clear career progression pathway in sight.
At the end of the programme, participants may have the opportunity to continue on with the company, and may receive potential wage progression or career advancement based on their performance.
This makes perfect sense from a hiring manager’s perspective: After dedicating resources to groom and train an individual who can deftly perform his or her role in the company, retaining this talent would only benefit the organisation. In addition, this individual would have, over the 12 or 18 months, forged bonds and good working relationships with other employees.
5. Enjoy a sign-on incentive of $5,000, and receive an industry-recognised certificate
Here’s a bonus for WSP candidates: There is a sign-on incentive of $5,000*, in addition to regular company benefits such as monthly salary, employee welfare perks and so on.
This sign-on incentive will be disbursed to the participant’s bank account in two tranches:
First tranche of $2,500 — eight weeks after the submission of the signed Agreement of Grant document by the participant
Second tranche of$2,500 — eight weeks after the successful completion of the Work-Study Programme
*Applicable to Singaporeans only, subject to eligibility; participants who do not successfully complete the WSP will be required to return the sign-on incentive.
In addition, WSP candidates who successfully complete the programme will receive an industry-recognised post-diploma qualification or professional certification — a must-have in your resume to show future employers that you have the relevant skills.
Are you a fresh graduate? Here are some of Singapore Polytechnic’s wide array of Work-Study Programmes which can help boost your employability.