There’s always this misconception that interns are just ‘saikang’ warriors.
That’s clearly misguided because interns can be a valuable addition to the company – this is especially true for 22-year-old Wu Tai Ying who made waves in her attached company during her internship period.
After Tai Ying graduated from secondary school five years ago, she was determined to pursue a diploma as the Junior College route did not appeal to her.
She initially wanted to take on a tourism or business-related course, but after receiving a flyer for the National Precision Engineering Scholarship (NPES) seminar, she decided to attend the event with her dad before solidifying her decision.
It turned out to be a good move as it opened her eyes up to the world of engineering.
Following In Her Father’s Footsteps
Her dad, who is an engineer, convinced her to learn engineering and technical skillsets as they are very high in demand; and she herself felt that the area of study would match well with her personality.
Tai Ying sees herself as a “practical person who likes hands-on tasks”, so an engineering career that is not desk-bound greatly appealed to her.
“I prefer running around than sitting at my desk. I don’t want a career that manages me. I want to manage it myself,” she said.
In April 2012, Tai Ying went on to pursue a diploma in Digital Precision Engineering at Nanyang Polytechnic.
While most engineering students will benefit greatly from a Mathematics and Physics background in ‘O’ Levels, Tai Ying didn’t have much exposure to the latter subject.
This did not pose any obstacles for her however, as various online resources proved to be a huge help for her in areas where she lacked understanding. The extra lessons held by her polytechnic lecturers also helped her and other students to better orientate to the curricula.
When asked how she felt about engineering being a male-dominated course, she revealed that she was initially “uneasy” at the thought.
“It did take some time for me to overcome the hurdle of breaking the gender gap issue, especially when engineering guys are really shy! But as time pass, I did establish good friendship with my male classmates through teamwork and most importantly, communication”.
She added that the reason why females are not enticed to engineering is much like a chicken-and-egg problem. Because of the notion that engineering is a male-dominated course, very few females enrol in it, which in turn perpetuates the perception.
With that, she wishes more females would not be daunted to pursue the engineering field because of a mere gender gap.
“If you have the skills, prove yourself. If the company discriminates, don’t work there,” she said.
Making A Difference At Pepperl+Fuchs
During her first year at Nanyang Polytechnic, Tai Ying applied for the Overseas Internship Programme (OIP), which allowed students to do their internship at leading companies for up to 24 weeks.
Tai Ying was assigned to German factory and process-automation company Pepperl+Fuchs (P+F) but plans to intern at its headquarter in Germany were cancelled, so she ended up undergoing her internship period at its Singapore office instead.
P+F is an industry leader in the field of industrial sensors for factory automation and explosion protection process automation.
It is reported that one lightning strike within factories can result in several million volts surge and heat up the surrounding air to 30,000 degrees Celsius.
That said, their products help prevent disruptions to plant operations due to such energy surges or explosions, and support the growth of smart factories globally.
She interned under the Central Process Engineering department for 4.5 months where she was tasked to check on machines and conduct research on optimising machine running lead time.
Throughout her time at P+F, Tai Ying had the opportunity to be involved in a number of projects and there were two that were particularly memorable to her.
“The first one was focused on test running a resin filling machine. The company had purchased a new Resin Filling Machine back then, and I was tasked to produce 600 resin samples from four different programmes. I had to figure out the functions of the new machine myself, and ensure that it is capable of producing good quality resin samples,” she said.
“The second one was an individual research project that explores mouldings for overmoulding of sensors. The objective was to find out if hot melt – a type of glue – could be used to replace resin material in a sensor component. I researched on both materials and noted that resin helps to protect components against mechanical vibrations and chemical corrosions, so I wanted to explore if hot melt has the same protective capability.”
Elaborating on her research journey, Tai Ying recounted that she conducted extensive online research and called up various companies to test the feasibility of the material.
She then presented the findings to the head of Research & Development (R&D), who concluded that it wasn’t immediately viable in the Singapore plant. However, the team in Vietnam did tap onto her findings and looked further into the possibility.
Tai Ying added that she likes the fact that despite being an intern, she was given a lot of autonomy and empowered to independently explore the potential for moulds of different materials to be used in the manufacturing of sensors.
Her German superiors fully entrusted her with the research project, although she was free to consult with any of them should the need arise.
“I enjoyed myself because P+F challenged the interns to do something, and [the trust made me] feel mature,” said Tai Ying.
“I feel that P+F does not discriminate against interns and is unlike other companies who only utilise interns when they are short of manpower, making them simply do quality control, or take on miscellaneous tasks.”
