Best of both worlds: Glendon Toh gets to earn as he learns, working at UTAC while studying at ITE

Two days a week, Glendon Toh is a student attending classes at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). The rest of the week, the 23-year-old receives on-the-job training at UTAC, one of the world’s leading independent providers of semiconductor assembly and test services.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” he says of the Work-Study Diploma (WSDip) in Microelectronics he is pursuing at ITE under the SkillsFuture programme.

A collaboration between Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and industry employers, the WSDip provides graduates with a headstart in their careers while they pursue nationally recognised qualifications.

A year into the two-and-a-half-year programme, Glendon is on his way to qualifying as a Technician, with potential career advancement at UTAC.

It was towards the end of his National Service two years ago that Glendon – a Nitec graduate with a certificate in Microelectronics – first heard via an ITE email about the programme that would allow him to earn and learn at the same time.

“I was contemplating whether I should further my studies or start working – until I received that email. Then I was like, why not do both,” he recalls.

Soon after sending in his application, he found himself invited to a day session to learn more about the companies looking to hire under the scheme. Once he had submitted a shortlist of companies he was keen to work for, he was invited to a second session, this time a full-day workshop to learn resume writing and interview skills.

“It was quite nerve-wracking,” he recalls with a laugh, “you have to praise yourself in front of people you don’t know.” Still, it prepared him well enough to clinch a job at UTAC.

On the days he is at the company’s Serangoon North plant, Glendon dons a protective coverall – “it looks something like an astronaut suit” – and works in a cleanroom where he and his colleagues oversee sophisticated machines programmed to saw wafers – thin discs imprinted with several hundreds or thousands of tiny semiconductor chips to be cut out individually.

Glendon also helps with both troubleshooting and preventive maintenance – which means changing or fixing parts before any issues crop up.

On the two days a week he attends classes at ITE, he immerses himself in his coursework – including written tests, presentations and practicals. He is also assessed by his company on his job performance. “It’s not as easy as it seems,” he confesses, “but definitely, it is fun and rewarding. You get to learn new things and at the same time, study.”

Looking beyond his WSDip, Glendon hopes to broaden his skillset by working in other departments within UTAC, and taking on progressively more responsibility – perhaps also learn software skills.

It will, no doubt, also add to the satisfaction Glendon already feels being in a company that supplies semiconductor chips for cutting-edge devices – from smartphones to automotive, computing, industrial and even medical devices.

“Sometimes I look at a product and I think – hey, I know where those companies get their chips from. It makes you proud to know you had a hand in it.”