Every year in Singapore, there are more than 30,000 new graduates entering the workforce with most of them feeling unprepared for the transition into work life. Because of the Covid pandemic, they are now entering this phase facing an even tougher job market and greater uncertainty. The outlook is even more challenging for millions of young people across Asia.
Gen Z currently makes up more than one-third of the world population today. They are most diverse compared to previous generations and expected to make a profound impact as consumers and in the workforce. With daunting odds and limited opportunities, how can they find their voice and discover their place of meaningful contribution?
Values lie at the heart of any solution. Whether it is youth developing a strong work ethic or resilience, or for others providing a space for them to flourish, values form the strong core from which we are able to make decisions and take action that can help us succeed.
As part of ROHEI's new venture into the EduTech space, ROHEI DCE Praise Mok shares a conversation with Mr Tan Chin Hwee, Co-chair of the Emerging Stronger Taskforce EduTech Alliance for Action (AfA) and co-author of Values at the Core.
In this video interview, they discuss EduTech and explore the values of hard work, trust and risk-taking and their impact on how the emerging workforce can succeed.
Chin Hwee: What are the things that will future-ready our youth and nation? At the end of the day, in my opinion, is to create sustainable jobs for the youth for the future generation. So social trust will be a key element in the society and how to enable changes to be accepted more willingly. That is the key barometer.
Praise: So in regard to social trust and the emerging workforce do you have a point of view on how to better engage them?
Chin Hwee: As I may suggest the last thing the youth want today is a prescriptive model. We adults have to assume that we do not know everything and this pandemic is one good example to stay humble. We don't need to know everything, we don't have to pretend to know everything, it’s okay to learn together and the youth will be a big body for us to learn from.
Stay humble. It's okay to learn together, to learn from the youth.
So the world is changing rapidly and this trust between people like us, in positions of influence, with the rest of the younger population to come up with a win-win solution together to future-ready this little red dot that we love.
Praise: So I mean by way of being future-ready - WorkGuide* is the platform that we created and is meant to be able to connect the emerging workforce to guides for work. Because they are not familiar, so it’s about guiding them there. What are some perspectives you think will be valuable for them in terms of guiding them by way of values to be successful in the workforce?
*For more information on ROHEI's edtech initiative with the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, visit workguide.co.
Chin Hwee: So with my co-chair Dilys Boey, we started the EdTech AfA because we’re guided by values as parents. We roped in colleagues like Henry to help out in the whole process and of course, we have the full support of a number of agencies, in particular, the MOE and workforce SSG.
This common value system helps us to go deeper down to find a better way to engage the workforce and one of the simpler ideas is to learn from people like yourself who are dedicated to helping the next generation in segmenting the workforce.
Praise: I think edtech has also been positioned as a strong economic driver for Singapore. What are your thoughts on it being on the one hand a way to propel Singapore forward, on the other hand also a vehicle for education?
Chin Hwee: Yes, it’s a complicated question. Because all along education is viewed more domestically. We focus, rightfully so, on our children, in Singapore, to do well. Of course, to do well these days means different things for different people. Academics is just one yardstick. I think what we want is to future-ready our children not for PSLE, not for O-Levels, or A-Levels or IB not even for University, but for life. So lifelong learning is going to be a game changer.
Lifelong learning is going to be a game changer.
When I was investing money before I switched career, I tell myself every day when I wake up I become cleverer and this is a way I tell my children we can be better than AI. We need to embrace it and not feel threatened by it. We have to adapt and we can relearn a lot of skill sets and yes I know the youth will be more keen to adopt this mindset but I think the older workforce can also adopt this growth mindset.
Praise: Absolutely. Lifelong learning is the way to go. I think you referenced that in your book as well. Maybe I'll hop on to a question relating to hard work. And I think in Singapore that value has always been promoted, promulgated. With the emerging workforce, do you have any advice? What observations do you have about hard work?
Chin Hwee: If there is a number of key parameters for future success I think it would be hunger and the flip side would be resilience. And these two come together.
Hunger and resilience are key parameters for future success.
We see it in many societies, even the Nordic countries where social trust is huge and hard work is not easy. But if the youth would be able to believe in the goals they set up for themselves, then that makes a difference. The key here is for each individual hopefully with your help and edtech help, to find their true passion. Once you are able to find your true passion it's no longer hard work for you. It seems like a joy.
Praise: So work hard along the way and discover your passion?
Chin Hwee: Trial and error there is no shortcut. They have to discover what they like and what they don’t like. They find out what they don’t like, they eliminate it and they narrow it down to what they like with a true passion, and then that will propel them very high. Because passion is difficult to hide.
There is no short cut. Discover what you like and what you don't like.
Praise: In relation to trust, how do YOU build trust? Societal trust, political. So key. How does an individual build trust so they can be increasingly successful?
Chin Hwee: I always go for the fact that it's impossible to build trust immediately but at least build predictability. At least let the person be able to predict you. That is one step towards building trust. At least let the person be able to predict you. That itself is a good step towards trust.
Being consistent and predictable is key to building trust and necessary for career and personal progression.
Trust is a very big word, it's a very difficult word. It takes many years to build trust. But at least Singaporeans, given our skillset and system, we can allow the other party to predict us and that is a big step even for career and job and personal progression.
Praise: Be predictable, be consistent. What about risk-taking? What thoughts do you have about how an individual can be a circumspect risk taker?
Chin Hwee: I actually experimented quite a few times. I'm now in this multi-national company where I have 30 different nationalities in this office in Singapore, and I think as parents it's common to see how foreigners are more lax with their children when it comes to safety. In the playground, they are allowed to fall and pick themselves up again. They're not wearing shoes, they're very dirty. Whereas Asian or Singaporean parents will be very angry.
