“With the new programme, the polytechnic’s final-year students will be matched with industry mentors as they undergo real-world training and embark on projects” (NYP To Offer Structured Internships To All Its Students, Amanda Lee).
At first glance a seemingly superficial attempt to provide its students with “greater support for meaningful learning at the workplace” (TODAY, May 16), the Structured Internship Programme (SIP) offered by Nanyang Polytechnic sets a good precedent for the other polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education. Simply doing well in academics is no longer adequate. These programmes are already well-established in the universities, providing undergraduates with opportunities to improve their career prospects.
These structured endeavours would be particularly useful for those entering the workforce for the first time, since orientation activities and work tasks will be planned to ease them into organisational processes and hierarchies. Yet what stands out in the SIP is that students “will be matched with industry mentors as they undergo real-world training and embark on projects”. Through my different attachments I have been blessed with mentors who are eager to not only share their insights, but also challenge their interns to do much more. Such rigour has been well appreciated, and not necessarily present in the confines of a school.
More importantly in the long run, internships help students ascertain whether they might be suitable for a company or industry. Through months of immersion they get a glimpse of the possible roles and responsibilities, speak to colleagues who have amassed years of experience and expertise, as well as put into practice know-how learnt in the classroom. Even after three years of tertiary education the future remains hazy, and my internships during the summer have been a good remedy to this uncertainty. For instance working in a bank last summer – even if it was for a short while – made me realise that I was ill-suited for the finance sector.
Career guidance is crucial in the school, and in this vein internships provide a link between courses in school and careers in the workplace. Educators can help to shape perceptions, encouraging students to establish ambitions and aspirations on their own.
And since the SIP and its equivalent programmes are stepping stones, ultimately the onus is on students to make independent decisions. The notion of lifelong learning which Education Minister Heng Swee Keat alluded to is applicable too. In the universities structured undertakings are far and few between, and at times undergraduates would have to source for their own openings based on preferences and demand. With an insatiable thirst for development individuals will eventually work for their own opportunities in the real world.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.