Channel NewsAsia

Wanted: Companies with an eye for doers, not degrees

Mr Muhd Munir Ahmad picked the opportunity to be part of the pioneer batch at the Rolls-Royce facility in Singapore over a university education, and the Government is hoping more companies here will provide ITE and polytechnic graduates with such career pathways.  

SINGAPORE: Armed with a diploma, Mr Muhd Munir Ahmad could have gone on to pursue a degree at the new Singapore Institute of Technology university. But the Temasek Polytechnic graduate decided instead to join Rolls-Royce as a technician in 2011.

"I was given the opportunity to be a trainee technician in Rolls-Royce. At the time, Rolls-Royce just started this facility in Singapore so I felt that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of the pioneer batch to help set up this facility and learn more from it," he explains. "I always figured that I could study for a degree later, after gaining some work experience."

Three years on, he is now a test engineer, working on engines that are used in aeroplanes like the A380.

Opening up more opportunities and pathways for ITE and polytechnic graduates like him was one of the key themes of Sunday's National Day Rally. The ASPIRE committee was set up last year to look how to help polytechnic and ITE students get into the right jobs and move up the career ladder. It will announce its recommendations in the next few weeks. A new tripartite committee will also be set up, involving the Government, employers and unions. One of its roles is to promote industry support for individuals to advance based on their skills.

Meanwhile, companies like Rolls-Royce have been diversifying their talent pool as a means of staying competitive. Said Dr Bicky Bhangu, Senior Country Manager of Rolls-Royce Singapore: "When you look at the broader spectrum, we would need all sorts of skills for our organisations. We have worked with academic institutes like the ITE because they offer the foundation of the skills from which we can develop qualified technicians. That's important for us because we need practical skills as well as the analytical skills."

Rolls-Royce employs over 2,000 workers in Singapore and the majority are non-graduates. It also opens up 30 internship positions for ITE students annually and provides scholarships under an agreement with ITE.

In 2010, the company signed an agreement with the ITE for the provision of core skills in aerospace manufacturing. It also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop specialist Precision Engineering Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) in collaboration with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA). Under this agreement, Rolls-Royce offers scholarships to five students each year. These students would also take up internships and, upon graduation, have the chance to take on technical roles within the company.

In his Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited examples of those who have climbed their way to the top using unconventional routes. One of the people he mentioned was Mr Abu Bakar, an assistant safety officer who rose through the ranks.

He joined Keppel Shipyard as a diploma-holder and now manages the company's joint venture in Qatar. He is Chief Executive Officer of its Nakilat-Keppel Offshore and Marine, a joint venture in Qatar specialising in solutions for gas carriers and offshore structure.

For him, paper qualification is not a means to an end. "Education has its own merits," he said. Using just a university degree as a benchmark for performance can actually deprive one of an opportunity to see a person's potential, he believes. "And I'm very glad Keppel looks at it that way, whereby all of us are equal. At the end of the day, what matters is your performance."

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia