June 25, 2017

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

SO SOME people are kicking up a fuss over what Minister Chan Chun Sing said about the above question while referring to jobs. It seems that he was trying to tell his audience of polytechnic students not to keep thinking about landing their dream jobs immediately but to find meaning in whatever job they’re in. Is this a good analogy? Many people are trying to stretch the analogy, which I was told was made in a spontaneous speech. You have people castigating the minister for suggesting to young people that they can pick anyone to marry, or that he was telling them to be content with whatever job they have. Worse, some are making it “personal’’.

I have been wondering about my own career after graduation and whether I married the one I love or love the one I married. I can say that in my undergraduate days, I was actually infatuated with banking and flirted with the idea of working in a bank and counting money. I had a couple of bank suitors after graduation but eventually plumped for journalism. Not because I love journalism. I didn’t know a thing about it and wasn’t even sure I’d like him/it. I decided on him/it because he/it would make a better provider. Serious. It paid better.

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Maybe it’s because I belong to a generation where being able to provide for the family – I mean the first family with Mom and Dad – was a deeply ingrained duty of children. Even if there was no romance in the job, I told myself I would stick it out – and succeed. A decade later, I was asked to list a hobby for a company book. I wrote that “work is my hobby’’, to the astonishment of my colleagues then. Maybe they thought I was trying to curry favour with management. I don’t care. It was the truth.

More than two decades later, I am still wedded to journalism although I’ve divorced the company. I sometimes ask myself if I should have worked in a bank, which was, after all, my first love even though not as good a provider. The thing is, you never know if you’ll be happy doing your dream job unless you’ve tried it out. It’s like a couple for whom the honeymoon is over and business of living together starts. You could get along comfortably with each other, or you could grate on each other’s nerves.

I have come across too many people who wish they’re doing something different from what they originally wanted to do. For them, I advise a trial separation or a long holiday, like no-pay leave or a sabbatical, to re-charge their life. But since marriage is a death-do-us-part affair, it does mean that people have to make the effort to work at it. Effort which must start from the day you made your marriage vows. It’s no point starting a new job with a long face and making yourself feel worse by focusing on the things you don’t like.

I don’t think this is said often enough because we’re now so concerned about living the dream rather than making a living: people are being PAID to do a job and that job, however dis-likeable, should be done well.

If the unhappiness is overwhelming and affects your ability to justify your salary, then get a divorce. Play the field or maybe there is already a suitor waiting in the wings. Okay, I too am guilty of extending the analogy and no doubt, have succeeded in riling up some people. Just allow me this: Get an internship in your dream job, then you’ll find out whether you can live with the person you love. If you can, the question posed above is moot.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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skillsfuture_300x250

Photo By Shawn Danker
AIA Singapore.

by Kwan Jin Yao

CAREER centres can do many things for job-seekers. And for former taxi-driver Mr Tan*, tired of the irregular income and worried about health problems after long, sedentary hours driving behind the wheel, career centres could – through self-assessment tools, one-on-one consultations, and review of his work experience or preferences – narrow his occupation or industry options.

Friends have told Mr Tan that the remuneration and benefits as a security officer are reasonable – and that the occasional patrols will get him some physical activity – so career counsellors would first explain requirements such as the Security Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications. After attending these basic training modules, career centres can further provide assistance with the writing of résumés or cover letters, or arrange interview workshops or mock sessions for the practice of skills.

But visits to these centres are often made too late, with unrealistic expectations of a quick-fix. Some university undergraduates, according to Ms Carmen Wee, Director of Career Services at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, “only approach us in the final semesters of their four-year study for help, just before their graduation.” In other words there may be no urgency, even though career planning and guidance are long-term processes.

Mr Sim Cher Young, Director of the Dato’ Kho Hui Meng Career Centre at the Singapore Management University (SMU), agreed. “There is a small but increasing percentage of students in every cohort who are really serious about career planning. Many wait till the eleventh hour before applications, and I have witnessed students rushing into snap decisions about academic majors, internships, or full-time jobs which may not necessarily be aligned with their career interests”, he said.

“There is a disconnect and a lack of ownership about one’s own career planning and development. Possibly, undergraduates feel that they will have no trouble securing a job upon graduation, even though they should be planning for a career as early as possible during their four years in the university. Success in careers favours those who plan.”

