The young grapple with insecurity and anxiety, faced with a future laced with uncertainties, exacerbated by pandemic disruptions and economic volatility.
Is there hope? Yes, with help from those who have been there, done that: Mentors. They are there for the young to tap their wealth of experience and wisdom, and navigate life’s challenges.
Based on that ideal, the Mentoring Alliance for Action (AfA) was born. Launched in March last year, the initiative aims to strengthen mentoring efforts and provide accessible mentoring opportunities for Singapore’s youth.
The Mentoring AfA is a key initiative under Mentoring SG, a national movement which promotes mentoring to bolster youth development and school-to-work transitions. The goal: For youths to flourish, unleash their potential, and fulfil their aspirations.
‘Mentor opened my mind’
For the longest time, Mr Sebastian Ng dreamt of becoming a pilot. The 20-year-old was bent on joining the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), and nothing could change his mind.
That is until last year, when Ms Liaw Lay Kian, 60, came into his life.
Ms Liaw, who is from the Institute of Technical Education’s (ITE) Alumni Mentoring Programme, wanted Mr Ng to consider all his options before making a firm decision.
“My mentor got me thinking about other possibilities,” says the then ITE Higher Nitec in Passenger Services student, “such as joining the commercial aviation world, or even extending to other areas such as business or general aviation.”
Ms Liaw’s advice proved useful. Mr Ng found out shortly after that he did not qualify to be a pilot with the RSAF. He was deemed non-combat fit.
With the news, he turned to his mentor, who “encouraged me to think about the different steps I could take to make my dream a reality”, he says, adding that they included goal-setting for the near future and a focus on time management to keep the goals manageable and aligned with his education and conscription timelines.
During the month-long mentorship programme, they shared their thoughts and personal experiences.
“(She told me about) her experience enrolling in ITE when she was 50, then going on to pursue her diploma while all her course mates were more than 20 years her junior,” says Mr Ng. He was inspired.
He is now a first-year aviation management student at Temasek Polytechnic and has a clear-headed goal of pursuing a career in the aviation industry.
Mr Ng is not the only one on the path of continuous learning. Active in the mentoring programme, Ms Liaw, too, has grown.
“Mentoring has helped to increase my understanding of the students’ perspectives and behaviours because they are from diverse backgrounds,” says Ms Liaw, who relates with her mentees as a friend.
She, too, faced daunting times when younger, says the staff nurse and mother of two, and would have welcomed a helping hand, a listening ear, or advice when confronting challenges.
“A mentor would have been very much helpful in broadening perspectives, planning goals, making decisions, (encouraging me) to stay on course when the going got tough, and keeping (me) focused on reaching (my) potential,” says Ms Liaw.
Mr Ng agrees. Having an adult in your life who can talk and listen without judgement is “paramount to one’s personal development, especially in a young adult’s journey to full adulthood”, he says.
“I would personally recommend (for all youths to have) a mentor to guide them through their turbulent years, especially one with a wealth of life experience who is able to advise and encourage.”
‘I found hope and direction’
Ms Chin Wei Ling knew she needed help. She was frustrated with her performance in school, and anxious about her future.
“At the time, I felt extremely lost and uncertain about myself and that I would not make it in life,” says the 19-year-old applied chemistry student at Singapore Polytechnic.
Seeking guidance, Ms Chin signed up for a mentorship programme she discovered last year through Advisory, a local non-profit organisation that offers career guidance resources.
She saw the opportunity as “a platform for me to be guided by brilliant people who have found success in their personal and professional lives”.
“I badly wanted to reinstill hope for the future in myself by listening to somebody else’s story. I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”
In Dr Preeti Kachroo, 47, (above) a principal scientist with global healthcare company Haleon, Ms Chin found such a person. She is a mentor who changed the way Ms Chin views the world and life, nurtured her potential, and believed in her.
Between July and October last year over online sessions, due to the pandemic, Dr Kachroo opened up about her own career path, failures and successes. She stimulated introspection.
Through the exchange of experiences and emotions, Ms Chin learnt how to challenge herself, be more patient, and better manage expectations.
“Sometimes certain (subject) concepts take longer for me to understand and that’s completely okay,” says Ms Chin. She adds that she is less anxious about the future. She is also more “open-minded and adaptable to whatever life throws”.
