By Sng Ler Jun
Having interacted with more than 10,000 youths with her team, Wendy Tan, the former executive secretary of Young NTUC, shares the low-down of the NTUC Youth Taskforce project findings.
The night before the Youth Taskforce wrap-up event, which coincidentally was also Wendy’s birthday, would perhaps come to be her most memorable to be as Director of the Youth Development unit in the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). It was, after all, her swansong event with her team at Young NTUC.
At the event, vibrant pull-up banners, infographic displays, and larger-than-life exhibits filled the space, engaging throngs of youths and guests who came. Among these displays are findings from the year-long Youth Taskforce engagements, gamified work personality tests, as well as a booth for one-to-one in person mentoring.
Having interacted with more than 10,000 youths across different educational institutions, Wendy and her team endeavored to uncover the youths’ work-life aspirations and their anxieties transitioning from school to work and understand what resources they need to thrive. It seemed like a gargantuan task, but they did it anyway. And succeeded too.
Today, career-related concerns, mental well-being concerns, and financial concerns remain as youths’ top woes. “Our findings show that career mentorship has remained, if not has become an even more critical resource to support the career discovery and navigation stage,” Wendy said in an interview with SNCF a month after LIT DISCOvery 2023 concluded. Clearly, the spirit to empower youths lived on.
Recent studies show that Gen Z and Millennials comprise 38% of the global workforce. This number is expected to increase to approximately 58% by 2030. “(Youths) need to be empowered, they need to be heard and represented in policies and decisions that would impact them,” Wendy said. She had once subscribed to the notion that youths can be self-serving. Still, it was through her interactions with them that she better understood their fervour and motivations.
Along this vein, many youths have side hustles even before graduating. “This is how they learn how to gain financial independence by earning some income and building up work experience,” Wendy said. “It goes to show that they are driven and resourceful.”
For everything that she and her team have done, Wendy knows that this is all but the tip of the iceberg. The team still has some ways to go, including sharing the NTUC Career Starter Lab pilot initiative and kickstarting MentorSHIP initiatives to empower youths. She has since passed on the baton to her successor Natasha Choy, a fellow industrial relations officer by vocation, who is presently looking to grow the team to better advocate for the youths in Singapore.
For now, Wendy has embarked on a short career sabbatical and is primed on recharging herself. She summarised it best: “... maybe when (on the) off the beaten track, I’ll discover new stuff again.”
Sng Ler Jun: How would you describe who you are to someone you are meeting for the first time?
Wendy: I’ve been told I give off friendly vibes, but I am an introvert deep down. I’m an “extroverted” introvert. Haha!
Ler Jun: You have had several mentors and mentees throughout your career. Who is Wendy as a mentee, and who is Wendy as a mentor?
Wendy: As a mentee, she is appreciative of the resources spent on her to support her growth. In return, she hopes that she can give back to her mentor and continue nurturing the mentor-mentee relationship. Having been mentored by amazing individuals, I’ve been inspired to pay it forward.
As a mentor, she aspires to be honest and transparent to her mentees. Sometimes, she wants to protect them, but she knows she need to give them a safe space to explore and make their own judgment call. Deep down, she is a good cheerleader!
Ler Jun: Do you get to interact with a lot of youths in line of work?
Wendy: Of course, in fact, the entire NTUC Youth Development unit interacts with youths. It was also a strategy to have a relatively younger team, comprising a mix of millennials and Gen Zs. This way, we could hit it off better with our youths.
Ler Jun: Do you struggle to keep up with the youngins?
Wendy: You bet; I do. Nonetheless, it’s pretty fun learning about their slangs and how they communicate with one another. I do find it meaningful to understand their aspirations today too.
Ler Jun: At Young NTUC, you and your team spearheaded the year-long Youth Taskforce engagement with youths, aged 17 to 25, to gather the work-life aspirations as well as understand the challenges and fears they face as they transition from school to work. What did you enjoy most about this engagement?
I have always joked with my colleagues that I preferred hanging out in the campuses or places the youth hang out at than going to the office. The vibes there are infectious, and somehow, they fuel me. Youths today dare to speak their mind regardless of whom they are talking to which is very refreshing.
Ler Jun: Having reached out to more than 10,000 youths in one year, what do you think of their ideologies?
Wendy: From my interaction with them, they are not anti-work but rather, their identities are not solely shrouded in work. Which is why they welcome work arrangements that allow them to be purposeful and productive in and out of work. This generation normalises mental health, diversity and welcomes open discourse, due to what they have been exposed to and experiencing, and we should see the benefits of it such as enabling collaboration and brainstorming creative ideas.
Ler Jun: What is one piece of career advice you would give to a Gen Z?
Wendy: To the youths who are feeling anxious about stepping into the workforce, it is okay to feel uncertain. For a start, create a mental map of what you like and dislike doing; sometimes, knowing what you don’t want to do can help.
Regardless of where you end up, learn to see the good in the opportunities around and the steps you have taken. Continue to be curious and inquisitive. Seek mentors who can provide guidance and share their personal experiences to empower you, too.
Should you need more guidance and help, Young NTUC is here for you too!
Ler Jun: Finally, why does every youth matter?
Wendy: This sounds cliché, but youths are our future. Every voice matters today, and with youths being the future, they need to be empowered, they need to be represented in policies and decisions that would impact them. Being more vested in the process would bring about a greater sense of responsibility and belonging in them, and I see it as win-win.
Check out the NTUC Youth Taskforce Report here.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Image credits to Young NTUC.