STUDENTS and graduates flocked to a job fair staged by a range of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) yesterday.

Around 40 firms, including Pastamania and Swissbake, set up booths at the event in ITE College Central to showcase their businesses and hopefully attract recruits to help them weather the manpower crunch.

The event, part of a forum organised by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme), attracted over 3,000 Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students and graduates, a 75 per cent rise from last year.

"We didn't expect the response to be so good," said Mr Amos Ting, an outlet manager for the Lo & Behold Group, which owns a number of bars and restaurants. "I think we spurred a lot of interest because students could recognise some of our restaurants."

The forum is part of efforts to change the prevailing trend of young Singaporeans shying away from local firms. Spring Singapore's SME Talent Programme launched in June last year has had some success in this area by matching more than 740 students to 320 SMEs for job and internship opportunities.

Yesterday's forum also featured a 45-minute dialogue for 22 students with SME representatives and Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) Indranee Rajah.

Many students wanted to know about the types of positions and opportunities on offer. The panel advised students that education should not define their careers, emphasising a good attitude was the most important thing employers searched for.

"You're not limited by your starting qualifications, you're only limited by the degree of your determination," said Ms Indranee.