Internships in Singapore are the new gap year. Instead of taking time off to find themselves, young Singaporean workers and job seekers are turning to internships and traineeships to seek out satisfying new careers in novel domains. Here’s what you need to know about internships in Singapore.
I remember when I was in school, my internship consisted of just two short months at a local firm, where I got a pretty good firsthand look at the inner workings of public relations.
It was mandatory, being a job attachment programme as part of my tertiary studies, so I dutifully attended.
While it helped me to understand the industry better, I never actually stepped into another public relations firm after that. (Make of that what you will.)
Fast forward to today, when – like so many other things – job-seeking in Singapore has changed. The latest trend seems to involve going for a few rounds of internships, sussing out potential employers, before starting a career proper.
This development was given a boost by – of all things – COVID-19, as the upheavals wrought by the pandemic across job markets forced more people to make career switches, while fresh graduates sought to bypass heightened barriers to regular employment.
Recognising the urgent need to match jobs to workers, the government launched two grants, paving the way for more companies to utilise internships and traineeships as a proper tool to find the right talent – and not simply as a low-cost way to clear out the storeroom.
My internship experience was decent, but I don’t think I would have missed anything even if I didn’t go for it. Then again, it was a long time ago, and clearly, internships of today are a vastly different experience.
Let’s explore what internships in Singapore today are like.
Internship jobs and salaries in Singapore – a sampling
|Job title||Industry||Duration||Salary (monthly)|
|Public Relations Intern||Media||At least 6 months||S$800 to S$1,000|
|Bank Trainee, CEO Office||Finance||At least 6 months||S$1,000 to S$1,300|
|Social Media Management Intern||eCommerce||At least 3 months||S$600 to S$1,000|
|UI/UX Designer Intern||Creative||At least 6 months||S$800 to S$1,000|
|Marketing Intern||Energy & Chemical||At least 6 months||S$1,000|
|Innovation Engineer Intern||Creative, IT||At least 6 months||S$800 to S$1,000|
|Quality Assurance Tester Intern||IT||At least 6 months||S$800 to S$1,000|
|Graphic Designer/Animator Intern||Design, Creative||At least 6 months||S$800 to S$1,000|
|Marketing/Copywriter Intern||Design, Creative||At least 6 months||S$800 to S$1,000|
|Software Testing Intern||IT||At least 6 months||S$800 to S$1,000|
|Craft Beer eCommerce Intern||eCommerce||At least 3 months||S$800|
|Marine Application Engineer Intern||Built Environment||At least 6 months||S$2,500|
|Podcast/Video Editor Production Intern, Marketing Content||AI, Smart Automation||At least 5 months||S$800 to S$1,000|
|Office Executive Intern||Insurance||At least 6 months||S$1,400 to S$2,000|
So, you may be wondering what type of internship opportunities there are in Singapore.
In the table above, we’ve selected 15 different internship and traineeship posts completely at random, for an idea of what’s available on the market.
The internship ‘market’ (for lack of a better word) in Singapore is generally quite robust and active, and those seeking to embark on one should find themselves well served.
Wide range of roles and employers
From our random sampling above, we see that there’s quite a wide range of industries one can intern at – from general purpose roles such as admin, to niche specialisations like Marine Application Engineering and even Craft Beer eCommerce. The variety of employers also appears to be a good mix, from MNCs to SMEs and boutique operations.
Average duration of six months
Internships in Singapore typically last around six months. However, we also found listings for three months, or as short as a few weeks. Some employers also have a specific start and end date for the internships they offer.
On the flip side, there are also quite a few internships with flexible durations. This would mean how far an internship progresses would depend on the dynamics and requirements between you and your employer.
Hence, when looking for an internship, you should choose one that fits your career planning goals and schedule.
Salaries are low, and could pose a challenge
For most roles, you can expect to be paid between S$800 to S$1,000, although some companies pay up to S$2,000 and more. This would depend, of course, on the degree of knowledge and skills required, as well as the actual job scope and function.
Salaries for internships in Singapore aren’t too great, and this could be an issue. Those with heavy financial obligations may not be able to afford going for that internship, even if doing so would lead to improved career prospects down the line.
As such, you should get yourself financially ready, or put suitable alternatives in place, before you go for your internship.
Internship rights in the workplace
So it appears that interns in Singapore can generally look forward to pretty decent, if low-paid, arrangements. But what really goes on when you’re on the job?
After all, we’ve all heard a horror story or two about internships going horribly wrong. But even without experiencing downright abuse, being stuck doing menial tasks, or becoming a personal errand boy or girl to the boss is still pretty aggravating.
Luckily, interns, too, are protected under employment laws. The following are some key rights you should take note of.
The right to internship pay (under government grants), overtime pay and CPF contributions
Curiously, companies are not legally required to pay interns a salary if they are offering the internship on their own.
