It was just over 3 years ago when I was a wide-eyed graduate hunting for my first job.
Fresh from donning my graduation robes, I metaphorically stepped out of the comforting arms of formal education, confident and hopeful that the working world was ripe with opportunities for the picking.
Soon enough, all of that was quickly replaced with a harsh reality – with thousands of others gunning for the same roles, getting an ideal job isn’t as easy as all the graduate surveys made it out to be.
I eventually clinched my first job, holding on to it for 2 years before making a move…and then another.
Faced with the task of managing fresh graduates in my current position, I’m often reminded of myself when I was a first-jobber – full of ideas, but not knowing instinctively how to go about it as an employee and not a student.
And these skills are something 16 years of formal education don’t teach you.
You learn it through countless trials and costly errors; you learn it through watching how your senior colleagues handle an intimidating situation like it’s their second nature. You learn it with months, and even years of days which vary from mundane to overwhelming.
Therefore, when I got invited to sit in on a briefing for mentors of Young NTUC (NTUC’s youth-centric wing) Career Discovery and Mentorship Programme back in August 2016, I was pretty envious that juniors who joined the initiative would get a chance to be mentored by the passionate individuals I met.
Still in its infancy then, I didn’t know about how far it had progressed until I was invited once again to attend and observe the Career Discovery and Mentorship programme, held over 2 Tuesdays in January.
Even on a Tuesday evening, the room was filled with eager-eyed “mentees”, mostly 20-somethings, punctual and awaiting the start of the programme. There was a buzz of excitement in the air, as they introduced themselves to each other, also forging friendships along the way.
Soon, Director of the Youth Development Unit at NTUC, Mr. Desmond Choo entered the room, all smiles and taking over the mic as he did a brief introduction to the programme, puncturing his speech with personal anecdotes of the time when he was a young working adult.
Revealing that he had gotten through work conundrums with help from his peers and those he met along the way, he emphasised the importance of networking, and how a programme as such as the Career Discovery and Mentorship Programme will give participants a leg-up in that area.
Given that young workers would face even more resistance when it comes to finding employment due to their lack of experience and relevant skills, Young NTUC resolved to help them to navigate finding not only a job, but one that is suitable as well.
The unique selling point of the Career Discovery and Mentorship Programme is that it marries both the discovery and mentorship aspects of work life. Mentors are also sourced from the Labour Movement’s wide network and are from across 10 different industries and over 20 functions.
Choo expressed that he wishes to scale up efforts and in his Budget 2017 wishlist, has called for more support for the Labour Movement’s Youth Outreach programmes so as to expand its influence in various IHLs.
Below is a quick summary of what he called for recently in the Labour Movement’s Budget 2017 recommendations:
16 Pieces Of Advice 16 Years Of Formal Education Never Taught You
Over the 2 sessions, even for an observer like myself, I managed to reaffirm and pick up so much work-related advice that surpassed whatever I learnt about work life from 16 years of schooling.
I’ve picked out the most relevant, and summarised them for you, quickfire-style:
1. “It’s better to grapple before getting a first job, as compared to having one forced upon you.”
Many of the mentors present reminded participants that while it’s tempting to settle for whatever job is put in front of you in times of desperation, it’s actually better to be selective, and ensure that what you take on will be beneficial for your career in the long run.
2. Just like how you know about superheroes’ strengths, knows yours too.
With the popularity of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, we all know about the strengths and powers of superheroes like Iron Man, The Hulk and Thor – but how much do we know of our own? Knowing our own strengths means knowing what we can excel in, and thus where we should start looking.
3. Be aware of your personal achievements and use them as your unique selling points.
No, this is not the typical corny “you are a special snowflake” quote, this is actually linked to the previous point! We all have unique strengths, and these take form in achievements we accomplish throughout the years. Compile them, and use them as your personal ‘unique selling point’.
4. Niche skills are not as valuable as transferrable ones.
While it’s great to have a few niche skills to make yourself stand out from others, when it comes to career progression, you need to be practical. Thus, it’s wiser to invest more time and effort in mastering a transferrable skill that current and future employers will value you for.
