“It is important that our government remains focused on the interest of the country’s future” (Help Young Singaporeans Attain Basic Goals, Louis Peh Chwee Hoe).
Given the ambiguity of the global environment – in which “young people in many developed economies are finding it increasingly difficult to land permanent jobs to enable them to have the confidence to plan their future” (ST, Feb. 16) – policy changes in the classroom and at the workplace can prepare young Singaporeans for future challenges. Yet oftentimes absent from such discourse is the initiative of the individual, and especially in the context of securing long-term and meaningful careers, three endeavours can be useful: securing internships, seeking career advice, and building connections.
Some schools – the institutes of higher learning and the universities, in particular – are working more actively with companies to provide internship opportunities, but still students can source for their own openings. Even though internship stints are short, they help students determine whether they are well-suited for a company or an industry, and in this vein participation in different stints widens exposure. Beyond employment, much depends on the intern, to be diligent and punctual, to deliver on roles and responsibilities, and to interact with full-time employees of the company, so as to maximise the learning. And for the future when career decisions are made, the intern will be better-positioned to narrow sectors and fields of interest.
Thereafter, the second and third endeavours should fall into place. Effective career counsellors – also a key initiative of the Ministry of Education, as part of its education and career guidance programme – from my experience, do not decide for the individual what jobs or industries are “the best”. Instead, over iterative sessions and personal research on the part of the student, and as far as possible, aspirations or interests are matched with realistic job options. And through this process, perhaps aided by the career counsellor or the relevant contacts amassed through past internships or involvement in the community, information can be sought from experienced professionals, who can share insights and reflections.
Individual initiative remains important for the aforementioned, and in this regard policies should be complementary. Internship programmes, for instance, should not be a source of cheap labour or even a form of exploitation for companies, and oversight from the government or from the universities can ensure fair amounts of compensation. Directories or listings of internship opportunities, furthermore, should facilitate the matching process, and career counsellors could also be appointed in the secondary schools, to get younger students thinking about suitable pathways. And finally, the development of practical skills – writing of résumés and cover letters as well as interview and networking practice – would serve more tangible ends too.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.