Working professionals can be afflicted by such lethargy too. “People tend not to think about career planning and guidance until they run into some trouble,” said Mr Gary Goh, Deputy CEO at the Employment and Employability Institute, or e2i. “For instance, there are many who come to e2i only just before their retrenchment, resignation, or career switch, with greater desperation if they run into financial difficulties and hence need an instant solution. You need time to prepare and be ready for career changes, rather than worry about career planning only when troubles arise.”

And furthermore, as effective as career centres may be for job searches, the onus remains with the individual to take advantage of opportunities in the first place. After all, opportunities are more ubiquitous these days.

One of these career centres for working professionals is e2i. Since its formation in 2008, the organisation has helped more than 400,000 through job-matching, training and development, as well as improving the productivity of companies, and every day its career counsellors see 30 to 50 workers for coaching services in its centre at Jurong East. Mr Goh explained the four-step “GROW” process: to establish a career goal, ascertaining where the job-seeker wishes to head to; to match these aspirations with reality, asking what barriers or gaps might be stopping the job-seeker; to explore and review options to bridge these gaps; and finally to execute an action plan for the way forward.

In recent years, e2i has also worked with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and the polytechnics to offer career talks and fairs. This focus on the institutes of higher learning appears warranted, since it is the last stage before most enter the workforce. “Two or three years ago, we realised there were quite a number of younger people coming in [for coaching services] who did not want to pursue careers in the field they had studied in,” Mr Goh added. “Career guidance should be implemented as early as practicable, because if one leaves it until entry into the workforce, it may be too late.”

Each student in SMU is permanently assigned to one of 12 career coaches, who are trained as Career Development Facilitators. “Because there are so many career permutations, our career coaches should have the requisite skills, knowledge, and abilities to engage both employers, who hire our students, and students, who use our services.”

Undergraduates at the first and second year go through a seven-module job and career preparedness programme – spanning from self-awareness and discovery workshops to sessions on personal branding and networking – and in their third and fourth year, the preparedness is augmented via specific electives such as “Assessment Centres” and “Case Studies Preparation”, which are selection methodologies typically used by larger companies to shortlist hires.

A similar, methodical approach is used in the NUS Business School. In their first year, all business students enrol in the flagship “Personal Development and Career Management” programme, to explore their own strengths and ambitions as well as to acquire career skills such as résumé writing, interviewing, and networking techniques. Thereafter, students can make counselling appointments in the career resource centre, participate in recruitment activities or networking sessions, and apply for jobs or internships through the online TalentEDGE Portal.

“We help students to discover the right match,” Ms Wee said. “Some may have a set of expectations even before starting work, and so besides instilling a sense of realism we emphasise the risk-return trade-off when making career decisions.”

And if career guidance seems to be the best strategy for both graduates and working professionals, should it be moved even earlier? To the primary and secondary schools? So that eventually job-seekers will not be “too late,” and also think about their course options in these schools? It was the same question we posed to Acting Education Minister for Higher Education Mr Ong Ye Kung in an earlier interview, who acknowledged that although education and career guidance can encourage thinking processes, it should not become just another subject.

“I am not sure about the effectiveness of taking the same approach to upstream beyond the ITEs, polytechnics, and the universities. Instead of sitting a young child down to discuss career options, career guidance at the early stages could be more geared towards raising awareness of career interest and industry information,” Mr Goh added.

In addition to its existing pedagogies at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced in October this year that it had deployed 50 education and career guidance counsellors to schools, with additional services at its Grange Road Campus. Moreover, one of the key recommendations of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review Committee in 2014 was to strengthen education and career guidance, with the commitment of more resources from the government.

“It is meaningful – as indicative in the MOE’s national curriculum relating to early career planning and development – to help students in their primary and secondary schools to visualise likely careers as early as possible,” Mr Sim, who is also a father of two daughters aged 9 and 14, said. “Parents also have to play their part, to have conversations with their children to understand their potential and individual preferences, and to nurture them to realise their dreams.”

These endeavours ultimately point to the importance of lifelong learning, and the subsequent need for training and development. Career centres may help to narrow options or link job-seekers to opportunities, yet aspirations are only realistic with the requisite skills and experience. It is the reason the career services at the NUS Business School – before crafting action steps with the students – seek to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for the students. As Ms Wee stressed: “Ambitions must be grounded in reality. While taking a forward-looking view, students need to stay abreast of market developments, and to do enough research to understand what they could achieve in the future.”