Scoring An Opportunity Of A Lifetime
The following year after OIP, Tai Ying applied for the Poly-Goes-UAS overseas dual studies scholarship programme in 2015, which is only eligible for graduating Polytechnic students or alumni with the faculty of engineering, with a GPA score above 3.5.
Under this programme, students can simultaneously earn a Bachelor’s Degree at a university of applied sciences while gaining work experience in Germany.
It is an employer branding initiative by German Mittelstand Champions (leading medium-sized German engineering companies) to build engineering talent for their operations in Singapore.
The student awardees’ university tuition fees have been waived by the German government; and they also receive a monthly stipend of 800 to 1,400 Euros (S$1260 to S$2206) for the entire duration of studies to pay for transport, accommodation and living expenses.
The allowance amount will increase as students gain experience.
The participating companies will also reimburse the student’s German language learning fees, which are estimated to cost between S$13,000 and S$17,000.
The student will not be bonded to the company, although a job offer will be presented to them upon completion of their university studies.
With these benefits, it’s clear that the Poly-Goes-UAS programme is an opportunity of a lifetime.
According to Tai Ying, “the prospect of studying with students from a myriad of top companies at a German university definitely beats a traditional degree route. The opportunity to network internationally also grants a vital edge in the hyper-connected global industry.”
“It [also] allows students to acquire skills and theory through alternating internships and classes, engaging first-hand in a variety of job settings. Both the sponsoring company and interns benefit from identifying strengths and interests, eventually culminating in a well-matched contract offer upon graduation.”
Although living and studying abroad in Germany has exposed her to a new living and working culture, Tai Ying confessed that picking up a new language was no mean feat.
“Learning German is challenging, but studying in German is even more so,” she recalled.
“I [actually] took a year off to intensively learn German so language barrier would not be a problem. However, it was a little hard for me to understand at first as some Germans tend to speak very fast and with varying accents (based on their regions).”
When she first arrived in Germany, Tai Ying underwent a pre-internship programme for 1.5 months along with other German interns.
“This is a phase before the actual internship, which involves getting to know the company and learning technical processes like soldering,” she explained.
She added that throughout the 1.5 years of internship, the intern will be assigned to various departments such as logistics, assembly, and customer service so he/she can garner a well-rounded working experience.
“During my first internship phase, I was assigned to customer service. The department is separated into two areas: sales and technical. The customer would call in to make sales inquiry and voice out technical problems faced with the products. My main project was to write a technical handbook of ultrasonic sensors in German for students,” said Tai Ying.
Right after, Tai Ying went back to hitting the books and she appreciates the fact that everything learnt is school is applicable and relevant to her work, which makes “studying even more meaningful.”
The second internship phase recently started in July and she is looking forward to the new projects that will start pouring in.
Working In Singapore vs. Working In Germany
So how has the experience been like working in two different countries so far?
According to Tai Ying, the management style in Singapore is “rather heavy [and top-down approach]”. In contrast, the management style in Germany is a “light management and flat hierarchy approach.”
“They don’t have rigid hierarchies and are really close-knit. They don’t see CEOs as God in Germany,” she quipped.
Tai Ying also noted that her German superiors tend to value interns’ efforts and opinions in projects, unlike the Asian work culture which sees interns as “just an intern”.
She added that Germans are also habitually very direct hence they tend to openly comment on someone’s work.
On the flip side, Tai Ying feels that this “constructive criticism” is a good thing because she’ll then know what she’s doing wrong and learn from it so as not to repeat the same mistakes.
Overall, Tai Ying said that working in Germany is much more enjoyable because of the good work-life balance. “The working culture [in Germany] is much more relaxed than in Singapore – they work diligently, but they also know when to have to have fun.”
“There is also a very strong cohesion and the mood among the colleagues is good. Everyone likes to come to work, and that [positive energy infects me]. If I have questions or did not understand something, I always have a contact person [whom I can reach out to] and I very much appreciate this willingness to help at P+F,” said Tai Ying.
Tai Ying will complete her internship in Germany in September 2019 and thereafter, she plans on returning to work at P+F Singapore to work.
When asked to impart some advice to fellow students so they can cultivate a powerful internship experience, Tai Ying said that simple things such as building a good rapport with supervisors and colleagues is very important.
She also urged them to take charge of their internship experience: “Always show that you are willing to put in effort and never be afraid to overcome your limits,” she advised.
Pepperl+Fuchs is always on the lookout for top-notch candidates to join their global team. Regardless if you are a working professional, a fresh graduate, or still a student, there is bound to be a suitable role for you. Some of their listed technical roles include sales engineer, web or software developer, and system architect.
This article is written in collaboration with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).
Featured Image Credit: Wu Tai Ying