The SGUnited Traineeships Programme is a well-intentioned and good initiative. For those who have not heard of this scheme, the programme aims to support recent graduates from University, Polytechnics, and ITEs with traineeship opportunities across various sectors.
The government will fund 80 percent of the training allowance, while the host organisation funds the remaining 20%.
Traineeships must last up to 9 months. Graduates would receive an estimated monthly training allowance of $1,100 to $2,500, depending on their qualifications.
So far, majority of firms hosting the trainees are SMEs. There are also large firms like Singtel, Tata Consultancy Services, and Baxter Healthcare.
I do appreciate the efforts put in by our civil service and policy makers for coming up with this good idea and anticipating the issues faced by fresh graduates. There are many benefits to this SGUnited Traineeships Programme. These traineeships will help graduates develop skills, gain relevant work experience, and earn some money at the same time.
Yet, upon closer analysis, I realized that the SGUnited Traineeships Programme has some room for improvement. I would like to highlight some concerns I have and hope to get more clarity on what is being done about them.
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1. Companies are not obliged to provide mandatory sick and annual leave for our graduates
I recently discovered that companies are not required to provide Sick Leave and Annual Leave to the trainees, under the SGUnited Traineeships programme.
I had a look at the job descriptions of some traineeships. A trainee often has similar job scopes and working hours as an entry-level staff.
While host organizations may choose to offer non-monetary benefits on a discretionary goodwill basis, I am afraid that some companies may choose not to do so.
I am worried that this could lead to unintended outcomes which could potentially worsen the Covid-19 situation in Singapore. What if a trainee refuses to take MC if he or she feels unwell, fearing he or she may lose a day’s worth of wages? This is a possibility especially if one has financial issues and feel pressured to contribute to their household income.
I understand some may dismiss the issue of sick leave, and say something along the lines “Got income very good already. It is better than not having a job. Graduates should be hungry and focus on learning opportunities,”
The premise is that if one is given an opportunity to be trained and learn on the job, these type of ‘benefits’ should not matter.
However, if that is the point, I would like to highlight that in the case of internships, interns are covered by the Employment Act are entitled to paid sick leave, if: 1) intern has served employer for at least three months, 2) intern has informed or attempted to inform the employer of his/her absence within 48 hours.
I would like to ask the Ministry of Manpower if they could consider extending this basic right to trainees as well? If interns are covered under the Employment Act, why not trainees as well?
Furthermore, assuming an intern salary is $800/month. After subsidy, a trainee earning $2,500 would cost the company $500/month. In this scenario, a trainee will cost the company less than an intern.
No one is asking for full benefits, but if the salary of the workers are already so heavily subsidized — would it really be unreasonable to request that the companies provide them something as basic as sick leave?
2. Could graduates be shortchanged?
In addition, companies could potentially use the grant to subsidize positions they’ve previously budgeted for. Stories of such cases were shared on Reddit Singapore.
In a hypothetical example, a company could have an executive position already open and offering $3,000 per month and employer CPF contribution. Given that the traineeship program option is available, the company could convert it to a traineeship position of $2,500 per month without employer CPF.
There are a few potential implications to this.
(1) Would permanent jobs have possibly been lost in the process given that companies may choose the traineeship route to enjoy the benefits? The hired graduate would be earning a lot less than what he or she would – without having the same benefits as everyone else in the company.
(2) Our taxpayers’ money could have been spent on subsidizing a role which the company could already comfortably afford and planned for (I am not sure if this is the intention of the scheme).
(3) We cannot track how many new jobs were created as a result of the SGUnited Traineeships (Will dive deeper into this in my next point)
I wonder what safeguards are currently implemented to ensure this does not happen? If businesses are found to abuse the system, would there be any consequences for them to serve as a strong deterrent effect?
3. How can we track the success of the SGUnited Traineeships Program and ensure these traineeships materialise into actual jobs?
When I shared this post on LinkedIn, a friend of mine raised an excellent point:
Is it creating more good opportunities at companies which otherwise wouldn’t exist? Or simply providing subsidies for jobs that were already available anyway.– Timothy Ho, Founder of Dollars & Sense, questions how we can track if the programme’s success
If a firm has sufficient profits, and would proceed with hiring even without the SGTraineeship program, but chooses to change a role from a perm one to a traineeship for all the financial benefits — how can we track the success of this program?
How do we know if a role resulted specifically from the SGUnited Traineeships Programme, or, would have been there regardless of whether there is a programme or not?
As the investment in this program is not small. I hope that the authorities could also scrutinize the outcomes of the traineeships to ensure that it did result in new jobs that would have been created as a result of the scheme
Also, I am sure none of us wants to see a situation whereby there is an entrenchment of permanent traineeships. Thus, I would like to suggest that we also track the percentage of these jobs that materialize into actual jobs down the line.
With such a heavy investment in this SGUnited Traineeships scheme, it is important that we are able to measure the success and ensure this program is truly helping to create new jobs for graduates.
While providing jobs is important, there should be measures to ensure the trainee’s interest and wellbeing. Something as basic as sick leave should be mandated for these graduates.
I understand that some feel that graduates would be able to speak up if mistreated or feel that graduates have a choice to not take up traineeships without sick leave.
I hope you can all be mindful about making these kinds of comments, which implies that all trainees have a choice. This may not be the case for a graduate in financial difficulties. Furthermore, many of them would be in their first official job and could be afraid of rocking the boat. Given that there is no equal balance of power, I hope that laws could be put in place to protect them.
I am heartened to learn that the government is extending more help to our older PMETs as well by trying to get more companies to make their traineeship opportunities available to mid-career PMETs as well.
With a significant number of trainees expected to enter our workforce both graduates and older PMETs, I hope that the Ministry of Manpower could consider extending greater protection to our trainees.
Just like we have so many grants and policies available to keep businesses during this time, I hope that we could also consider the wellbeing of workers especially those who are vulnerable and unable to find a full-time role during these challenging times.