Tuesday 27 October 2015

Work-Study programme for NorthLight and Assumption Pathway students

Grooming students for the workplace
NorthLight and Assumption Pathway students in two-year scheme get to pick up job skills and receive guidance from mentors
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2015

Three days a week, 19-year-old Ng Wei Ming cleans rooms and changes bedsheets at the Grand Copthorne Hotel in Havelock Road.

On the other two days of the week, he dons his school uniform to report for lessons at Assumption Pathway School (APS), where he can also seek advice from his job coach, Mr Ronnie Ho.

While Wei Ming enjoys his work at the hotel, he has been late on a few occasions as he lives in Yishun and his journey to work takes more than an hour by public transport.

Mr Ho, who used to work in the hospitality sector, has given Wei Ming time management tips, such as timing how long he needs to prepare and get to work on time, and planning his schedule accordingly.

Wei Ming, who noted that his workplace mentors are kind to him too, said: "I don't want to be late. I can't be late."

He is one of nearly 60 students in the first batch of a two-year work-study programme that started early this year to help ease students from APS and NorthLight School into the workforce.

The two schools cater to those who did not pass their Primary School Leaving Examination. Students spend four years there and specialise in a vocational skill.

About six in 10 of the students from the two schools move on to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE); those who do not qualify for the ITE are given the option of joining the work-study scheme as they may not be ready to join the workforce.

Under the programme at the two schools, named NorthLight Academy (NLA) and Assumption Pathway Academy (APA) respectively, students spend two days in school to brush up on English and maths as well as to learn workplace and life skills such as teamwork and personal effectiveness.

They receive an allowance of about $450 for a month's work.

The two academies began with an initial targeted intake of 30. APA now has 29 students, and NLA, 27.

Job coaches and counsellors support the students. The job coaches help ensure that organisations in the programme have structured training schedules and mentors to help the students at work, while the counsellors look after the students' emotional welfare.

The programme aims to benefit both the students and companies involved, said NorthLight vice- principal Jayvin Yeo. "In today's job market, these students can easily get a part-time job, especially in the service trade," she said.

But they are still young and need guidance, she said. "When they are faced with difficulties, they can turn to the job coaches for help instead of giving up easily."

APA's Mr Ho said most teens aged 17 to 19 find it hard to enter the working world full-time. It is also a worry echoed by their parents.

"(The teens) may not have the right mindset yet. If they were left on their own at the workplace, some may give up after a while," he said.

Students in the work-study scheme are hardly left on their own - job coaches monitor their progress by visiting them at their workplaces regularly and having discussions with them in school.

Some students may have relationship or family woes and these may affect their work performance, job coaches say. But these issues could be hard for a workplace mentor to detect, and students may find it hard to express themselves.

APA job coach Royston Alvin Ang said: "Some mentors may be more focused on the operational tasks and may not know how to deal with our students."

Said Ms Yeo: "We understand our students better and some challenges they face may be multi- faceted. We can work closely with the industry to help them."

When the students' problems are heard and resolved, they will persevere in their work, she added.

The job coaches are always on the lookout for worrying signs like absenteeism, latecoming and the frequent taking of medical leave. They visit students' homes to talk to their parents if the need arises.

Mr Ho added: "We do a lot of follow-up, a lot of parenting and mentoring."

NLA job coach Lim Peck Gee does not let her students know she is popping by and observes them at work from afar.

"You can sense whether a student is doing it right from their facial expressions when they talk to people at their workplace. We have to pick up on these signs," she said.

Companies are happy to get involved in the programme.

Mr Darren Lim, human resource director at Pizza Hut Singapore, said it partnered NLA as it hopes to train Singaporeans to take on jobs. "It can be tough attracting people to join the food and beverage industry. The easy route is for us to hire foreigners, but that's not what we want. We want to groom Singaporeans in this industry too," he said.

NLA student Rakesh Pandey, 17, who is attached to a Pizza Hut outlet where he serves customers, said the programme "lets me study for two days and gain skills for three days".

The programme's goal is for the teens to be equipped with the skills and attitude that will help them secure long-term employment.

While the programme runs for two years, if a student is ready for full-time work at the end of the first year and an opening arises, the schools are happy to let him go.

"This programme is meant to help them assimilate to the work environment and move on. However, we will still be here to lend support," said Ms Yeo.

But there are also students who leave the programme because of negative peer influence.

NorthLight job coach Andrew Tan said: "We may not have a success rate of 100 per cent... But I can tell that the students are improving. And these are the intangible rewards that keep us going."