However, many companies in Singapore offer their internships and traineeships under government grants, which subsidise internship salaries. As such, internships offered under these schemes must pay a minimum salary, as follows:
|Internship and traineeship grants||Minimum internship salaries|
|Global Ready Talent Programme||S$800/month to ITE and polytechnic students|
S$1,000/month to university students
|SGUnited Traineeship Scheme||S$1,800/month for university graduates|
S$1,100/month for ITE graduates
Now you know why most of the salaries we found in your sampling were in the S$800 to S$1,000 range.
Moving on, anyone earning S$2,600 or less is entitled to overtime pay by law. Should you be made to work more than 44 hours a week (or the regular hours stated in your contract), you should be paid for those hours at 1.5 times your regular rate.
Employers cannot make workers work more than 72 hours of overtime per month.
Also, in accordance with labour laws, you will also receive CPF contributions, whether for regular or overtime pay.
The right to compensation for work-related injury or sickness
When it comes to work-related injuries or sickness (yes, including COVID-19), the law is firmly on the side of interns, providing for some rather robust compensation and rights, as follows:
- Medical expenses, up to S$45,000 per intern
- Lost salary while on medical leave (up to 1 year’s worth)
- Temporary/permanent disability compensation, up to S$289,000 per intern
- Death compensation, up to S$225,000 per intern
So if your supervisor asks you to take on any tasks that seem risky, reminding them of their obligations is a good way to make them reconsider.
(But regardless of the availability of compensation, you should always refuse requests or demands that threaten your personal safety and well-being.)
The right to paid leave, sick leave, rest days, and breaks
As an intern, you are also entitled to take leave to attend to personal matters or to recuperate from illness. You are also entitled to rest days, as well as a daily break.
- Paid leave (only for internships three months or longer) – minimum of 7 days per year, prorated accordingly
- Sick leave
- Internship duration 3 to 4 months – minimum 5 days for outpatient, up to 15 days for hospitalisation
- Internship duration 4 to 5 months – minimum 8 days for outpatient, up to 30 days for hospitalisation
- Internship duration 5 to 6 months – minimum 11 days for outpatient, up to 45 days for hospitalisation
- Internship duration 6 months or more – minimum 14 days for outpatient, up to 60 days for hospitalisation
- Rest days – At least one day per week, or according to work schedule in contract. I.e., if your employer does not work weekends, then neither will you.
- Breaks – One break of not less than 45 minutes for every eight hours of continuous work per day. Your employer also cannot make you work more than 12 hours a day, except under extenuating circumstances, such as assisting with an accident at work, or a threat to the business.
A note on traineeships
For the most part, internships are protected under prevailing labour laws, which should go a long way in staving off any questionable or untoward situations.
However, do note that the same protections may not apply if you’re signing up for a traineeship instead of an internship (yes, there’s a difference).
Trainees are not considered employees, and therefore do not have the rights discussed above. However, they can (and should) negotiate the terms of their traineeship with their employer to prevent any abuses. Do get a written agreement signed between both parties, certifying the negotiations and terms agreed.
On the other hand, if your employer provides an employment contract to sign, then you are considered as an employee, and thus entitled to the same legal protections.
Are internships in Singapore worth it?
So, is it worth taking up an internship in Singapore?
My answer would be yes, with caveats.
Firstly, the most challenging aspect of internships are their low salaries. At say, S$800 per month (S$640, after CPF dedication) you would barely have enough to live on, and would need to dip into your savings (if you have any, as a fresh graduate).
And for those looking to break into another industry part way through their careers? Unless you find a way to cope with your financial obligations throughout your internship period, it’s practically just a pipe dream.
Secondly, internships don’t guarantee that you’ll eventually move on to a full-fledged position at the company. It depends on whether you’re a right fit for each other, or if the company has the capacity to admit you into their full-time roster.
On the flip side, internships and traineeships are a great way (in some cases, the only way) to try out a new career or industry. You’ll get a firsthand look at what you may think of as a dream job or employer, without the pressure of having to perform.
Another undeniable advantage of internships is that they allow you to cultivate professional relationships and mentors, which could come in very handy in your career, especially if you’re diligent about pursuing the right ones. Maintaining good relationships at the workplaces you’ve interned before can produce important opportunities and options you might not otherwise have.
At the end of the day, it’s all about weighing present needs against future rewards. If you can afford to pay the cost of internships (in the form of temporary suppressed income), taking an internship or three might help you find a bigger payoff in the future – whether it be a dream job, a timely mid-career switch, or the first paying client for your business.
Get started on your savings journey as soon as you begin your internship. Compare the best savings accounts with SingSaver and find the right one for your needs and goals.
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By Alevin Chan
An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.