Beyond school, students must hone their skills and plan their careers while employers must offer attractive job pathways that are built upon skills, Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Amy Khor said yesterday.
Expertise in a field "cannot be acquired solely from schools", she said.
"If you want to attain skills mastery, you have to be prepared to continue learning and deepening your skills throughout your careers."
Dr Khor was speaking at a roadshow at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Eunos, where a new work-study initiative for fresh polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates was launched.
The SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme was among several moves announced last month by the Government to boost the skills of workers here.
So far, 61 employers have joined the scheme, offering close to 150 places in eight sectors: food services, games development, logistics, infocomm technology, marine and offshore engineering, retail and precision engineering.
Some of the companies include Wing Tai Retail Management, Onn Wah Precision Machining, Toll Global Logistics and Resorts World Sentosa.
The food manufacturing industry will be the first to start next month.
During their 12 to 18 months with the firms, the polytechnic and ITE graduates will be trained and mentored, and have a hand in company projects.
They may also be sent on overseas attachments.
As an incentive, the Government is offering a $5,000 bonus for those who sign up.
At the end of their stint, an ITE graduate will gain industry experience and a diploma, while a polytechnic graduate will get an advanced or specialist diploma.
Companies will get grants of up to $15,000 per employee taken under the scheme to offset their costs.
Employers will also work with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency on retaining talent through a two-year career development road map and structured on-the-job training plans.
By 2025, the aim is to have one in three ITE and polytechnic graduates on board.
At yesterday's event, Dr Khor paid homage to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, saying he was an example of someone who never stopped learning.
Addressing an audience of about 600 students, Dr Khor said: "You will recall his Chinese tutor mentioning Mr Lee's keen interest to improve his Chinese.
"He took Mandarin lessons even after stepping down from the Cabinet, and maintained his strong desire to learn even in his later years.
"We must always emulate his unending willingness to learn, never forgetting his words, 'our most valuable asset is in the ability of our people'."
Ms Sherine Toh, senior vice-president for human resources for the TungLok Group restaurant chain, said it is prepared to take up to 10 graduates this year.
"They will start as trainee cooks and be exposed to the kitchen's preparation process and dining procedures," she said.
Students keen on the scheme said it allows them to gain job experience, earn a salary and further qualification.
Ms Lee Wei Ling, 22, who is graduating from Nanyang Polytechnic's digital media design in games course this year, said having job experience is more important than qualifications in the games industry.
"This programme will save time for me as I can study and work at the same time."
STEADY PIPELINE OF SKILLED STAFF
One is a firm that develops video games, the other is a jewellery retailer.
But both feel that the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme will go some way in helping them find workers with relevant skills amid a tight labour market.
It will also give them a chance to work more closely with the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to train young graduates.
Mr Ken Poh, director of PD Design Studio, which has seven full-time staff, said the company is looking to expand and is working on a new action game.
He hopes to find at least two individuals through the Earn and Learn scheme to join his team of programmers, artists and game designers.
"It's quite difficult to find people who have the passion and specialised skills in programming and art that we need," he said. "Artists could take about a year before they can produce quality material and programmers may need at least six months to a year to be good at their work."
Both employers hope the new programme will provide a steady pipeline of employees.
Mr Poh said: "By the time we train our interns, they have to leave for national service or go back to school. So we'd rather have a long-term solution."
Mr Daniel Lim, executive director of Soo Kee Group, which hopes to bring in 10 graduates via the scheme, said: "It's important for staff to find the right fit, as they perform better at the job when they are trained for it.
"Then we can also have higher staff retention, as people don't get any culture shock."
More interaction between the polytechnics, ITE and companies will also help ensure that students have the right skills, said Mr Lim.
"It's a more coordinated programme where the school takes reference from potential employers on things such as market challenges and how they can tailor curriculum to equip students for jobs."
This article was first published on Mar 29, 2015.
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