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The Big Read in short: Traineeships bearing fruit, even for sceptics

Each week, TODAY’s long-running Big Read series delves into the trends and issues that matter. This week, we look at the inaugural national traineeship programme launched by the Government amid the Covid-19 crisis, including the experiences of trainees so far. This is a shortened version of the full feature.

Mr Andrew Lee (left), assistant specialist trainee for software development, and his supervisor, Mr Lim Chee Keong, senior manager for software development, at Yang Kee Logistics on Aug 26, 2020.

Mr Andrew Lee (left), assistant specialist trainee for software development, and his supervisor, Mr Lim Chee Keong, senior manager for software development, at Yang Kee Logistics on Aug 26, 2020.

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Each week, TODAY’s long-running Big Read series delves into the trends and issues that matter. This week, we look at the inaugural national traineeship programme launched by the Government amid the Covid-19 crisis, including the experiences of trainees so far. This is a shortened version of the full feature,​ which can be found here.

  • The inaugural SGUnited Traineeships Programme helps fresh graduates obtain traineeships in various industries
  • Doubts about the prospects of full-time conversion, amount of money they would get among some initial concerns faced by trainees
  • But these concerns have been allayed when the traineeships started
  • MOM and WSG said applications by host organisations to offer traineeship positions are “scrutinised under a rigorous screening process”
  • Some firms say that they will be looking to convert their trainees to full-timers should they perform well


SINGAPORE — Polytechnic graduate Andrew Lee was initially sceptical when he was offered a government-backed traineeship with a logistics firm in June.

With the Government co-funding 80 per cent of his training allowance, and the company footing the remainder of the bill, he was afraid that the firm might have hired him out of convenience.

“Even if you’re not very well-versed in what you’re doing, (the company) wouldn’t mind because they don’t pay much, so that’s my concern,” the 24-year-old said.

Similarly, Mr Lim Jia Khee, currently a trainee with UOB bank, said that he was apprehensive at first since his allowance would be lower than the income from a full-time role.

“Personally, there are definitely moments you feel like you should be making more in the (job) market,” said the 26-year-old.

However, almost two months into their stints, both Mr Lee and Mr Lim said their concerns have been assuaged. Not only have their firms been guiding them closely and helping them learn new skills, they have also expressed interest in converting them to full-timers.

Mr Lim said he is now able to see the possible long-term prospects of such an opportunity. “If I were to look at the brighter side, I would not be able to (enter this industry) if not for the SGUnited Traineeships programme,” he added. “In the long haul, it’s (about) skill sets and exposure, which is the silver lining.” 

Responding to TODAY’s queries, spokespersons from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Workforce Singapore (WSG) said that more than 1,000 trainees have been placed on the programme so far.

The inaugural programme was first announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat when he unveiled the Resilience Budget in March.

Applications started on June 1. As of Aug 17, over 2,100 host organisations across both public and private sectors have been approved to offer more than 16,500 traineeship vacancies.

The traineeships initially had a maximum duration of 12 months, but this was adjusted to nine months starting from July 29. Traineeship positions lasting more than nine months that were approved prior to the change are allowed to proceed.


Before he became a trainee with a logistics and warehousing firm, Mr Lee worked as a food delivery rider for a month. From May to June, he was working four times a week, four to eight hours a day, earning about S$800.

In July, he began a 12-month stint as a software development assistant specialist trainee with Yang Kee Logistics.

His current project involves developing software that can help to coordinate the transport of cargo and goods. This beats having to cycle door to door in sweltering heat to deliver food, said the Republic Polytechnic graduate.

He added that he would have continued with the food delivery job had he not chanced upon the traineeship on the job portal.

He noted that “you don’t really learn much” when delivering food, but in his current role, he gets to learn meaningful skills.

If he had carried on as a food delivery rider, he admitted that it would “probably affect” his job prospects.

“Employers would think: ‘Why weren’t you employed (full-time) for this long period of time?’”

Other trainees whom TODAY spoke to also valued the prospect of gaining new experiences.

Ms Bian Yue, a trainee at a call automation software startup Novocall, said that although a traineeship allowance is likely lower than the salary of a full-time job, she doesn't mind it.

“As long as it fulfils the kind of job scope I am looking for, I am happy to go for either (a traineeship or a full-time job),” said the 23-year-old business executive trainee. “It really boils down to what I’ve learned and the opportunities and projects I try to create for myself.

“As long as they are relevant and I explain (my experiences) well enough to my next employer, I think it makes me just as employable as everybody else,” she added.

The traineeships have also helped some enter hard-hit industries.

For Mr Luqmanul Yusof, he has always wanted to be part of the maritime industry, just like eight of his extended family members who used to regale him with their stories about working at ports and in cargo ships.

The 23-year-old graduated with a degree in maritime business and logistics from Plymouth University in the United Kingdom earlier this year, and had set his sights on fulfilling his childhood ambition. But when Covid-19 struck, the maritime industry was hard hit by disruptions to the global supply chains.

Mr Luqmanul applied for about 10 jobs in the industry since the end of May, but did not hear back from any of the firms.

He then applied for an SGUnited traineeship opportunity with maritime services company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), and was accepted.

Although he started the traineeship only in July, Mr Luqmanul is already entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that 28 cargo vessels are properly certified, and taking care of issues such as purchasing of spares and provisions.

Whenever he is unsure of anything, his manager will step in to help, said Mr Luqmanul, who is eager to learn more in the remainder of his nine-month stint.

“In a traineeship, you’re starting from the bottom, so you learn everything and have hands-on experience, then slowly make your way up,” he said.

For others like Mr Lim, the traineeship opportunity allows them to enter industries that they otherwise would not have imagined themselves to be in.

