Budding composer widens repertoire by picking up digital skills

Confronted by the biggest health crisis of their generation, young Singaporeans are grappling with uncertainty and their future. At the top of their minds: Finding jobs amid a battered market.

With an interest in tech, Ms Rachel Wong (above) applied for the YouthTech Programme in December last year in a bid to develop her digital skills and gain exposure. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RACHEL WONG

Ms Rachel Wong had her eyes set on a career as a musician and composer, having been immersed in the performing arts since young.

She picked up the violin at the age of five. In secondary school, she was already playing, conducting and arranging music for orchestras.

In 2018, the 24-year-old graduated with a diploma in music from the Lasalle College of the Arts and went on to pursue a bachelor's degree in music composition and arranging at the same institution.

But the pandemic put her plans on hold. While still able to graduate in April last year, she had hoped for a better ending to her degree programme.

"Under normal circumstances, we would perform our recitals for the public with live musicians. But that was scrapped," she says about her final-year recital, which was disrupted by circuit-breaker measures.

"Instead, we submitted audio recordings to be graded. It still disappoints me that my classmates and I didn't get the opportunity to have our compositions played by real musicians."

With travel restrictions in place, Ms Wong had to forgo numerous local and overseas performance opportunities.

While reevaluating her career choices, she chanced upon the YouthTech Programme through her school's alumni e-newsletter. It offered her the chance to pursue another interest that she had developed over the years.

"I've always been interested in learning about new technologies and apps," says Ms Wong. The programme was an opportunity to learn new skills and receive an allowance.

As a teen, she learnt how to code simple websites on her own. "As a composer, you do need to have a good grasp of the software and different technologies to produce and publish your music effectively."

In March, Ms Wong started a year-long traineeship as an immersive software designer with the Youth Guidance Outreach Services (YGOS), a non-profit organisation that helps at-risk youths.

Her traineeship role is to develop narratives and visuals for YGOS' counselling programmes in an interactive room that uses virtual reality technology to create a simulated environment.

Her design work, which is still at the conceptual phase due to Covid-19 restrictions, involves creating scenario-based experiences to help the youth make better life choices and exercise self-control.

"There is an element of storytelling in my music, and having to write scripts and draw storyboards for the immersive room narratives has given me inspiration on how to start communicating my ideas visually going forward."

She hopes to return to a career in music and harmonise her new skills with plans to write music that makes a positive impact.

"Maybe one day I'll even write and direct a music video for one of my songs!" she says excitedly.

Tapping tech to drive change

As a teenager, Mr Solyh Ahmad, 30, was passionate about social service and education.

In 2010, he volunteered with Yayasan Mendaki, a self-help group that provides education and training programmes for students and individuals. Over the next five years, he served as a youth mentor to at-risk students in neighbourhood schools.

In addition to conducting research, Mr Solyh Ahmad (above) is also involved in formulating digital marketing strategies at Asia Internet Coalition. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SOLYH AHMAD

His involvement inspired him to take on a role as a programme manager at a global non-profit organisation that supports social entrepreneurs in January last year.

Witnessing the pandemic take a heavy toll on social entrepreneurs serving the communities with limited resources, he says, was an eye-opener.

It prompted his team to "be creative" in providing support while they serviced the communities and beneficiaries.

But Mr Solyh wanted a longer-term solution. "Transformational tech is a key driver in enabling these social enterprises. The opportunity to work on these initiatives inspired me to pursue a career where social change and tech intersect."

In March, he left the organisation to expand his skill sets in digital technology and applied for a place in the YouthTech Programme.

Last month, he was offered a year-long placement at Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) - an industry association that promotes understanding and resolution of internet policy issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

His new role as a digital marketer and data analyst has already opened his eyes to the impact of his work. By conducting research on tech policies in the region, he has seen how vital it is to stay updated on trends that are "dynamic and uneven".

Now, he says, "I look forward to pursuing a career in the Internet economy while contributing back to society in a multitude of ways."

Mr Jeff Paine, managing director of AIC, says that programmes like YouthTech provide guidance, making it easier for graduates and young working adults to enter the technology field.

"It is clear that the digital economy will take centre stage in driving global economic recovery as countries slowly emerge from the devastating toll of the pandemic," he says.

"Our YouthTech trainees have shared insights and new perspectives that have inspired us, and we're grateful to have them as part of the team."

From freelancer to storyteller

After spending two years as a marketing and events executive in the food and beverage sector, Ms Priyanka Nair was ready for change.

The 29-year-old left her job in June 2019 to gain exposure in other industries, taking on freelance event organisation and marketing gigs until she received a full-time job offer in March last year from the Singapore Film Society.

Prior to receiving a full-time job offer, Ms Priyanka Nair (above) worked on ad hoc marketing projects for the Singapore Film Society as a volunteer. PHOTO: COURTESY OF PRIYANKA NAIR

She would have been the organisation's first full-time employee after serving a three-month trial. But the conversion was killed by the pandemic.

"Things started looking bad and events such as film festivals and cinema screenings were getting cancelled," says Ms Nair. "I was back to doing small freelance jobs that didn't offer any stability."

"While most people managed to catch a brief break during the circuit breaker period, I felt like I was working harder than ever for barely any financial stability."

She discovered the opportunity to join the YouthTech Programme and was offered a place at the Happiness Initiative, a social enterprise that promotes mental health.

"It was a good chance for me to deep-dive into marketing and learn from experts. Before, I learnt mostly by myself because I was working in a marketing role alone or in very small teams of two to three people."

She began her new role as a digital marketing trainee with the Happiness Initiative in April, one month after applying. Like Ms Wong and Mr Solyh, her placement will last for 12 months.

Today, her job responsibilities include formulating marketing strategies, content creation, copywriting, and managing the organisation's social media accounts.

"Apart from just producing creative content, I hope to learn how to fully utilise all the marketing platforms, hone my skills in strategy and branding, and learn more about marketing analytics."

This, she says, aligns with her vision of building her skills in using marketing as a storytelling medium, and running events as community-building platforms.

"Moving forward, I want to find a position where I can work with a passionate team similar to the Happiness Initiative, creating educational content and exciting events, and strategising analytics to maximise the reach of the content that I put out."

The YouthTech Programme is making its final call for applications for youth to join this vibrant community keen to upskill for the digital future.

Host organisations interested in harnessing youth energy for their digitalisation efforts are also welcome to be part of YouthTech.

Apply for the YouthTech Programme by June 30.

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