Building A Pipeline Of Aviation Talent

dnata aims to groom new talent for the aviation sector by being a partner company in ITE’s Work-Study Diploma programme.

Dubai-headquartered global airport services provider dnata offers aircraft ground handling, cargo, travel, retail and flight catering services across five continents. The company has been operating in Singapore for over 40 years and employs more than 1,800 people here today.

As a co-training partner for the Institute of Technical Education’s (ITE) Work-Study Diploma (WSDip), dnata works closely with ITE to conduct on job training for WSDip trainees. The trainees acquire relevant knowledge and on-the-job skills at the workplace, as well as off-the-job training in ITE. On the other hand, participating companies can also recruit skilled ITE graduates or sponsor in-service employees who wish to obtain academic qualifications to deepen their skills for higher-level jobs.

BiZQ speaks to Musdalifa Abdullah, Managing Director at dnata Singapore about his company’s experiences as a Work-Study Diploma co-training partner.

What is dnata’s role in the Work-Study Diploma Programme?

As a local employer, we continue to develop homegrown talent by partnering institutes of higher learning (IHLs) like ITE and the polytechnics on internship programmes. The internship usually lasts up to four months, and upon completing their internship, the students either go back to school to continue their studies or join the workforce.

Under the WSP, we are a partner company in the ITE WSDip in Airport Operations. Over five 6-month semesters, students attend school for five weeks of theory studies at ITE and twenty-one weeks in operations, where they undergo a structured on-the-job training programme that exposes them to different roles within dnata.

We are also able to share with the IHLs about the latest developments in the industry to help them further improve the curriculum and remain relevant.

How have you been personally involved in the WSDip?

I spearhead the WSDip project at dnata and my role is to ensure that this is a successful programme. I also make it an important part of our KPIs for our HR, Learning and Development (L&D), and Operational teams.

My L&D team works with the IHLs to develop the curriculum so that it remains relevant, and aligns with our Operational teams to ensure that the students are properly mentored during their transition into the working environment. The HR team works closely with the IHLs to jointly publicise the programmes and encourage more students to come on board.

How does WSDip help build a pipeline of talent for the aviation sector?

It is a challenge in the aviation sector to attract and retain talent, especially among the younger generation, as the industry has traditionally been very manual in terms of its processes and challening working conditions. Our workforce is also ageing. So as older staff retire, we will need to replenish the pool with new and young talents.

At the same time, we also want to shape the jobs in aviation so that they are more attractive to the younger generation. As such, we contribute to ensuring up-to-date curriculum development so that we can expose these students to new technology being adopted in our operations, such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

So far, we have managed to recruit 31 full-time employees that enrolled in the Work Study Programme.

How does the WSDip help fresh graduates gain a head start in their careers?

The programme allows students to study for their diploma, apply what they are learning and concurrently gain relevant working experience, which they can include in their curriculum vitae (CV). Students also gain exposure and insight into the business as they get an overview while being rotated through various departments. This will greatly boost the chances of fresh graduates securing a job position as many employees prefer recruiting candidates who can hit the ground running. It also allows students to interact with experienced leaders in the industry and build a strong network of collaboration and support early in their careers.

What were some memorable moments you experienced working with your WSDip trainees?

I am always impressed at the eagerness that the trainees show to learn and most of them take it to fish like water. For every flight we handle, there is a person assigned as the Flight In-Charge (FIC). This person plays an important role in coordinating and supervising the flight operations to ensure that we have the right equipment and resources for the flight.

A while back, a Flight In-Charge caught my attention. I was impressed with his leadership skills and how he can manage the operations, as well as the staff and the resources. Upon speaking to this person, I found out that he was a student enrolled in the WSDip.

Another WSDip staff who impressed me worked in our private aviation services team. She has been a great support and has become an expert in private aviation services. Beyond operations, she is also involved in the entire range of services such as working with our finance team in billing for the services that we provide.

How do you think more companies and students can be encouraged to come on board the WSDip?

Companies that participate in the programme will be able to benefit not just in terms of attracting talent, but also from being able to contribute to the IHLs. Companies can also sponsor in-service staff as WSDip candidates for their career development and upgrading of skills.

For the students, we want to highlight to them that the WSDip allows them to work, obtain a decent salary, and study at the same time, and that upon completion of the programme, they will not be considered a fresh graduate and can possibly command a higher salary.

Do you have any plans to expand the scope of the WSDip at dnata?

We are looking to introduce a WSDip in Logistics & Supply Chain Management, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical & Electrical Services Supervision. In addition, we are working with ITE as one of the stakeholders in developing the WSDip (Passenger Experience Management) programme. Leveraging our global network, we also plan to explore ways to offer our trainees the prospect of international deployment opportunities to help make the programme more attractive.

We hope that the government can provide more support for the WSDip, such as helping to subsidise part of the salaries or provide more incentives for companies to come on board. This will help widen the pool of participating students and employers to the programme.

On 13 August 2021, Singapore Business Federation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Institute of Technical Education, Nanyang Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic at the virtual SkilsFuture Work-Study Fair. Under the MoU, SBF will work with these Institutes of Higher Learning to promote the SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes to our members, as well as other activities to enhance the capabilities of Singapore’s workforce.

The ITE WSDip programme seeks to develop existing staff capabilities and provide them with career progression opportunities, as well as to better attract, recruit, and retain work-ready staff. This 2.5-years apprenticeship programme has helped over 300 companies nurture and develop talents since it started in 2018. Please visit for more information, and click here to find out more about the 30 WSDip courses available.