FRESH polytechnic graduates eyeing a career in food manufacturing can get a headstart by joining the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme set up for the food-manufacturing sector.

Those on the programme attend classroom lessons in three areas, corresponding to eventual career tracks in these aspects of food manufacturing - food-product innovation, food processing and food safety and quality management.

Programme participants will at the same time receive structured on-the-job training (OJT) at their workplace.

Developed by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and Singapore Polytechnic (SP), the programme is supported by Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), Temasek Polytechnic (TP) and SPRING Singapore.

The 20 polytechnic graduates now on the programme are working for a dozen food manufacturers - eight small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and four multi-national corporations (MNCs).

Their classes are held at SP. The OJT at their respective workplaces follows training plans developed by SP, NYP and TP; they are also each involved in a company-specific capstone project, supervised by company mentors and SP facilitators.

At the end of the 18-month programme, they earn an advanced diploma in applied food science awarded by SP.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower and for Health Amy Khor, who was at the launch of the programme at Nestle's R&D centre on Wednesday, said:

"The local food manufacturing industry is aiming to move higher up the value chain, with food science and technology gaining importance as industry players intensify their R&D efforts."

She added that the programme would benefit graduates and participating companies alike: "From the industry's perspective, the programme strengthens the local talent pipeline. From the fresh graduate's perspective, it provides a career headstart through industry-relevant and on-the-job training, leading to industry-recognised certification."

Programme participants can expect a minimum starting salary of S$1,900, and may get a 10 per cent increment if they do well.

Joining the companies as food technologists, quality assurance officers, or food processing engineers, they can later be promoted to more senior roles.

Companies which have pledged their support for the programme include global names such as Nestle and homegrown brands like The Soup Spoon.

Anna Lim, the executive director of The Soup Spoon, said the company benefits from the knowledge acquired by the graduates through their studies while working. However, she told The Business Times: "There is a need to align graduates' expectations with the needs of SMEs. They should be resourceful and dynamic, because that's what the transition to work life from being a student involves."

Under the WDA's manpower and skills development plan, S$888,000 has been set aside to support up to 12 masters-level scholarships.

These two-year research-based scholarships, set up with Newcastle University, seek to develop professionals, managers and executives - collectively known as PMEs - for the manufacturing sector. Scholars will continue supporting their company's operations while pursuing this higher degree.

The food manufacturing sector is the first sector for which WDA has launched the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme.

The programme will be launched in seven other sectors this year; they are food services, games development, logistics, infocomm technology, marine/offshore engineering, retail and precision engineering.