By Sng Ler Jun
On 14 July (Friday), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) unveiled its findings on the work-life aspiration of youths in the Republic.
Chaired by NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo and Young NTUC executive secretary Wendy Tan, the task force was set up a year ago to outline the challenges and concerns youths face when transitioning from school to work, alongside their aspirations in the fields of career progression, financial adequacy and mental well-being.
The task force’s year-long engagement saw over 10,000 youths, aged 17 and 25, across Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), roving public exhibitions, surveys and focus group discussions.
When stepping into the workforce, youths’ top concerns include whether they can achieve work-life balance, adapt at work, and decide on their career path without getting limited by the expectations of others.
“I am sometimes worried that when work gets busy, I have no time for family,” said Jyl Leann Caneda, a former intern at the Singapore National Co-operative Federation and a freshman at the National University of Singapore (NUS) studying social work. “Meaningless or routine work in the workplace often presents a lack of challenge and few opportunities for growth.”
The task force also found that youths care about having time for non-work pursuits, preparing for working life and pursuing a career based on their aspirations.
Furthermore, the top two financial concerns youth worry about upon graduation are daily expenses and expenses arising from family obligations, such as paying household bills. “It makes financial sense for some youths to pursue side hustles, especially to cope with the rising costs of living,” said SNCF scholar Mohammad Raihan.
“Some youths are willing to make use their downtime to pursue these activities because they want to pursue their passion and chase dreams,” said Raihan, who is pursuing a degree in information systems. “When companies empower their younger workers to pursue these activities, they will feel supported and thus more motivated, which can extend to their performance in their jobs as well.”
Unsurprisingly, most of the respondents in focus group discussions cite having mental well-being support in the workplace as paramount. Some suggested measures by the youths include having scheduled sharing or talks with colleagues, not contacting after work hours, and having a wellness buddy.
Youths also value financial security and having opportunities to pursue life’s desires beyond their jobs. According to them, their top three considerations before joining a company are salary, working environment and work arrangements.
Other considerations include progression opportunities and company culture.
Along this vein, workplaces ought to consider defining purpose and mission for the new generation of workers — that is, to help youths fit in with the work culture and craft purposeful and meaningful work to inspire them; prioritising mental well-being policies and interventions — to better show that they are valued for their contributions; empowering employees to pursue interests outside of work; and having swift and open two-way communications.
Youths involved in the task force also expressed interest in tapping on career mentorship to upskill and develop themselves. Amongst 2,294 respondents in an online survey, 10.5 per cent found that career mentorship with industry mentors from sectors related to their area of study can help them in their careers. 9.7 per cent indicated that job preparation sessions with HR-trained working professionals are helpful.
“Mentorship is pretty underrated,” said SNCF scholar Ervin Ong, who is presently pursuing a data science and analytics degree at NUS. “I have received crucial advice on how to craft my resume strategically and succinctly, and I’ve also received moral support when transitioning into a new environment.
“These are but a few ways that my mentors have helped me in. They are largely my teachers and supervisors from previous internships.”
On the topic of mentorship, youths prefer mentors who can speak openly and informally, provide networking opportunities and has at least five years of experience in the industry.
“Youths should not only be proactive in asking questions, mentors, too, can take initiative to better understand mentees under their wing,” said Jyl, who was part of a mentorship programme at a different social enterprise and found it underwhelming. “Mentors could figure out ways to help mentees gain the right exposure and network.”
Youths also think that quality internships can give them an excellent platform to better prepare them for the workforce or get an understanding of the industry of their choosing. Though some youths did feedback that their internships were not fruitful due to a lack of guidance, irrelevant tasking assigned, and mismatch of roles.
By 2030, Gen Z — those born between 1997 and 2012— will make up 30 per cent of the workforce. The findings by NTUC highlighted how by embracing the youths’ perspectives, companies can get the edge to retain young talents, better engage young employees and develop a unified work culture.
Youths today are outspoken about mental well-being and health. The findings revealed companies could do more to ensure adequate mental wellness support is available in the workplace. Some youths suggest having greater management buy-in on support at workplaces for mental well-being, having safe spaces to ask for help, and even growing a pool of trained peer supporters.
“It is crucial for the workplace to facilitate good mental well-being so that employees are healthy holistically. And workers are more likely to contribute better when they are so,” said Ervin. “It is a positive feedback cycle.”
Read the full Youth Taskforce report here.