Ms Lim, his colleague, added: "I tell myself that I'm here to give the students a helping hand and to lift them up. With this lifting, they can go much further in life."

For Wei Ming, the programme has given him an idea of what he hopes to do in future. He hopes to return to work at the Grand Copthorne Hotel after he completes the programme and serves national service.

"I like what I am doing and I like my colleagues. But I hope to one day work in the hotel's kitchen and be a chef. I like to cook," he said.

Scheme kept flexible to help students cope
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2015

NorthLight Academy student Joslyn Low, 17, enjoys her work at FairPrice supermarket's online sales section.

Her work at the inventory requires her to pick out the items on an order chit, which are then packed and delivered to customers.

"I took about two months to get familiar with the work," she said. "At first, I was a bit scared. But you cannot be shy. If you don't know something, just ask."

Joslyn has always been interested in retail and hopes to continue working in the industry after the programme.

Said FairPrice's human resource director, Ms Rebecca Teo: "We hope to play a part to help them be more work-ready and, in turn, increase their employability in the local workforce."

But not all students display the sort of enthusiasm and readiness that Joslyn does for work.

Vice-principal of NorthLight School Jayvin Yeo said she recently handled a case of a girl who stopped turning up for work.

Ms Yeo decided to take her out of work and put her in school for a short period - what the school terms an "incubation period" - where the student is able to think about what she wants and discuss with her school officials.

"We spoke to her company and took her out of work for two weeks to let her cool down," said Ms Yeo.

So from Wednesday to Friday, while her peers were at their various companies, she spent time in school and spoke to her counsellors.

"We need to find out what the issue is. We can't let them give up so easily," said Ms Yeo, adding that at that age, students may sometimes be unsure where their interests lie.

In another case, a student was posted to a fast-food outlet for work, but could not carry out his duties well as he was found to have an eyesight problem.

"He was not able to differentiate the buttons in the kitchen," said Mr Mike Chua, head of department of the NorthLight Academy. "So we worked with the company and decided to redesign his job."

The student agreed and was happy to switch to housekeeping duties, such as cleaning and washing.

His job coach, Mr Andrew Tan, said the job redesign has worked out well. "He is able to do his tasks now, and he's very well-liked at his workplace," he added.

The student has even been asked by his company if he could work on the weekends. He now earns more allowance than his peers, and is a step closer to securing full-time employment, Mr Chua said.

Ms Yeo said these tweaks, such as the job redesign and the incubation period, were put in place along the way. "We have to keep it very flexible because every child is different. There is no set formula or a one-size-fits-all approach for them," she said.

Students can opt to work in social enterprise or school
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2015

At Assumption Pathway School, students in the work-study scheme can choose to work in a social enterprise or within the school, instead of in commercial companies.

Mr Royston Alvin Ang, a job coach at Assumption Pathway Academy, as the school's work- study arm is called, said that while some students are ready to handle the demands of the working world, others may need more time and guidance.

He said social enterprises have a "more forgiving culture". "The environment is better for students who may be more problematic and require more hand- holding," he said.

The school partners Crossings Cafe, a social enterprise with a mission of providing employment opportunities to youngsters who are at risk or from disadvantaged homes.

The school also runs its own restaurant and baking kitchen, which employ students on the work-study programme. Named The Art, it is open to the public from Mondays to Fridays for lunch and high tea, and students working there take orders, serve customers and prepare food and drinks.

They are supervised by a restaurant manager and a chef, who work full-time at the restaurant.

At the baking kitchen, students are responsible for baking products when orders come in.

The kitchen often receives orders from the school, its staff and members of the public, especially during festive seasons such as the Moon Cake Festival. Some of its products are sold at the restaurant too. "For students who are less work- ready, we will place them internally," said Mr Ang.

"The mentors are people from our school, so the students receive more guidance and support."

He added that these different tiers of employment are to ensure students are matched to an environment they can handle.

But he conceded that some critics have said that letting students work in school is a "very sheltered form of employment".

"But it's actually not easy. In terms of operations, I would say the in-house work is just as rigorous as (that done by) students who are working outside," he said.

Mr Ang added that The Art restaurant is usually almost fully occupied during lunchtime and the baking kitchen often receives large orders of more than a hundred cakes.

Fellow job coach Ronnie Ho said: "This programme is set up for students who are not job-ready. Our job is to transform them. For many of them, it is their first time in a work environment and we want to give them something they can handle."

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