STUDENTS from technical institutes here will have more chances to work and further their qualifications at the same time.
Under major changes being made, Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates will get more career options, guidance and direction.
The moves come amid ongoing efforts to encourage lifelong learning and to go beyond qualifications in developing workers' skills.
"Learning must be continual and lifelong, instead of just being frontloaded in the first 20-odd years of our lives," Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said at a press conference announcing the changes yesterday.
A key new feature is the place-and-train programme, modelled after the Swiss and German apprenticeship schemes.
After leaving the ITE and polytechnics, graduates can undergo structured on-the-job training in the workplace which will complement what they learnt in school.
Those from the ITE can work towards diplomas, while those from the polytechnics can aim for advanced and specialist diplomas.
The scheme will be organised differently, depending on the industry. An ITE trainee, for example, can work three days a week and study for a diploma two days a week. Or he can alternate between three months of work and three months of study.
Upon completion, workers are expected to receive higher pay.
"The basic idea is to integrate work and study, since many skills are best acquired through real work and practice," said Mr Heng, adding that the Government will work with employers to look at remuneration during and after training. "The goal is to work towards a system where higher skills of the staff can translate into higher productivity and higher pay," he said.
The place-and-train programme is among 10 key recommendations by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee led by Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah.
Its report, which was released yesterday, called for career counselling for students and better internships, among others.
Standardised benchmarks will also be introduced to help workers upgrade their skills and be rewarded accordingly.
Describing the recommendations as "powerful", Mr Heng said he believed they would have a significant impact.
But the changes are not aimed at dissuading ITE and polytechnic graduates from aiming for a degree, he said in response to The Straits Times at the media conference.
He stressed that the insights underpinning the changes apply across the board, including to university studies.
"For instance, on applied learning, even the world's best surgeons spend thousands of hours honing their skills in the operating theatre," he said, adding that a variety of pathways is needed for different jobs.
"It's not a matter of one qualification versus another, but the right and relevant qualifications and right and relevant type of learning experiences that will enable an individual to build deep skills and expertise, and enable him to excel in the workplace."
Such strong skills are in strong demand both here and abroad, said Ms Indranee. "The employers tell us this, OECD reports point this out and our study trips abroad confirm this," she said.
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