MR TITUS Tan had always been interested in woodwork, but a dearth of carpentry courses led him to pursue a diploma in information technology instead.
After working as an IT systems engineer for three years, he realised his "second choice" was not for him. He enrolled in a creative craftsman apprenticeship scheme and fulfilled his dream in April when he became a furniture craftsman at interior construction firm Facility Link.
"I'm a hands-on person," Mr Tan, 26, said. "I feel a great sense of achievement when I complete a product."
Mr Tan was among 18 trainees, aged 24 to 66, who yesterday became the first graduates of the six-month place-and-train programme.
Set up by the labour movement, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC) in February, the programme trains apprentices in carpentry skills.
It guarantees them a minimum starting pay of $1,600 with pledging companies upon completion of training. And as they become more skilled, their salaries can rise to more than $3,000.
A new carpentry training campus at Yishun Industrial Park A to house the programme was also officially opened yesterday. The 418 sq m facility, approved by the Polytechnic of Western Australia, has two classrooms and eight work stations that can be used by 32 people at a time.
The programme and campus are part of a larger move to promote the traditional trade of carpentry among Singaporeans.
"Singapore faces a shortage of skilled local carpenters," said Mr Neo Sia Meng, chairman of the SFIC Institute.
"By providing a conducive learning environment and comprehensive education at the (campus), we hope to introduce more young Singaporeans to the art of furniture craftsmanship."
There are nearly 20,000 workers in the furniture trade but no official figures for the number of carpenters, most of whom are from Malaysia and China.
The lack of interest among locals in a profession many consider arduous and low-paying is especially worrying, given that the furniture industry is expanding.
According to the SFIC, the industry has a projected worth of $6.34 billion this year, up from $5.74 billion in 2012.
Singapore also contributes 1.05 per cent of the world's furniture production.
Labour chief Lim Swee Say, who was at yesterday's campus opening, said the traditional solution to "less popular" jobs like carpentry has been to hire more foreigners.
But he warned against such an approach, saying: "In time to come, we may lose that skill set in our local workforce."
Pointing to the efforts to promote carpentry, he said: "At the end of the day, we believe every job can be transformed into a better job, every worker can be transformed into a better worker."
So far, 22 companies have pledged to take part in the carpentry programme, and about 160 more Singaporeans are expected to undergo the training in the next 11/2 years.