In this vein, career centres and initiatives such as the national SkillsFuture movement are but tools. Mind-sets about lifelong learning and Singaporeans upgrading themselves must change. “Workers must have the relevant skills for the future, and we encourage them to go for ‘upskilling’ and ‘reskilling’ if they intend to stay in the same sector or switch careers respectively,” Mr Goh said. “Business environment and job requirements continuously undergo change. If job-seekers still rely on the skills or knowledge they had learnt in school twenty, ten, even five years ago, they risk skills obsolescence at some stage.”

*Name has been changed.

This series is in collaboration with Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA).

Read our other stories in this series here:

Of Course, say 50 workers to training 

TMG Exclusive: Ong Ye Kung on SkillsFuture: Value what you know – and add

More work needed to improve SkillsFuture directory

 

Featured image TMG File.

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by Kwan Jin Yao

I WANT to start my working life in a Singapore where ambiguity is embraced, and consequently a place where younger Singaporeans are given more time to ascertain our aspirations, and where individuals – maybe those from the older generations, in particular – are less eager to dispense advice on what we should do, or be doing.

Because these days, everyone has something to say about the millennials. Besides oft-cited generalisations such as the “Peter Pan generation” or the “strawberry generation”, there are also less-than-flattering stereotypes of fresh graduates or young employees. In the minds of critics, we are choosy, unwilling to work hard, even lazy. At the workplace, they insist that plans for work-life balance are unrealistic, that young individuals take opportunities for granted, and that we – with greater technological access – are far too opinionated.

Just two weeks ago, Devadas Krishnadas – co-founder and CEO of consultancy Future Moves – bemoaned that young Singaporeans need “to have the hunger to create value, rather than simply access it” (ST, Jul. 24). His commentary was based on an encounter with a young woman who was being interviewed to join his “indigenous, small, but growing” firm. When she asked for a much higher remuneration, a market premium she argued was justified by the “the great risk to work for a small local firm”, Mr Krishnadas was disappointed.

I had a few disagreements. In an environment characterised by pragmatism, why should we not make decisions with the risk-return heuristic, with so much of our future at stake? Moreover, the compensation for risk does not necessarily take the form of generous benefits or salaries. And it would appear that accessing value is useful for its creation, since many in the past – as I noted – “started off with careers in the public service on bonded scholarships or fast-paced openings in multi-national corporations” before taking their leaps of faith.

Like me, many of us had no idea what jobs entailed. Or where we should start our working lives, in the first place, or perhaps what these careers might be. So we experiment, in the face of such ambiguity. Right after my National Service in 2012 I worked at an enrichment centre till 2013, where I thought crafting English curriculum would be up my alley. In the summer of 2014 it was global banking, since in the business school the finance sector held all the money and prospects. Then for six months in 2015, a little tired of school and its routine, I joined a local tech startup as an intern, where I organised projects and penned articles.

Across three years these were companies of different sizes and industries, and in each my roles and responsibilities varied. The fit is not always right, though as a close friend mused, “these stints are the most productive, because now you know what to avoid”.

And at the same time we are acutely aware of the privileges the previous generations never enjoyed. We still have debts to deal with, yet the financial pressure to meet basic needs – and therefore, to get a stable job quickly – is not as strong. The low unemployment rate has created more options for job openings. New industries have emerged too. Some are unhappy about the fact that 40 per cent of Singaporeans will get a shot at a university education, though I reckon greater competition is a boon, boosting productivity rates in the process.

These privileges explain our determination to make the best of opportunities, amidst constraints. Whenever I speak of work-life balance for instance, others mumble about entitled millennials demanding personal time even before we start. Yet more of us also see a third dimension – the society – and wish to contribute as a citizen. I want to continue blogging, organising conferences for students, and volunteering my time. When I am at the workplace I am committed to doing my utmost, and when the office hours end I am committed to my other undertakings.

In her commencement speech at Tulane University in 2011, American comedian Ellen DeGeneres said: “Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine”.

So stop telling us what we should do, or give us grief for what our generation should not be doing. Advice is often well-intentioned, from people who care. But resist these temptations. Instead, give us time to make sense of the uncertain years ahead, time to accumulate some missteps and moments of despair, and ultimately time to forge our own, diverse pathways.

 

This post is the first of a four-part series for Singapore’s golden Jubilee. You can read the other articles here:

My Singlish Jubilee wish

My Jubilee wish for my children’s Singapore

My Jubilee wish for Singapore’s next 25 years while I’m still alive

 

Featured image At the NTU bus stop, a pseudo HDR  by teddy-rised. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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