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SGUnited Traineeships: The pros, the cons, and the bottom line

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

As part of the COVID-19 response, traineeships under the SGUnited initiative aim to help the graduates and mid-career individuals of the pandemic-era tide stay employable in the gloomy economic climate. Is it truly the silver lining for jobseekers amidst the crisis?

Updates from Budget 2021

The government recently announced the extension of the SGUnited Traineeships (SGUT) Programme and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme in the 2021 Budget Address.

Graduates in the calendar year 2019 to 2021, can look forward to up to 35,000 traineeship and training opportunities. Meanwhile, 14,500 traineeships and full-time training positions will be available for those who qualify for the mid-career category.

What is a Traineeship in the context of SGUnited Jobs and Skills?

Before the pandemic, the concept of traineeships was not as widely adopted in Singapore. We are more acquainted with internships. Though there are slight nuances that differentiate the two around the world, by definition, they serve the same purpose.

A traineeship is designed to help young people who may not have the relevant work experiences become work-ready through skills training from job attachments. The objective is to curb a “chicken-and-egg” problem that most graduates face: they want to gain relevant skill sets through meaningful employment, yet they could not secure such opportunities due to the lack of their work experiences.

The term runs under a slightly different meaning for traineeships launched under SGUnited.

What is SGUnited Traineeship

As an initiative that was triggered solely in response to COVID-19, traineeships launched under SGUnited are primarily centered around a dual focus: Firstly, to help recent graduates and mid-career individuals affected by the pandemic-ridden job market find employment and secondly, to help companies gain access to much-needed resources during the economic downturn. The government incentivises host organisations to hire by co-funding 80% of the training allowances for the duration of the contract (up to 12 months during its first launch in FY2020, reduced to up to 6 months for the extended launch for FY2021).

Traineeships under SGUnited were made accessible to recent graduates and mid-career individuals under the SGUnited Traineeships and the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme respectively.

The SGUnited Traineeships was introduced in the Fortitude Budget in May 2020. Under the programme, recent and new graduates of Institutes of Higher Learning and Institute of Technical Education get opportunities to build their capabilities and enhance their employability as the economy recovers from COVID-19.

The SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme kicked off slightly later in August 2020. Under the Mid-Career Pathways Programme, more experienced mid-career individuals similarly can gain industry-relevant experience to stay employable amid the pandemic through job attachments and traineeships.

The contemplation

By December 2020, some 4,700 fresh graduates have been placed in such opportunities out of the 21,000 openings made available. Meanwhile, 430 out of 13,700 opportunities were filled for the Mid-Career Pathways Programme.

Despite the good intentions behind the SGUnited traineeships, the low- to mid-range take-up rates reflect the reservations prospective job seekers still have about the programme.

For some, traineeships should only be considered at the last resort: if, and only if jobseekers have tried unsuccessfully to find full-time employment.

Yet, to do so can be limiting one’s potential and growth in his or her career.

In this article, we’ll explore a rounded perspective for those who are considering this pathway. We’ll do so by examining the tangible and intangible pros and cons you need to consider from being a trainee. Managing the expectations of what a traineeship entails helps you to reconcile with the uncertainty and moments of hardships in your pursuit, should you embark on this path.

Pros and Cons of SGUnited Traineeship

The Cons

1. Money

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Looking at monetary benefits alone, it’s clear why traineeships are perceived to be the more subservient option as compared to permanent employment contracts. For both graduates and mid-career individuals, the specific training allowance is capped according to the different tiers of education qualifications and requirements.

For Graduates from 2019 to 2021 (both years inclusive)

For Mid-career individuals

According to the 2020 Polytechnic Graduate Survey jointly conducted by the five local polytechnics (RP, NP, TP, NYP and SP) in Singapore, the median gross salary for fresh graduates and post-NS graduates in full-time permanent employment across all course clusters is $2,400. As for ITE graduates, the starting gross mean monthly salaries reflected in the 2019 Graduate Employment Survey for fresh graduates and post-NS graduates are $1,765 and $2,180 respectively. University graduates in NTU, NUS, SMU and SUSS who found a full-time job earned a median starting salary of $3,700.

Since some graduates can earn higher starting salaries in other permanent employment opportunities, a traineeship can be seen as an inferior choice. Similarly, mid-career individuals who have racked up a certain level of experience may expect to command a certain salary that a traineeship’s training allowance is unable to provide. Hence, they may perceive the outlines of the allowance bracket as more inhibiting when considering whether to take up the job.

2. Employee benefits

Trainees do not have an official employer-employee relationship with the company that they are attached to. That’s why companies are referred to as “host organisations”, and trainees are paid “training allowances” instead of salaries.

Since companies hosting trainees are effectively not employers, this translates to different obligations as compared to other permanent employment contracts:

  • Host companies are not obliged to provide trainees with non-monetary benefits such as accommodation, food and transportation.

  • Trainees do not get CPF contributions. Losing out on months of CPF can be a big deal especially for graduates planning to purchase their first homes, or mid-career individuals who have already committed to financial obligations using their CPF accounts.

  • Trainees are not protected under the Employment Act (EA). This means that trainees are not entitled to any mandatory annual or sick leave, overtime-pay or a notice period from the hosting company’s part, among other standards outlined by the Ministry of Manpower. Though host organisations are also encouraged by the government to provide a minimum of 7 days paid medical leave and 7 days paid annual leave on a goodwill basis, it is up to the companies’ own discretion to implement them.

A possible reason for the gray area outlining the obligations required by host organisations is because traineeships were never engineered to be a long-term solution to the employment cri