SMRT ties up with S'pore's five polytechnics to boost home-grown talent pipeline

Dr Thian Boon Meng (left) with assistant station managers Farah Maszaid and Muhammad Rasyidi Aswandi. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Public transport operator SMRT has tied up with the five polytechnics in Singapore to strengthen the pipeline of home-grown engineers, programmers and other specialists for both the company and the wider rail industry.

This comes amid ongoing efforts to recruit and develop workers to meet a growing need for talent to support an increasingly complex MRT system that is expected to grow from 250km now to 360km by the early 2030s.

For instance, SMRT previously said that 1,500 jobs are expected to be created from the Thomson-East Coast Line by the time it becomes fully operational around 2025.

Singapore's sixth MRT line is being built in five stages, and the third stage with 11 stations is expected to open by the end of the year.

SMRT is recruiting progressively as more stations are opened.

On Friday, the rail operator signed a memorandum of understanding with Nanyang, Ngee Ann, Republic, Singapore and Temasek polytechnics.

SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming said a steady pipeline of talent is needed to transform and run the company's businesses, operations and services, which have been disrupted by digitalisation and Covid-19.

He said the agreement will formalise and expand upon existing collaborations between SMRT and the five polytechnics to cultivate such talent.

One example is the opportunities for polytechnic lecturers to be attached to SMRT, and corresponding teaching stints for SMRT engineers at the schools.

Currently, there are one to two such cross-attachments annually.

With the MOU, more academic staff will be able to experience what their students will eventually be doing at work, and keep abreast of evolving industry practices.

SMRT also aims to have four times the number of interns it had before, and hopes to be able to offer full-time jobs to 40 per cent of the interns who come from polytechnics.

For existing workers, SMRT said it will work with the polytechnics on training programmes to meet industry needs and provide career development opportunities.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said at the MOU signing at the SMRT office in Paya Lebar that the close relationships between successful companies and academia will accelerate the pace at which Singapore can produce "the graduates that we want".

However, he added that it is not just about churning out another batch of graduates who are ready for the market, but also helping people to keep learning.

"Singaporeans, especially our younger generations, all want meaningful purpose. In order for us to provide that meaning and purpose to inspire people, we need to help our people to keep growing," said Mr Chan.

Assistant station managers Farah Maszaid and Muhammad Rasyidi Aswandi had signed up for part-time engineering diploma courses, which are paid for by SMRT under its Learning through Educational Advancement Programme.

Ms Farah, 32, is starting her course at Republic Polytechnic next month.

She left school 15 years ago and did not continue after her O levels.

"I was motivated by my bosses. They said, 'you are still young, just continue to study. We will support you'," said Ms Farah.

Mr Rasyidi, who has a Higher Nitec diploma in mechatronics engineering, said his goal when he applied to SMRT was to go to the polytechnic, and he had asked about this during his job interview.

Now, a year into his 2½-year course at Nanyang Polytechnic, the 29-year-old has a better understanding of how the MRT system works.

He said he may consider pursuing engineering roles when he graduates.

Dr Thian Boon Meng, course chair at Singapore Polytechnic's (SP) School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, has been attached to SMRT twice.

His latest 28-day stint between October last year and April this year gave him insights into the smart sensor technology currently being used for maintenance work.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing (standing, left) and SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming witnessing the MOU signing between SMRT and the five polytechnics. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Dr Thian said there is growing interest among students to join the rail industry, and an indicator of this is the quality of students enrolled in SP's Rapid Transit Technology course, which has improved over the years.

Mr Merrick Sheng, 20, who joined SMRT as an intern last month, said being at the rail company allows him to do work that he feels is meaningful.

Mr Sheng, who graduated from Temasek Polytechnic earlier this year with a computer engineering diploma, is currently helping with various digitalisation projects.

He said: "Public transport is a very big part of Singaporean life, so what I do here will impact millions of commuters."

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