A business graduate from the Singapore Management University, Mr Lim specialises in operations management and data analytics. He had set his sights on joining the built environment or manufacturing industry, where he had his internships previously.

However, most of the firms in those industries “were freezing their hiring”, said Mr Lim, who had no luck in getting opportunities there.

He then started looking at industries that were doing well to increase his chances of getting hired. That was when he came across a data analyst traineeship offered by the United Overseas Bank (UOB).

Now, Mr Lim is now part of a team with the bank that ensures that the firm’s data is accurate and complete for internal reporting.

While the technical aspects of handling data were among the skills which he had learnt in the university, the traineeship has enabled him to pick up “soft skills”, Mr Lim said.

This includes having the right people skills to deal with different stakeholders when asking for data or files, or knowing how to communicate with the bank's senior management.

Beyond his traineeship stint, Mr Lim hopes that the skills he has acquired will enable him to get a permanent job that is “preferably in finance” post-pandemic.

“I hope to convert to full-time given the chance, but if I don’t, I’ll look for another role (related) to the skill sets that I’m currently picking up,” he said.

All the trainees interviewed said they wish to continue with their firms full-time when their traineeships end.

“I feel like the company will really nurture me and after one year, (I don’t feel) like they will just throw me away,” said Mr Lee. “I will just do my best… show my manager what I’m capable of.”

The trainees’ employers told TODAY that the traineeships are an opportunity for them to look for potential long-term hires. All four firms expressed interest in converting their trainees to full-timers.

Mr Lee’s supervisor at Yang Kee logistics, Mr Lim Chee Keong, told TODAY that Mr Lee’s role will not just be confined to the coding aspects of software development, but he will also be involved in other areas such as communicating with end-users and setting up the infrastructure to support the firm’s applications.

“We are looking for a long-term prospect for (Mr Lee),” said Mr Lim, who is a senior manager in software development. “So we will definitely be giving him opportunities to grow.”

Novocall founder Huang Jing Jie, 27, said that he recruited trainees on the basis that they could potentially be full-time staff after completing their 12-month stints.

“The traineeship is basically a better way for us to evaluate and train our trainees before they actually become full-time.


1. Why is the Government doing this?

  • Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook Post in June that the Government started the traineeship programme to help young graduates by “opening up more and new pathways to jobs… This in turn will stand them in good stead in landing a permanent role when the hiring demand picks up”.

  • Mr Adrian Choo, founder of career consulting company Career Agility International, noted that the programme sought to prevent a “lost generation of young graduates”.

  • A similar situation occurred during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, when large firms were cutting back on the hiring of fresh graduates. “What happened in later years was that in about 2006 to 2008, (the companies) realised that they didn’t have enough talent pipeline for their middle management, and therefore there was a huge hunt for talent, and a talent shortage in the market,” Mr Choo said.

2. How is a traineeship different from an internship?

  • Traineeships should be seen as a “real job” and not as an internship, said Mr Choo. He added that trainees should not see a traineeship stint as a “short-term experiment” as they would with an internship.

  • Trainees interviewed by TODAY said they have full-time workloads and working hours. They said they do not see their role as transitory, but one where they can learn long-term skills to boost their employability.

  • Employers also said that the traineeships are designed with the long-term goal of nurturing a talent pipeline.

3. How much can trainees earn?

  • For those with a university degree or above, their estimated monthly training allowance would rane between S$1,800 and S$2,500.

  • Those with a polytechnic diploma or professional qualification can expect to receive S$1,300 to S$1,800 a month. The range is between S$1,100 and S$1,500 a month for those who graduated from ITE or its equivalent.

  • The estimated monthly training allowance for each qualification is pegged to 50 to 70 per cent of median starting salaries, and the Government will co-fund 80 per cent of it.

4. What workplace protection is there for trainees since they are not considered full-time employees?

  • Organisations do not have to make Central Provident Fund contributions for their trainees. They are also not obliged to offer employee benefits such as annual and sick leave to trainees.

  • Amid the ongoing pandemic, the MOM and WSG spokespersons said that the Manpower Ministry takes “a serious view of trainees reporting to work sick”. “As a good practice, host organisations should provide a minimum of seven days of paid annual leave and seven days of paid medical leave per year of traineeship,” they said. 

  • WSG’s programme partner, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), will conduct random monthly check-ins with host organisations “to ensure the well-being of the trainees”.

5. What’s preventing companies from abusing the programme by using trainees as cheap labour?

  • Responding to concerns that firms may use the traineeship programme as a substitute for full-time employment, the MOM and WSG spokespersons said that applications by host organisations to offer traineeship positions are “scrutinised under a rigorous screening process”.

  • It requires these organisations to declare if they had undergone retrenchments and various cost-cutting measures “at multiple stages of their application”.

  • SBF will also conduct further checks to “ensure that no substitutive hiring had taken place before the traineeships are accorded”, the spokespersons said.

6. What happens to trainees if they are not converted to full-time roles after their traineeship?

  • The MOM and WSG spokespersons said that for trainees who are not placed into full-time positions, the traineeship experience will “still put them in better stead to secure jobs with other employers”. They reiterated that the Government will also continue to “support them and walk with them in their job search” through career matching services provided by WSG and the National Trades Union Congress’ Employment and Employability Institute.

  • The newly-launched Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) scheme will also support businesses to expand and grow their local headcounts over the next six months, the spokespersons added. “This will also help spur hiring of trainees into full-time jobs.”

  • Ms Wee cautioned that given the tough economic situation, trainees should not expect firms to convert them to full-time staff, and they must be prepared to find other sources of employment when their traineeships end.

To find out more information about the national traineeship programme, visit:

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