So what I‘m trying to say is maybe since young, if you can allow them to have a better sense of risk-taking, they understand themselves more. By allowing them to play in a playground or sports, there is a chance to practice risk-taking ability.
Practice risk-taking through allowing freedom to play and in sports.
My children even though they are perceived to be privileged, they start work young just like me. My son started work at a cafe, and has to earn his own pocket money. Other parents may say this is too tough, why do you let your child go through 10-12 hrs of work standing. But I think that is something for them to discover.
Praise: What do you see is the ability to grow risk in that?
Chin Hwee: Before you can take more risks you have to understand yourself better. That is a key element to this. When I wanted to be the best investor in Asia, that was my goal, I have to understand myself very well. I have to be very disciplined. There's a set time of sleeping, there’s a set time of waking up and a set time of how to control my emotions to be a better investor. There is no shortcut.
Before you can take more risks, you have to understand yourself better.
The current system gives very little leeway for the youth to fail. If they fail, they think that they are a failure. They think that they are good for nothing in everything else. That’s not correct --It’s okay to say you don’t know. It’s okay to be less macho and just accept it as it is.
Praise: I think it's such an interesting observation about risk-taking and knowing yourself. That by knowing yourself you’re in a better position to calculate what you’re willing to take on or not.
I think you’ve also observed that the landscape for the younger generation is that it‘s hard to fail. It's not regarded as a good thing to fail. Do you have thoughts around individuals who feel like they have failed, and it's hard to get back up?
Chin Hwee: I think many of us have failed, including myself. So it's just not talked about in this society. And there's no free lunch right so maybe more of us should come out and speak of our challenges which we all have. We don’t have to be it and know all. Then the society can embrace changes.
More of us should come out and speak of our challenges. We don't need to know it all.
So for example I talk about in the book - how come there’s no silicon valley in Europe for example and there’s a silicon valley in the Western part of the US and yet in Europe you have a lot of research universities that are well known and yet they can’t build an ecosystem of risk-taking? You do need a little bit of risk-taking and boldness to be future-ready especially now. Digitisation is actually an equaliser. It will equalise many advantages that countries like Singapore have earlier.
We need risk-taking and boldness to be future-ready, especially now.
Praise: As an investor, when you think about risk-taking and being able to think of that for the progress, and the building of Singapore, what are some of your thoughts around risk-taking and education and edtech. So how much should we push to try and how much should we not?
Chin Hwee: That’s a good question. So for example there’s a debate about ‘should we teach coding to the kids?’ What is really important about coding, or more important about coding is the logical processing of information. That skillset needs to be taught. It could be taught through coding, which is ideal. It could also be taught through playing a musical instrument for example. Why? So that you set the right mindset for a job like an accountant or an engineer or a coder. You need that mindset to succeed.
So I think this is something that we may want to think about instead of just thinking - just do coding for the kids and then we tick that box. They need a combination of the environment and the nurturing skillset. And teachers play a very important role. I think our system today has been very good, very useful, so let's come together and recalibrate education and edtech so that we will be a future-ready Singapore.
Praise: So you have made reference in your book that values tend to stay over generations. But then also you made an observation that there could be traumatic events within an individual that - crucibles - could be demise in the family, etc. Do you view the last year COVID as a traumatic event?
Chin Hwee: Yes. Yes it is. Not just at an individual level but also at a family and societal level. So let us not waste this chance. Don’t waste this crisis. We should come together and relearn and learn our skillsets.
Praise: How do you see that potentially impacting the values in particular the ones you’ve mentioned: hard work, thrift, risk-taking and trust?
Chi Hwee: I look at my company and how we were able to embrace changes. As I said right at the start, nobody likes changes but changes in a pandemic situation, people are more open to change but I did not mention an important point and that is how much trust your ecosystem have with you before the pandemic. That makes a slight difference. If there’s really inherent trust with the ecosystem, with you as the management in a company, then these changes will be taken far easier, than during the pandemic and trying to make the changes. I think that is the difference.
If there is inherent trust, changes will be taken far easier.
Prevailing trust. If only during the pandemic then you show you care about your workers, maybe it's a little bit late. You have to be consistent. You have to be able to be predicted by your colleagues across nationalities. There are values that are across systems and backgrounds or nationalities. So the last thing I want is to negatively surprise your ecosystem. I think there is consistency and for a firm like mine, it was much easier for the colleagues to adapt. It is not easy for everybody, but we try to walk the talk consistently. So that during the pandemic it becomes easier.
So for example during the pandemic spontaneously my colleagues say let's raise money for the migrant worker centre. So we just started during the lockdown a running club. We clocked the distance and we raise money for the migrant workers, just spontaneously.
Provide a platform to allow bottom-up ideas to increase acceptance of changes.
So you may say this is usual but I suggest to you that if you didn't have the culture to allow such things to flourish before the pandemic it is harder because it is being seen as more prescriptive and less sincere. But if you provide a platform to allow bottom-up ideas, then the chances of acceptance will be higher. And this goes back to the original intent of this whole conversation -- in a company setting you can move it to a family setting and also to a country setting. So no sacred cow. You let ideas flow up and if it's good then we execute it. Doesn’t mean that things that you’ve done in the past are useful, doesn't mean that it going to be relevant in the future.
Be open. I think that’s key. And for leaders like us in the new digitisation age, I think this is an important yardstick for success and for fulfilment.
Praise: Trust is so key in dealings with people. Thank you Chin Hwee for your time!
Visit workguide.co to find out more about ROHEI’s EduTech initiative as part of the Emerging Stronger Taskforce EduTech Alliance for Action (AfA).