Monday, 10 May 2021

askST: Is working before university a good idea?

Q: My son, who is a polytechnic graduate, wants to go to university immediately after national service. But I feel he should get some work experience first and figure out what he is good at, especially now with job prospects for university graduates not looking good. What are your views?

A: In recent years, I have interviewed young people who opted to work before going to university.

Some decided to work because they did not have the grades required for their preferred degree course. They hoped to chalk up some work experience to later secure a place in a university.

Others got a job because they were undecided on a degree course.

Take Mr Dennis Chan, 25, for instance. Despite having an almost perfect grade point average (GPA) in polytechnic, he decided to work for two years at his father’s hardware store.

He said he had no regrets. While turning his parents’ business around, he bonded with them.

His experience showed that despite having studied engineering at the polytechnic, he had a knack for business development and marketing. He is heading this year to a local university to study for a business degree.

Another young man I met a few years ago is Mr Goh Wei Xiang, 29. He gave up a place in a top junior college for a polytechnic education because of his interest in nautical studies.

After his diploma, he became the first Singaporean to be accepted by the Trafigura’s global commodity trading apprenticeship programme. Soon after, he marked another milestone when he became the first non-degree holder here to join trainees from prestigious universities in the company’s highly competitive graduate programme.

These young Singaporeans said that by working, they discovered more about themselves and their interests and aptitude.

They also developed valuable work and life skills.

More recently, I interviewed Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) student Alvin Ong Jun Wei, who is taking up a civil engineering work-study degree course after working for five years at Highway International, a building materials supplier.

The 38-year-old electronics diploma holder, who is married with two children, attends classes two afternoons a week and spends the rest of the time working as a senior sales executive at Highway International.

He took up the course to better understand engineering concepts, so that he will be able to better serve his clients who are mostly engineers.

It has not been easy to juggle work and studies, but he said it has been a good experience. “I get to apply what I learn in class to my job and vice versa. So, it is a good way of learning.”

SIT deputy president (academic) and provost Chua Kee Chaing said his university welcomes mature students with work experience.

“Not everyone is sure of what he or she wants to pursue right after his or her polytechnic or pre- university education,” said Professor Chua. “Instead of going straight to university, it might be a good idea for these people to gain some work experience to see where their real interests lie.”

He said SIT’s aptitude-based admissions gives an advantage to students with relevant work experience as they will be able to better express and demonstrate their passion in their desired courses of study.

He added: “We find that students who have prior relevant work experience are clearer about their career goals and are more motivated.

“They are able to put to good use their prior work experience, knowledge and life skills to their coursework assignments, project work as well as Integrated Work Study Programme in companies. In many cases, these students are able to achieve a higher degree of success when they head out to industry after graduation.”

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Q: I am in my late 20s, but I want to go back to university, probably SIT, where I can work and study at the same time. Is that possible?

A: Around 20 per cent of SIT students have at least two years of work experience (excluding national service) prior to joining SIT.

SIT’s aptitude-based admissions give an advantage to students with relevant work experience.

You said you are keen on combining work and study.

SIT offers the SkillsFuture Work-Study Degree programme which draws inspiration from the German and Swiss system of apprenticeship.

Students keen on careers in growth sectors, such as information security and hospitality business, can go to work in companies and receive full or partial sponsorship to study for a degree.

SIT currently offers work-study degrees in 15 of its programmes, with 135 students currently enrolled.

To date, some 47 companies, including consulting firm Accenture, telecommunications company Singtel, construction company Samwoh, ingredients solutions company Ingredion and building materials supplier Highway International, are participating.

Even if you do not take up the work-study degrees, SIT requires its students to take on eight-month to year-long internships.

And the longer, more structured work attachments have translated into good job offers for its students.

In its graduate employment survey with the Class of 2019, over half of its graduates (excluding those from Allied Health) received advance offers from the companies where they did their work attachments. Around a third accepted the offers.

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