Internships boost students’ employability amid rising unemployment rates

By Adele Chiang

Having internship experience has given graduating NTU students a leg up in the job hunt. More than half of the graduates from the Class of 2017 secured jobs before graduation despite rising unemployment rates.

In January, The Straits Times reported that the overall unemployment rate in Singapore had continued its upward trend and had risen to 2.1 per cent in 2016, its highest level since 2010.

As of June, the annual average overall unemployment rate stands at 2.2 per cent.

Nevertheless, this statistic did not faze NTU’s Class of 2017.

A preliminary survey done by NTU, which involved more than 5,000 students, found that two in three students secured a job before graduation.

In NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson’s address to the Class of 2017, he said this statistic was encouraging despite the “uncertain economic conditions”.

“It shows the high standing of NTU graduates with employers,” he added.

One reason for this is that the majority of NTU students have something many employers value — a hands-on internship experience.

Chief executive officer of maritime company Ascenz Solutions Pte Ltd Chia Yoong Hui said he prefers to hire a candidate who has had experience in the field over one with good results.

“Grades do not always translate to real world abilities,” said the 49-year-old, who is also the co-founder and director of Ascenz.

“New hires with experience have a gentler learning curve, can contribute more and be more productive in a shorter time,” he added.

85 per cent of NTU students undergo a credit-bearing internship with external companies within their four years of study.

One such example is NTU alumnus Debra Rajwani, 23, who secured a job at a public relations and marketing agency a month before graduating in July.

She completed her six-month compulsory school internship at an offshore and marine company in her third year of school, which gave her valuable practical experience.

“It taught me how to deliver client-ready work, and that boosts my superiors’ confidence in me,” said the graduate from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

Yet, the job search is not always easy.

Despite having an internship under her belt, Ms Charmaine Chua, a fresh graduate from the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering struggled to find a job.

“I remember sending more than 30 applications a day during my job hunt, but I only received two replies,” said the 23-year-old. She had started applying for jobs two months before her graduation.

Ms Chua eventually found employment at a pharmaceutical firm three weeks before graduating.

But not all fresh graduates are as fortunate.

Ms Hema Lata, a graduate from the School of Social Sciences, has yet to receive a favourable job offer since she began searching in May. In the meantime, she has decided to do internships and part time work to gain more experience.

“Hopefully this will increase the chances of me landing more interviews,” said the 24-year-old.

NTU’s Career and Attachment Office (CAO) aims to continue to engage the other 33 per cent of students who have yet to secure employment.

“We push out jobs through email notifications to these students on a weekly basis for at least six months after their graduation,” said Director of CAO Loh Pui Wah.

Despite the discouraging job market statistics, Mr Loh remains optimistic.

“Singapore is not in a full-on economic recession. Its economy is experiencing a structure shake-up, leading to an increasing unemployment rate,” he said.

He added that since Singapore is moving towards increasing productivity and automating more jobs, students should be open to employment from these sunrise industries, which tend to hire more employees.

Nevertheless, CAO still recognises the value of professional experience in boosting students’ employability, and is developing initiatives to give students a greater competitive edge.

One such initiative, NTU PEAK, will see 30 students solving real-world problems posed by external companies like Mediacorp and Systems on Silicon Manufacturing Company Pte Ltd in September. Students will then come up with solutions and present them to the leaders of the respective companies.

Mr Loh said this will give students more valuable experience beyond the classroom.

He said: “I hope to see students hone their leadership, critical thinking and problem solving skills – competencies that are highly sought after by employers.”