It’s not just about what you know, but also who you know

By February 24, 2017Current

TL;DR – Mentorship in today’s Singapore.

Briefing session for mentors of Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network (YCN) in August 2016 (Source)

Someone I respect a lot once told me that people who don’t learn from their own mistakes are hopeless. Those who only learn from their own mistakes are stupid. Those who are also able to learn from other people’s mistake are truly wise. But some times, it’s difficult for ourselves to see that we are heading in the wrong direction or why we are stuck in a rut.

That’s why it’s useful to have a someone we trust, someone who is wiser and more experienced than us to share their experience with us, provide guidance and offer advice to us. Often, we call such a person a mentor. Indeed, it is a blessing to have a good mentor in our lives.

This is something that Desmond Choo, Assistant Secretary-General of NTUC, can appreciate. We sat down with him to find out why he’s a big supporter of helping youths find good mentors.

A mentor is someone who says it as it is

When Desmond was younger, he thought he was really good at telling jokes. He thought it was a good way for him to break the ice, and strike up a conversation with people. That’s why when he first started working in the police force, he would tell jokes to get to know his colleagues better, and make a good impression. He thought that it was working well. So much so that he also told jokes during his first meeting with the senior commanders.

He would have continued doing that if he didn’t have a good mentor to tell him straight in his face that he was terrible at telling jokes. Immediately after that meeting, Desmond’s mentor pulled him to one side and told him that what he did wasn’t well received. His mentor also suggested what he should do instead.

That was just one example of the many different times Desmond’s mentor helped to point out things in his blindspot. His mentor also provided invaluable advice that served Desmond well throughout his career in the police. It’s a relationship that Desmond is most grateful to have, one that he hasn’t taken for granted.

Mentorship is a relationship that needs to develop organically

Desmond knows that not everyone is as fortunate as him to find a such a good mentor. He acknowledges that many companies have mentorship programmes, where younger employees are paired with more senior employees. But these programmes usually aren’t fruitful. In Desmond’s opinion, those programmes are too structured, too many KPIs – meet two times, fill in some forms, answer some set questions, and all done within a set timeframe.

Young NTUC Executive Secretary and Labour MP, Desmond Choo, at the Youth Career Network (YCN) session organised by Young NTUC on 10 Jan 2017 (Source)

Instead, Desmond thinks that mentorship is a relationship that needs to be developed more organically. People should be matched with mentors as carefully as possible, based on the person’s needs, and the mentor’s experience. Mentors should have some training.

But beyond that, the mentor and mentee should decide and shape the mentoring relationship in a way that best suits them. Meet in cafe? Sure. Talk about career? Ok. Talk about further education and training? Good idea. Discuss how to handle difficult boss? Definitely! Whatever works for the mentor and mentee.

That’s not saying that you can leave everything to luck or chance. Good mentors won’t just fall from the sky. So, if you want to get good mentors, you may want to be part of some programme that can match you to a good mentor.

NTUC’s Youth Career Network

And that is what NTUC’s Youth Career Network (YCN) aims to do. It’s a programme by NTUC for graduating students and first job seekers.

The programme marries career discovery and career mentorship to allow youths to gain deeper self-awareness through the Career Discovery. Thereafter, they can gather industry insights from career mentors at the Career Mentorship, to help them make informed decisions for their career.

Some of the mentors under Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network (Source)

The key characteristics of the programme that sets it apart include:

    • Quality of mentors – Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network takes pride in having quality mentors that have gone through thorough screening process to ensure relevant industry experiences, coupled with training for quality assurance. These mentors are volunteers, who are young adults themselves. The YCN currently has about 30 mentors.
    • Virtual platform to support physical mentorship sessions – A mobile-based system is used to support the mentorship process; to match, manage and measure. This allows for communication between mentees and mentors, and for programme administrator to gather feedback and track progress. This is work in the making.
    • A four-month journey – This is not a one-off mentorship session. Small group engagements are conducted between mentors and mentees before commencing on the four-month mentorship journey to derive individual’s career plan and gain clarity on their career direction.
    • Labour Movement’s Network – The YCN is not restricted within a particular school/organisation/association, youths who go through our programme will have full access to the Labour Movement’s and its partners’ network of mentors who are onboard this programme. The programme is also free for all youth participants.


The growing Labour Movement network (Source)

Pilot run a success, more to come

The pilot run of the programme was quite successful with about 100 participants. Through the interactions with the mentors, some of the participants managed to find jobs. Others found out that they didn’t really like the careers they were initially interested in. Some participants and mentors are extending the mentoring relationship beyond the four-month period of the programme.

Here’s one story of one mentor-mentee pair under the Youth Career Network,

Sam Yu Xian (23) is the mentee and Zuhaina Ahmad (37) is her mentor under Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network (YCN) Source: NTUC This Week

Desmond hopes that the programme can grow. He hopes that participants who have benefitted from the mentoring relationship will pay it forward and become mentors. That was something that Desmond did. A decade ago, Desmond started mentoring two youths. It started with Desmond providing them with advice on applying for scholarships and universities. Ten years on, he’s now talking to them about how to develop professionally. Desmond said,

“Youths at the last lap of school, and who will be stepping into the workforce, are an important pool that the Labour Movement hopes to help. Many of them may be at crossroads, seeking answers for their career dilemmas. We are looking to step up our efforts to support and develop them into a future-ready workforce.”

“A system like the Youth Career Network can help them to navigate the process of finding a job much better. Having a mentor can articulate, through experience, the kind of skills that are needed and how it has or has not been beneficial, and share that.”

It is a blessing to be able to find a good mentor. It is fulfilling to be a good mentor. And Young NTUC’s YCN seems like a good platform for young adults to be both.


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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