“(I’m) trusting the process of things, which has made me a calmer person that is less easily shaken up.”
Says Dr Kachroo, a mother of two: “It is a great opportunity to build on the trusted relationship and create a safe space for my mentee. She adds that mentoring is not about “creating a clone” of her successes, but to provide direction, guidance, motivation and empowerment.
An active mentor and coach within her organisation, Dr Kachroo sees the process as mutually beneficial. From Ms Chin, Dr Kachroo cultivated her listening skills, sharpening her focus on “what’s being said and how it’s being said”, and using the information to empower mentees in problem-solving.
By the end of the six hour-and-a-half long sessions, a deep connection was formed, strengthening an already respectful and candid relationship. They still keep in touch.
They pay it forward
Mentoring and its benefits are why Mr Hafiz Kasman, 29, and Mr Benjamin Wong, 28, are contributing their talent, time and enthusiasm to Kinobi, motivated by the vision and belief that they can make a difference in the community.
Kinobi, the start-up they founded in 2020, is a career guidance service platform. Its proposition: Student empowerment, with career mentoring being a prominent feature.
The company, with a staff of 30, currently serves over 60 clients from polytechnics, universities and government agencies.
The Singapore Management University (SMU) alumni have each experienced first-hand the positive change from mentoring. Mr Kasman considers mentorship his “equaliser”.
“I come from a background where not a lot of my friends from junior college or national service went to university, so I didn’t know anyone – neither peers nor seniors,” says Mr Kasman.
Eager to excel in university, he sought advice on how to approach his studies, set out a career path and even pursue a higher purpose.
“Besides approaching seniors wherever I could find them, I also applied for SMU’s Alumni Mentoring Programme,” he says.
Through his seniors – whom he now considers mentors – and his assigned mentor, Mr Dinesh Uruthiramoothy, a strategy manager at the time, he was exposed to new ideas and perspectives.
“Dinesh is extremely humble and always leads by example. And his personality is always consistent as an individual, mentor or boss which is something I really admire. He was, and still is, my mentor.”
Unlike Mr Kasman, Mr Wong first encountered the concept of mentorship at church when he was 17.
“I was once afraid of what would happen if I did not do well in my A-levels. And I actually did not do as well as what local society deems to be considered ‘good’,” says Mr Wong.
“I was told by my mentor that these things happen for a reason, and we are constantly being moulded to be a masterpiece each day. We just need to be present and learn the lessons to push forward.”
Aiming to pay it forward, they co-founded The Mentoring Circle in 2017 during their time at SMU. The programme matches 30 SMU seniors with juniors annually to provide advice and guidance in their studies and career planning.
Mr Kasman is also the Mentoring AfA’s co-chair. He leads the Steering Committee to champion partnerships and participation in the public, private and people sectors to strengthen mentoring efforts and make mentoring accessible to all youths in Singapore.
“I agreed (to take up the position) as I thought my voice would be useful as a young person who had his first mentoring experience only five years ago as an undergraduate and as someone who has recently helped build ground-up mentoring initiatives through SMU and the Mendaki Club.”
Mr Wong’s efforts are as meaningful. “I am a mentor to a few people. One whom I treasure very much is in the Singapore Boys’ Home.
“There is no immediate reward. There are difficult answers in some people’s lives and all we have to do is to shoulder it with them.”
Our young, our future
Making mentorship opportunities more accessible under Mentoring SG is one of many efforts under the Forward SG initiative.
Launched in June, it is a road map that charts development across six pillars in society: economy and jobs, education and lifelong learning, health and social support, home and living environment, environmental and fiscal sustainability, and our Singapore identity.
“Our youths are our leaders of tomorrow. So we must equip them with the resources, skillsets and more, to empower them to take charge of their futures,” says Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong.
“At key life transitions, the guidance and advice of a mentor can also broaden their perspectives and help them to make informed decisions,” he adds.
“Mentoring SG, which is part of the Forward SG exercise, is a national mentoring movement that aspires to give every youth in Singapore the opportunity to thrive, and a stake in our nation-building.”
Led by the Mentoring Alliance for Singapore and the National Youth Council, the Mentoring AfA collaborates with corporate partners, mentoring organisations, education institutions, youth groups, and professional organisations to nurture a community of partners committed to developing confident and resilient youths.
This feature is brought to you by the National Youth Council, in support of the Forward Singapore exercise