An intern facilitated an exercise on creating a LinkedIn profile for 5 youths whose ages were not too different from hers. On a worksheet, the youth listed their work experiences, strengths/skills, and interests. As these youth were still in school, they were told that the category for work could include their volunteering and caregiving experiences. However, we soon realised that our instruction was not exactly necessary as everyone in the room had no trouble making a list of their work experiences. They began working when they were 14 or 15 years old, and they have had a variety of work experiences.
Work was a means of supplementing the household budget, meeting school expenses and for some pocket money when catching up with friends. Work was a normal aspect of one’s teenage years and this fact dawned on our intern how starkly different her circumstances and perspective of normality were.
Generally, their first job was at a fast-food restaurant. There are many around and the flexible 4-hour shifts offered were ideal for balancing work with school and family commitments. As the youth described their experiences at a fast-food restaurant, we were impressed by their time management, understanding of work processes and customer service skills. These were transferable skills but a couple of them were reluctant to list them under their work experiences. They believed that potential employers would stereotype them as students who were more interested in making a fast buck instead of focusing on their studies.
We experienced a tinge of sadness because what perhaps was unsaid was the perspective that a working-class background would disadvantage one’s career prospects. It got us thinking about the society we live in and how we may be contributing toward its values and norms. These youth argued that the LinkedIn profile was a resume to present the best version of themselves, but they could not acknowledge that hard work and humble beginnings as positive aspects of themselves.
Hence, this week we were deeply heartened by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong when he spoke at the Institute of Policy Studies 35th Anniversary Conference. In revisiting our social compact, he advocated that, “We must provide many more ways for our diverse talents to be the best possible version of themselves; to make a difference in their own ways, all deserving of equal respect in our society.” He elaborated that, “We should equally recognise those with talents in diverse areas, e.g., those who excel in the arts and sports; those who serve in retail, hospitality or social services; or those who take great pride in their work as skilled tradesmen and artisan craftsmen.”
The next time we meet these youth, we will share DPM’s speech, and we anticipate a lively discussion about career choices, their lived experiences and if they see themselves contributing toward a society that honours their diverse talents.
For peace, community and a new approach to success and skills,
Success is less about means, and more about meaning.” – DPM Lawrence Wong