Unemployment among graduates in Brunei Darussalam has attracted considerable attention in recent years.

And it’s encouraging to see the Brunei government taking steps to improve the marketability of unemployed graduates in the country.

In 2017, the government took a proactive approach by introducing ‘i-Ready’, a special apprentice scheme that gives both citizens of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and Permanent Residents of Brunei Darussalam with little or no working experience the opportunity to be attached to various industries in both the public and private sector.

One of the requirements of being an i-Ready apprentice is that unemployed graduates (degree and above) would first have to register with the JobCentre Brunei System.

What is i-Ready all about?

The 3-year apprenticeship programme’s objective is to expose unemployed graduates to various industries in both the public and private sector.

The host organisation (company) has the option to permanently employ the apprentice at any time.

Throughout the 3-year programme, the apprentice will be monitored by the respective host organisation to ensure their development meets industry needs.

The Brunei Government will provide a monthly allowance of $800 for a maximum period of 3 years.

Has i-Ready reached any milestones?

According to a report, some 1,562 graduate jobseekers have registered with i-Ready, as of March 1, 2018. Out of this number, 1,263 have already gotten job placements. Under this initiative, which began in April 2017, 146 graduates have already secured permanent employment.

In April 2018, seven Brunei graduates were selected to start their career abroad with Deloitte, a leading accounting and consulting firm. It was the first international placement in collaboration with Deloitte Southeast Asia.

The graduates were chosen through a rigorous selection process under the i-Ready programme out of 586 applicants.

Lee Chew Chiat, Consulting Leader of Deloitte Brunei, said: “We support the Brunei Government’s initiatives to enhance the employability of new Brunei graduates and help them be future-ready by strengthening their knowledge in the areas of consultant.

“Hiring Bruneian graduates will help groom the next generation of talent to bring Brunei forward into the future. We recognised that Brunei has a talented pool of graduates, and we look forward to continue our support that will include holding more recruitment drives, and work closely with the Manpower Policy and Planning Unit (MPPU) to identify opportunities for more Bruneians to be part of our Deloitte Southeast Asia consulting team,” he added.

What can be improved?

‘Neue’ (@whatsneue) sought the opinions of the public regarding what improvements could be made to the i-Ready scheme.

Following is a Q&A with an i-Ready apprentice who wished to remain anonymous.

Question: In your own words, could you describe what the overall experience was like to be part of the apprentice scheme?

Answer: It was like working at an actual job … except technically, I wasn’t.

I was lucky in that I had a more-than-okay experience; my colleagues treated me well, I learnt a lot during my time as an i-Ready apprentice and it was an eye-opener in terms of how the real working world was like.

But it felt more like a PEEK INTO IT, rather than a TRUE IMMERSION.

At the back of my mind, I just kept thinking about how, at the end of the day, I was still JUST AN INTERN, with an expiration date of three years. An intern doing the equivalent of a contracted employee’s work, that is. I was expected to keep up with the rest of my colleagues in terms of my workload (but again, they were very helpful), and it served its purpose in giving me the work experience I needed.

And yet, I couldn’t push away the thought that it was kind of unfair to not have some of the same benefits as my co-workers (yes, I’m talking about pay), and there were times when I couldn’t enjoy the same benefits as apprentices in other companies.

I remember being annoyed when I was unable to have the normal amount of Hari Raya holidays, even though I was entitled to them as an i-Ready apprentice. It cemented the thought that while my position was i-Ready apprentice of so and so, in reality, I was Company XYZ’s full-time employee in all but name. 

Gratitude aside, while I don’t regret joining the i-Ready programme, I’m also pretty glad that I’m not in it anymore.

Question: Now that you are no longer part of i-Ready and are now working for another company after being offered a full-time contract, do you have any advice to people who are thinking about signing up for the apprenticeship programme?

Answer: Don’t get me wrong, the i-Ready is a good programme. However, it probably wasn’t as well executed as it should be, but don’t let that deter you. Don’t accept the first offer you might receive; I certainly didn’t! Because you could potentially stay in the same position for the next three years. Try your best to look for the kind of work that might help you grow and develop your skills.

Interviewers might expect you to already be familiar with what the position may entail, or they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. But it’s always best to do a bit of research about what exactly you’re applying for.

But if you’re not ready to do the same amount of workload as your better-paying colleagues, perhaps this programme isn’t for you.

Question: Do you have any words of wisdom for those who are still in the i-Ready programme?

Answer: If you’re currently satisfied with your position, great! If you’re not, it’s okay to leave for greener pastures.

Don’t stop looking for opportunities to work somewhere else, especially if you feel like your current position isn’t going to work out for you.

I started looking after a few months into being an i-Ready apprentice, because while I did learn a lot, as I’d mentioned, I knew ultimately that I would not be learning more in terms of the kind of skills I wanted to hone.

If you’re planning on staying on in the position, don’t be hesitant and ask if the company will have a permanent spot for you after the end of your programme.

Also, if you ever have any concerns, talk to the Manpower Policy and Planning Unit (MPPU), in person, especially if it’s urgent. They’re there to help i-Ready apprentices get the most out of the programme.

‘Neue’ also had a chat with other former i-Ready apprentices, who through their own efforts, have found employment at other companies.

“The i-Ready apprentice programme is not a one-size-fits-all solution,” they said. “For $800, some of us i-Ready apprentices are doing accounting work, while others are working in menial jobs. Do you think this is fair? The same amount of money for different kinds of work?”

“Don’t get us wrong, we are not looking down on people who are involved in menial jobs. The point that we are trying to drive home is that it’s absurd that the allowance is just $800, regardless of what job you have to do at any of the host organisations (companies),” they said.

Observers have expressed their concerns that some companies in the country may be abusing the i-Ready programme for their own financial gain.

Speaking to ‘Neue’ on the condition of anonymity, the sources who are involved in human resource work, said: “Some local companies will not openly admit it but essentially, there has been a ‘hiring freeze’ ever since the i-Ready apprenticeship programme was rolled out.”

When asked to elaborate further on this claim, they said: “Some companies, not all of them, are taking advantage of the fact that they get to have ‘free’ human resource via i-Ready.

“We were made to understand that under the i-Ready programme, host organisations (companies) can offer permanent employment to the apprentices at any time.

“But let’s be honest: it has been more than a year since the i-Ready programme was initiated, how many of the apprentices have been offered full-time employment by their host organisations (companies)?

“We think the number isn’t as high as what we all had hoped for.

“To be honest, things could be better. To all the i-Ready apprentices who have since found jobs at OTHER companies, we couldn’t be happier for them. As for those who are still waiting to attain full-time employment at their respective host organisations (companies), we hope that the upper management would sincerely offer them a better salary with benefits such as medical coverage and yearly bonuses.”

How to apply?

Qualified applicants are welcomed to apply for the i-Ready programme by registering at JobCentre Brunei (@jobcentrebrunei) through its website at www.jobcentrebrunei.gov.bn. Next, applicants will go through a selection process and once shortlisted, they will be interviewed by the organisation and MPPU. For more information, local jobseekers and the public in general may contact JobCentre Brunei at 2444123 or via e-mail at mppu@jpm.gov.bn, or visit the centre.

Let’s have a discussion

What do you think about this? Do you think that the $800 allowance needs to be relooked at? Do you think the i-Ready programme is working? What are your thoughts about the apprentice scheme?

Have you registered yourself at JobCentre Brunei?