Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are stepping up efforts to recruit Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates in a bid to combat the manpower squeeze.

The aim is to place some 300 with local companies every year over the next five years, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck yesterday.

The job-matching, which is part of Spring Singapore's SME Talent Programme, has sent 32 polytechnic and ITE students to 15 firms since it was launched in June.

Seven trade associations and chambers have also reached out to more than 1,600 students to apply for jobs such as retail associatesclerks and technicians. Employers are eager for more.

"ITE can provide a big base of manpower for us. Their training in areas such as electronics is more focused towards SME needs," said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme) president Chan Chong Beng at the second annual Asme Forum at ITE College East.

The day-long event, which featured an exhibition of 31 company booths, hoped to reverse a long-standing trend of young Singaporeans shying away from local companies.

"Many have the misconception that SMEs are small companies and there is no future working for them," said Mr Chan.

Added forum chairman Irene Boey: "We started the forum because we saw that SMEs were having a hard time recruiting people.

"People were preferring to go to multinational corporations and the Government instead.

"We want ITE students to realise that at an SME, you can be a big fish in a small pond. It's a very good platform for them."

ITE graduate Ian Hor, 26, is one such example. He is an assistant gallery supervisor with interior furnishing company Goodrich Global.

"I really like how it is family-oriented," he said of the firm. "The pay is decent and they have sent me on more than 10 Work Skills Qualification courses and sponsored my diploma in retail management."

But SMEs must also do more to attract and retain talent, said Mr Teo. He urged the firms to introduce innovative incentives such as long service rewards and variable salaries based on performance results.

"Some SMEs, because of their small size, are unable to implement many good HR incentive schemes - that can be understood.

"But you can always customise and implement HR practices based on your scale of operations and number of staff," he said.

He also urged young workers to carefully consider their career prospects before job-hopping.

"We all need to hone our skills with a particular trade over a period of time, and we will get better and our skills will be more marketable," he said.

"When you go from one job to another, you will cut short your learning."