Nanyang Polytechnic student Soong Weng Wei is hoping for significant responsibilities in his first job out of school.

And he believes that such a position is more likely to be offered to him by a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME).

Mr Soong, 19, is among the 100 polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education students who have submitted applications for the SME Talent Programme, launched yesterday at Ngee Ann Poly. "I'm interested in the opportunities that SMEs can offer those who are fresh graduates... I think working at an SME would allow me to take on more functions and roles than working at a big company," said the final-year business management student.

The programme, unveiled in Budget 2013, will match 3,000 polytechnic and ITE students with SMEs over the next five years. It will pay school fees and a monthly allowance. Polytechnic graduates will also get a $8,000 sign-on bonus and ITE graduates will get a $4,000 bonus when they start work. They will be bonded to the sponsoring SME for two years.

Up to 70 per cent of costs incurred by sponsoring SMEs will be covered by Spring Singapore.

Second- and final-year polytechnic students and final-year ITE students are eligible to apply. Applications for the programme, which aims to reach about 700 to 800 SMEs over five years, opened early last month, on May 6.

As part of the launch, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between six institutes - ITE and the five polytechnics - and six participating industry trade associations and chambers, which will identify suitable SMEs and match them with interested students. The six are the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS), Singapore Manufacturing Federation, Textile and Fashion Federation, Print and Media Association Singapore, Association for Small and Medium Enterprises, and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, who witnessed the signing of the MOU, said SMEs should also take steps to make themselves more attractive to potential employees.

"They should show that they have a good career progression plan within the company and they can groom and develop employees, and allow them to continue on, to get degrees or to further their studies," he said.

In a panel dialogue with 200 polytechnic and ITE students at the event, AllAlloy Dynaweld general manager Victor Khaw said most of his staff begin employment as diploma holders. The company encourages them to upgrade skills and is willing to pay.

"If you're from a polytechnic or ITE and you perform well, we will insist that you upgrade your skills... for you to handle future tasks that the company has for you," he said.

More information on the scheme can be found at http://bit.ly/smetalentprog