5. Don’t be shy to ask for help from peers and seniors.
It’s often said by bosses that people are their assets, and it’s not just applicable to those in management, but to employees as well. There’s a wealth of experience to tap from among colleagues and friends, and they might just have the best advice for you.
6. Know your values and priorities, so you can hunt for a job that satisfies them.
There’s no perfect job in the world, but the most important considerations you should have before signing your life away on the contract is whether or not the scope aligns with your values and priorities. Want to spend lots of time with your family? Don’t take a job that requires you to travel overseas frequently. Want to rise the ranks? Don’t take a job that is already clogged with staff in upper management.
7. “How would you like to spend your day?” Answer that and look for a job that would give you that schedule.
It’s easy to get carried away by perceptions of how a job can seem to be. For example, the life of a writer in movies always seems more exciting than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but there are more days spent wrecking your head over a sentence than those spent running away from a gang you just did an exposé on.
8. Part-time jobs, internships and the like are great ways to learn a second skill.
While portals like are great for taking on a second (or third) skill, there’s nothing like hands-on learning and being paid for it at the same time! Flexible work options are aplenty, and I’m sure companies would be happy to take you on since in the end, it’s a win-win for all.
9. Intern as much as you can, to find out what you actually love.
I never took an internship, but after having managed interns (mostly university students on a break), I realised how great these arrangements are for both the undergrads and our office. It’s also common to have ex-interns get in touch again, expressing how much they’ve learnt from the few weeks in a work environment.
10. “No one is indispensable”, it’s a reality you need to understand.
Even more so with disruption, jobs are quickly being replaced, and the only way we can get around it is to keep ourselves competitive. Stay relevant by volunteering for projects you’d never have thought of doing, and learn some new skills through them.
11. “Change is the only constant”, so keep on looking for opportunities to move into.
On the same point, there’s no bulletproof job or industry, so always be on your toes on the places that are hiring, and prepare yourself to make the jump. Your only time to begin is now.
12. “Innovate or die”.
“Irrelevance” is a word we’ve been hearing a lot of, and this doesn’t just apply to business models and tech products (think: Nokia’s downfall in the face of smartphones) – it also applies to people. Keep innovating and learning – you’d never know when you’ll be irrelevant.
13. “Money isn’t everything”, you’ll last longer in a job you love.
It’s tempting to take on a job that promises to pay you way above your expected salary, but everything comes at a cost. Some of the best paying jobs might require you to sacrifice your social life, or do tasks that do not agree with your values. Avoid that, and find a job that aligns more with your personality and morals – you’ll thank yourself for it later.
14. “Fake it till you make it.”
Before working, I always thought that managers and bosses always knew exactly what they were doing all the time. Not so much, actually. Most of the time, decisions are made based purely on gut feelings and crossed fingers. Work life is actually a lot of just ‘winging it’, but also a lot about making solid decisions based on your ability to gauge a situation. Learn how to do that, and you’ll be unstoppable.
15. Having a degree isn’t everything – but what you learn from work is.
A rather contentious issue, having a degree might get you a foot into the door for an interview, but as you progress in your career, your work experience would far outweigh your straight As and first class honours. But that’s not that say that it’s completely useless either, as some jobs do require more specialised knowledge that can only come from a degree.
16. Networking is increasingly important, don’t just do it online.
There can never be enough emphasis on this. While apps and social media is making it easier for us to connect with more people, it’s also easier for us to assume we have a strong network we can rely on when we actually don’t. Connecting offline makes for more meaningful and memorable exchanges -ones that can be an advantage if you’re looking for advice, or even to switch jobs!
Because Learning Never Stops At School
The sentence explains itself. I’ve probably learnt more about work, and what it means after getting my first job as compared to the 16 years I’ve had preparing for it!
Thus, programmes like the Young NTUC Career Discovery and Mentorship Programme is a great way for undergraduates, or those fresh to work life to get a taste of what they need to thrive in the harsh working world. Afterall, learning is best served with a side of experience.
The Labour Movement wants you to know that while education is very important, learning never ends in the classroom.