Building a step ladder to nurture work-ready tech talents

By Ming En Liew

Interview with Patrice Choong, Senior Director, Technology, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Industry will “always run faster than academia,” highlights Patrice Choong, Senior Director, Technology, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP). As industry continues to outpace academia, the shortage of tech talents in the world today is only exacerbated.

But if years of education fail to prepare students for the realities of work, is it truly fulfilling its role? And if not, how can institutions start to bridge this gap and run at the same pace?

Speaking with GovInsider, Choong gives an insight to how institutions can do so by partnering with industry, and providing students with a step-by-step introduction to the real world.

Giving students real-world experiences

It’s difficult for academia to move in pace with industry as academic curriculums only change when there is a new school term, Choong explains. This can happen once every quarter, or even once every six months. NP is overcoming this by bringing industry into the curriculum, shares Choong.

For example, NP is partnering with multinational bank OCBC to allow students to interact more with industry professionals, Choong says.

Students will have a chance to work on realistic problem statements which are provided by industry experts such as OCBC and come up with possible solutions. Those who are part of the programme will get their first exposure to the industry starting from their second year of studies.

For instance, students may be tasked with improving the user experience of OCBC’s mobile application for loan applications, Choong shares. As they work on crafting solutions, students can speak with experts from OCBC who will share their experience and feedback on their work.

Subsequently, students will undergo a year-long internship in their third year. This internship increases the students’ readiness and confidence when they enter the workforce, Choong says. They also get to build bonds and forge relationships with individuals in industry, he adds.

A gradual ramp to prepare students for the workplace 

Such partnerships with industry players create a pathway that brings students from academia to employment, shares Choong.

“There’s a sense of confidence in the curriculum that what you’re studying is highly applicable and relevant,” he explains. Interacting with industry professionals will also give students first-hand experience of what working in such industries are like.

“They see the problems they face, and how they can address those problems and limitations,” says Choong. This can help them make career decisions, he adds.

NP has received positive feedback so far for such hybrid programmes, Choong reveals. One student recently participated in a year-long internship programme with GovTech. He later shared that he had the opportunity to work on a software tool that was deployed nationwide – something he was extremely proud of, shares Choong.

Industry benefits as well from such partnerships. Organisations are able to get the first choice of potential talents they eventually want to hire, says Choong. It’s like a year-long interview, he adds.

Helping SMEs digitalise

Another way NP is bridging the gap between industry and academia is by having students help train small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in digitalisation. Finding relevant software programmes and training their staff in IT skills are a few things SMEs need to do when they digitalise.

NP helps them by providing a digitalisation package where they can get digital tools, training, and consultancy services in one place. The training and consultancy services are given by NP students and graduates, under the supervision of a staff member, he explains.

This exposes students to real life experiences on how to best help SMEs. For example, if a company is interested in digital marketing, NP will share with them 10 use cases of how other firms have done so. These case studies will include different topics related to digital marketing such as creating a website, or doing search engine optimisation.

But practising use cases in the classroom and applying it in real life is very different, says Choong. This is where NP’s consultancy services come in, to help them apply these lessons to their own organisation. For example, NP students helped a jewellery firm to revamp their website by providing advice on font choices and colour schemes.

The goal is to not just improve the relevancy of students’ education so that they are more ready for work, but also to develop meaningful initiatives, highlights Choong. This programme will help students “feel empowered contributing economically to a company”, he says.

Academia may never be able to outrun industry, but it doesn’t have to. By working alongside industry, institutions can fulfil their role of nurturing the next generation of tech talents by carving a pathway towards future employment.