SINGAPORE - YMCA has renewed its pledge to deliver a 75 per cent success rate for its programme to help school dropouts return to education or gain employment, or return donors their money.
The association, which celebrates its 120th anniversary in Singapore this year, has taken in a new batch of 13 at-risk youth for its Project Bridge Vocational and Soft Skills Programme (VaSSP).
The six-month programme equips out-of-school youth with skills that they can put to use in a job immediately. The current batch will complete the programme in August.
YMCA had announced the 75 per cent target last year, as an enhancement to the VaSSP under a social impact guarantee (SIG) model. The guarantee kicked off last May.
Its average success rate so far has been 62 per cent, but the association is on track to reach its target, said Ms Sharon Chan, division head of programmes at YMCA, said on Wednesday (March 16).
To meet the goal, VaSSP will have an extended social intervention period of nine months for some youth, internships and incentives for youth to complete milestones, as well as more tailored training programmes.
She spoke to The Straits Times at a luncheon held at YMCA on Wednesday to mark the association's 120th year and recognise the latest batch of youth enrolled in the programme.
Many of the youth in the programme - which is in its 11th year - have not completed their mainstream secondary school education and hold only a Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) qualification.
The current batch has completed a month-long soft skill training programme, which teaches skills such as writing resumes and tackling interviews.
They will go on to attend vocational courses in hairdressing, Web design and culinary skills, among others, with support from social workers they are paired with.
VaSSP has engaged more than 700 youth since its launch in 2011.
Starting out with a focus on service-oriented jobs such as in food and beverage, hair styling and make-up, it now offers more technical courses such as e-sports events management, user interface and experience (UI/ UX) design and digital marketing.
Mr Ho Wen Jie, 26, joined the programme when he was 15 after a school counsellor referred him to it.
He dropped out of school at the age of 14, after struggling with bullying in primary school and becoming a "very angry" troublemaker in secondary school.
"I thought it was either I bully or get bullied," he said. "Back then, I joined a group of friends who would smoke and drink. I got into fights and ran away from home."
He worked odd jobs as a waiter and sales assistant in a mobile phone shop after he dropped out.
He said he was grateful for the opportunity to join the VaSSP when a school counsellor referred him to it.
"Having worked outside for a while, I understood that without some actual skills, it will be very hard for me."
He took up VaSSP's baking course, and said he became more confident in the process, also meeting new friends and supportive mentors.
"When I was working odd jobs, I did not have a lot of responsibilities. Once I joined VaSSP, volunteers and social workers gave me ownership of the work and leadership responsibilities," he said, adding that he got to work in prestigious restaurants.
"I felt, maybe I can make it."
Today, he has secured a job as a sales development representative at a tech multinational company.
"I have come a long way from being a waiter, to part-time jobs, to baker, then this."
Like Mr Ho, Muhammad Dhia Asfa, who is in the latest batch of the programme, also dropped out of school in Secondary 2.
He was diagnosed with severe depression and panic disorder, and for two years stayed at home as he had "a big fear" of going outside.
But this changed when his social worker signed him up for VaSSP.
The 16-year-old, who is the only child of a land surveyor and primary school administrative staff member, took up a course on event management.
It helped him to be more comfortable and open to new experiences, he said.
"It forced me to leave the house and to meet people, if not I would just avoid it. The past two years were so unproductive, but now I am learning something and have a sense of purpose."
Asfa has hopes to get a job in event management to supplement his family's income.
At the luncheon on Wednesday, Ms Chan commended the youth on their hard work and urged them to keep striving for their dreams.
"It doesn't matter what the community, the society says you must or must not do," she said.
"You decide for yourself, you know how you want to be successful and play a part in making that success for you."