Local companies trying to build a presence overseas are having trouble getting suitable Singaporeans to work in these posts.

To tackle the problem, trade agency International Enterprise (IE) Singapore has unveiled a $20 million programme.

IE Singapore chief executive Teo Eng Cheong said the aim is to aid companies in attracting and retaining Singaporean employees.

This includes a $10 million Young Talent Programme - expected to benefit 1,300 students over three years - to cover a scholarship and training grant.

The agency will co-fund scholarships for undergraduate studies at local universities for students interested in working at eight companies already operating abroad.

They are: Advanced Holdings, Ascott Group, Charles & Keith Group, Eu Yan Sang, Keppel Logistics, Rotary Engineering, UES Holdings and YCH Supply Chain.

IE Singapore will reimburse 70 per cent of the companies' scholarship costs, and recipients will be expected to work with the company for a year for each year of funding received. "The objective is to expose more young Singaporeans to overseas markets and... encourage them to work for Singapore companies," said Mr Teo.

The Young Talent Programme will also include a market immersion scheme for undergraduates seeking jobs at Singapore companies with operations abroad. IE Singapore will co-fund training to prepare new staff headed abroad.

It will pay for up to 70 per cent or $10,000 - whichever is lower - of third-party training costs for each new employee, incurred within one year of being employed.

While companies will not be able to apply directly for this scheme, the agency will assess a company's suitability in the process of helping it grow abroad.

The scheme, set to support 400 students a year, will cover five new hires per company each year. Interested students will be able to apply from Friday. More information is at www.iesingapore.gov.sg

The agency will also earmark $6 million to help companies train employees in preparation for overseas business expansion. This is expected to benefit 750 workers, who will also have a chance to go on work attachments abroad.

An additional $4 million will also be set aside to provide companies with human resource consultancy services to attract and develop staff from around the world.

These schemes are targeted at companies that have already established operations overseas and are looking to grow, said Mr Teo.

Other schemes aimed at companies new to internationalisation include the $18 million Market Readiness Assistance grant announced in the Budget debate, which will give companies access to consultants to help them expand abroad.

The agency has also set aside $5 million till 2015 to support industry trade associations and chambers in helping companies look for business leads abroad.

Mr Teo said given the tight labour market and rising business costs here, going abroad could help companies to restructure.

"The aim of reconfiguring your business is to make use of the advantages of each country."

Mr Mike Lim, executive director of bottling firm Dr Who, said smaller firms face additional challenges expanding abroad - they might lack a "crystallised overseas expansion plan", and are also hit harder by the hiring squeeze.

"It's difficult to hire people with the right expertise to help us run a plant overseas," he said.