NINE out of 10 polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education students find jobs within six months of graduating, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

This has helped to keep the country's youth unemployment lower than in many advanced Western and East Asian economies.

The average jobless rate for Singapore residents aged 15 to 24 was 6.7 per cent last year, compared to 12.6 per cent globally. It was also lower than in the US (17 per cent), Germany (8.5 per cent) and South Korea (9.6 per cent).

Mr Teo was speaking to more than 400 delegates from around the world at the start of the first Singapore International Technical and Vocational Education and Training Conference.

The four-day event is organised by ITE, the five polytechnics and Temasek Foundation.

During the conference at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront hotel, delegates will attend talks and be able to visit the institutions.

Yesterday, speakers at the event stressed the importance of good governance, leadership and industry collaboration for technical and vocational institutions.

Mr Teo said that though Singapore made good progress in this respect, the task is far from over.

He explained that this is due to changing industry demands over time, from "labour-intensive to skill-intensive industries, and now, increasingly towards an innovation-intensive future".

Industry attachments and work experience will still remain important, he said, but institutions need to "keep an eye on the horizon and stay up to date with the latest trends and developments".

Mr Teo added that students will need to learn how to collaborate with others to be able "to work across boundaries, languages and cultures", and build up multi-disciplinary knowledge and new media literacy.

Republic Polytechnic principal Yeo Li Pheow said it had created programmes on innovation and entrepreneurship to prepare students "for an economy that is increasingly driven by innovation".

Currently, more than 40 per cent of secondary school graduates go to one of the polytechnics and about 25 per cent enter ITE.

Mr Teo spoke about his experiences working with these institutions during his term as Education Minister from 1997 to 2003. "It is a source of great satisfaction to see how the sector has further developed since then," he said. "Today, our technical and vocational education institutions offer some of the best programmes and facilities in Singapore and the region."

Mr Marc Tucker, chief executive of the National Centre on Education and the Economy in the United States, said that the perception of vocational education has improved in many countries.

"In today's world, it's not possible to run a successful economy if all you have is professionals and street sweepers," he said. "You can't run an economy that way."