Stiff competition in the labour market is urging employers to boost their recruitment strategies. This explains the growing popularity of fast-track programmes, which are commonly known as management associate programmes. These offer graduates the opportunity to rotate across business functions before deciding where they land.

As more organisations offer management associate programmes, fresh graduates have to sieve through the available options to determine which suits them best. Here are some programme features that graduates should look out for:

Exposure to learning opportunities

One key feature of a good management associate programme is the flexibility and opportunity for rotation to different departments. The chance to move across different business functions gives graduates invaluable exposure to the organisation and allows them the opportunity to network across departments. This enables them to discover which business function suits their skill set best.

Organisations should not use the rotation scheme as a means of filling vacant positions in the various departments. Graduates should be rotated to a department that adds value to their eventual role in the organisation. The management associate programme should train graduates to think holistically and to assess risks and impact for different stakeholders.

Challenges via project ownership

Leadership skills should be nurtured through project ownership. Management associates should be challenged to take charge of a project, such as organising an event or working on a corporate initiative.

By doing so, graduates are both empowered and challenged to solve certain problems on their own and contribute new ideas to the organisation in the future. Graduates will learn to be resourceful and to think on their feet.

For example, NTUC Income challenges its management associates, who are called graduate trainees, to organise Race On!, a public event for university students that is styled on the hit TV show Amazing Race.

The graduate trainees are given about 10 months to plan for the event and are entrusted with a budget of $100,000. This year’s Race On! involved 900 participants and 150 staff volunteers. For fresh graduates, this project was a huge learning opportunity.

Said graduate trainee Zeng Liyan: “The experience was fulfilling as I was able to make decisions independently. This helped build my confidence to tackle obstacles I might face in the future. I also learnt to consider the views of others, including external parties, when making decisions.”

Chances for career development

Empowerment strategies will not be effective if graduates are not given sufficient guidance. Active engagement is needed for both the employers and management associates. Coaching is the key.

The coaches work closely with management associates, engaging them in conversations about specific aspects of their work and their career planning.

Coaching and mentoring in an organisation might be common, but mentoring from the organisation’s senior management is an extraordinary experience. Their insights benefit the management associates who gain an understanding of how their bosses think.

Apart from getting invaluable career guidance, management associates also gain from the visibility their unique role offers them. They can look forward to many opportunities for career growth.

Alignment with company values

It is important for management associates to believe in the organisation’s values and vision — settling in comfortably in their new environment will be quicker and easier.

When employees are motivated through values they believe in and look forward to reaching goals based on those values, they will have greater job satisfaction. This gives them extra motivation to contribute and gives meaning to their work.

Fresh graduates can use these points as a guideline to evaluate the suitability of an organisation’s management associate programme. They should realise as they enter the workforce they are choosing not just a job, but a career.


Article by Juliana Ang, senior vice-president of human resource, NTUC Income. For more information about its graduate trainee programme, visit