The SGD600 Engineering Intern

The above email sent out by the Department of Mechanical Engineering for the school’s self-initiated vacation internship programme got me thinking about how engineering companies in Singapore are valuing talent. Firstly, they expect you to show an interest in additive manufacturing and finite element modelling which I have not learnt or heard about in 2 years of undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering. Then, they want you to work from 8.30am to 6pm, 5 days per week for SGD600 a month. On the surface, it may not seem like anything is wrong by offering a student, who probably still have no idea about additive manufacturing and finite element modelling, to learn about a field of engineering not taught in school. However, offering SGD600 a month for an intern speaks volume about the perceived value of the student by the hiring company. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the company and came up with a few possible reasons on how they came up with SGD600:

1. The student is inexperienced in the field and therefore does not justify a higher pay grade.

2. He is still a student and his parents are still giving him pocket money.

3. We don’t think he will contribute much and is probably going to be just ANOTHER intern.

4. Our budget does not allow us to pay our interns in the range of SGD1500 to SGD2000 because the few thousand dollars difference would put our financial statement in the red.

5. We are paying him with knowledge.

Pardon my sarcasm because I honestly think that engineering together with innovation will die in Singapore if that is the value we put on our interns. Let me make a simple comparison with the banks in Singapore. Banks in Singapore pay undergraduate in the range of SGD1200 to SGD4000 each month which varies across the different banks and departments. So why do I think that they are paying more? They know that securing talent early in the hiring cycle is important. Like it or not, money happens to be one of the motivating factor when residing in the most expensive city in the world. The problem begins when we have talent draining away from the shipyards and manufacturing plants into the big corporate buildings which provide an air conditioned environment with a much better pay grade. Your smartest and brightest brains end up contributing to another sector which is completely unrelated to their field of study. I think I might have just found the answer to why there is a lack of engineering innovation in Singapore, they are not even in the right sector to begin with!

With a basic understanding of psychology (my own feelings), the price tag that you put on a student makes a big difference to us. A low value equates to ‘You probably don’t think I am up for the job’. This ultimately leads to ‘if you don’t value my skills, why should I put in all my effort for you?’. I think it comes down to the basic principle that if you make something free, people value it lesser. If we put more value in our interns, I am pretty sure they would generate more value than you would ever imagine. Just look at the investment banking interns, they throw in extra hours for free and even sacrifice the opportunity to see the sun for the SGD9000 you are paying them 🙂