Covid-19 bad? Yes, but Ms Rachel Lim, 20, a politics, philosophy and economics student at the Yale-NUS College, turned the crisis into an opportunity.
It was "perfect", she says. Even fortuitous for her future.
Yes, Covid-19 dashed her plans to study abroad last year. But it led to her applying for a position at online travel agency Expedia Group.
It was then that she discovered its partnership with the National Youth Council (NYC) on the YouthTech Programme.
Launched by the NYC and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth last year, the programme offers opportunities for graduates and young working adults, aged 35 and below, to hone increasingly sought-after digital skills and apply them in traineeships at NYC-partnered host organisations.
"It was perfect for me," Ms Lim says. "I got to meet many people with different skills and perspectives, take classes in data analytics, digital marketing and other areas through an online platform called Discourse as part of the programme, and gain work experience at Expedia."
YouthTech trainees are placed with host organisations for a period of six months to a year and receive an allowance funded by the NYC of $1,700 to $2,500 a month.
During the traineeships, they learn about different sectors, including their digital needs, and undergo a weeklong onboarding process where they network with each other and guest speakers.
In her six months at Expedia, from January to July, she worked in public policy and corporate affairs, researching government and industry news that could affect the travel sector and writing reports for her supervisors. She also attended business meetings and roundtable sessions with industry associations, and worked on strategies for domestic tourism growth opportunities.
"It was eye-opening for me, to see everything that goes into running an online travel agency, from monitoring hotels and airlines to ensuring that the agency's website works and users have a good experience, and finding ways to increase the website's traffic," she says.
"I also improved my data visualisation skills for my reports, deepened my understanding of data protection issues, and learned how to communicate more effectively, by giving lots of context and having specific asks when e-mailing colleagues and contacts for help. All of these will continue to be useful in the future."
NYC's chief executive officer David Chua shares that such partnerships among the public, private and people (3P) sectors are crucial in empowering youth to step up and address social issues.
"Corporates, whether small and medium-sized enterprises or multinational corporations, and community organisations all have an important part to play in the growth of our youth through real-world exposure in various industries and domains.
"They stack on new skills and tangential competencies, which shore up their future-readiness and resilience. NYC values these partnerships and we seek more partners to work alongside us to give all youth such opportunities."
Making a change for good
Such cross-sector cooperation has also led to Campfire, a six-week intensive youth programme that assists young Singaporeans, aged 18 to 35, in obtaining skills and job experience. It also engages them on social issues.
The programme, which can take up to 50 participants at a time, was launched in April as a partnership by the NYC, *Scape and advertising agency Tribal Worldwide Singapore.
It challenges participants to create solutions to problem statements and pitch these to clients, guided by industry professionals.
To maintain its focus on the community, the statements address current issues and fall under six themes: jobs, the future of work, environment, sustainability, mental well-being, and support for vulnerable groups.
Mr Gavin Rozario, 20, a final-year arts management student at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), attended Campfire over April and May.
"The first two weeks were full of intensive sessions about the creative and business aspects of developing solutions, including how to come up with good ideas, refine them, ensure their scalability and sell them to customers," he says
"We also covered things like good user experience design."
Over the remaining four weeks, his team worked on a marketing plan for a food and beverage company which hires people with special needs and caregivers. The company was having problems attracting young customers at a particular outlet.
The team's plan included collaborating with a popular K-pop themed Korean cafe, organising pop-up "social cafes", where people can pay a flat fee for food if they share a story with other customers, and having unique themes for each of the firm's outlets.
They also crafted a loyalty programme where customers can get a free meal and donate one, including to staff with special needs, for every five meals purchased.
"We wanted to have the social aspects of building a community and giving back along with meeting the goal of increasing sales. The client was very happy with our plan, even though it hasn't been able to implement it, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic," says Mr Rozario.
He notes that the Campfire advisers provided vital tips in shaping the team's pitch to the client.
"Instead of just presenting our ideas, for example, we invented a story with a character in the target customer age group to show how the ideas would excite him. This made it easier for the client to visualise the ideas' potential impact," he says.
He adds that he has taken the lessons to heart: "I'm currently planning an art exhibition to raise awareness about cancer. Instead of just providing statistics, I've been looking for ways to connect with visitors and inspire them to educate others about cancer, including through storytelling in the text accompanying the artworks."
"Campfire really taught me a lot about considering both the social welfare and business sides of plans and programmes to help people, and that's crucial if we want to have a lasting impact in the long run."
Using skills for social service
For Ms Aliyah Nur Qistina, 19, joining the NYC's Youth Corps Internship Scheme (YCIS) was a way to practise her video production skills and fulfil a desire to contribute to Singapore's social service sector.
She discovered the programme last year when she was searching for an internship during the final year of her Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central course in video production.
The YCIS offers students from institutes of higher learning three to six-month internships in the community and social sectors, so they can get on-the-job training while giving back to society.
So far, more than 460 youths have participated in the scheme. They receive a monthly allowance funded by the Government during their internships with the host organisations.
Ms Aliyah, who has since graduated from ITE, interned with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS) charity organisation from September to December last year.
She filmed and edited videos for teachers in the CPAS School to use in their classes for children with cerebral palsy and pitched in at events for the children, including the school's Children's Day celebration.
"It was very rewarding to be able to use what I studied at ITE to help the children, even if it was just making videos on arts and crafts, nursery rhymes and other topics that are at a slower speed so that the children can follow the instructions and lessons," she says.
"I also bonded with the children at the events, and found out so much about persons with cerebral palsy and their needs."
Besides interning at CPAS, Ms Aliyah also taught seniors to make the most of their mobile devices, including by installing and using applications such as WhatsApp, during the YCIS' weekly community service sessions.
"One of the seniors was a Malay auntie, and we chatted about things in our daily lives. She told me about her grandson who was in ITE too. We had many funny conversations," she says.
She adds that the YCIS experience strengthened her determination to volunteer more. She is considering joining the social service sector after she completes her diploma in graphic communications at Nafa, which she will be embarking on next month.
"I think the most important thing I learned through the YCIS is that whatever your skills are, you can do something for the community as long as you have the passion to serve."
This is the third of a four-part series for Youth Month, produced in partnership with the National Youth Council.