For most secondary school and junior college students in Singapore, vacations usually mean an opportunity to earn some pocket money — a quick shift at the neighbourhood ice cream parlour, a stint as a babysitter, and selling unwanted stuff at a flea market or car-boot sale.

However, lately, an increasing number of young students are opting to do internships with various companies, institutions, and even non-profit organisations.

While internships are commonplace for university students, the practice has slowly been catching up with the younger set who are keen to be exposed to different opportunities in the hope that it will give them an insight into their potential career paths.

With more rigorous university admissions standards, many secondary and JC students have started to realise the importance of positioning themselves early for success.

Straight As and an impressive extra-curricular and leadership background, coupled with relevant internship experience, allow for better university prospects and, eventually, also prepare them for the tough “real world”.  

Miss Sherry Low and Miss Annie Lee — students of CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls’ School — are part of this upward trend. Both girls recently interned with Citadel Search, an executive search firm that specialises in human capital partnering.

The opportunity materialised after a joint endeavour between the company and the school administration.  The experience allowed the duo to “apply our classroom learning skills to the real world and gain hands-on work experience that we were unable to experience within a classroom”.

The schoolgirls were given individual projects, as well as tasks that were similar to those done by the firm’s employees.

Miss Low says: “It was definitely an eye-opener for us and we learned many things. We completed the respective projects successfully and felt a sense of accomplishment. We also picked up essential time-management and organisational skills.”

Ms Cindy Yeo, managing director of Citadel Search, believes that the internship experience is equally fruitful for the firm. She plans on building a rigorous internship programme that caters to pre-university students, placing two to three candidates every school break.

Says Ms Yeo: “I see the value of exposing young students early to various industries. It will play a huge part in their career decision-making and will help them discover what they truly want to commit to. In the end, it also helps companies gain valuable and steadfast employees.”

Indeed, companies are keener on taking in younger interns. After all, as much as it is important for students to prepare themselves early, companies also gain from grooming future employees when they are most impressionable.

Further, young interns add vigour to the working environment with their fresh ideas and interesting takes on otherwise old topics. Ultimately, these interns also help in the companies’ thrust to evaluate their own practices and improve their own student programmes.

Educational institutions are also beginning to advocate early internships. Some secondary schools and junior colleges have already made it part of their curricula or have alternatively offered either course credits or an extra-curricular distinction to students who engage in such on-the-job training.

School guidance counsellors have also taken on the role of connector between students and companies to locate possible internships for their students. Some of the more proactive learners create their own internship experience, either through leveraging the network provided by family and friends or exploring neighbourhood businesses and SMEs, such as the community clinic or the local bank.          

Certainly, the greater hope is that with the rising trend of students gaining internship experiences early, the employment landscape will see an eventual increase in more resolute employees, with fewer young workers job-hopping or switching careers often.

Miss Lee says: “Being exposed to the realities of the working world also allows us to test a potential career without commitment, and enables us to find out if a certain type of job really suits us.”

At a fundamental level, even if these internships do not lead to life-changing decisions for the students, the communication, time management and networking skills afforded by these internships are beneficial to them.

Article by Mariel Caballero Chavez, a former associate consultant with Citadel Search, an executive search firm that specialises in human capital partnering. For more information, visit www.citadelsearch.com.sg