Mr Patrice Choong is the Director at The Sandbox, Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Office. The Sandbox grooms students to be innovators and entrepreneurs by creating a sustainable ecosystem of students, staff, alumni entrepreneurs and industry, nurturing an open culture where students are encouraged to challenge themselves, push boundaries and look for new and better ways to address existing problems.
In working to place students in the workforce, what issues do you foresee that are going to occur over the next 5-10 years, from the perspective of SMEs?
There are 3 issues that SMEs would face. The first would be Employer Branding – this will matter more and more in the future. The smaller a company is, the more they would have to work on their employer branding. Increasingly, graduates are looking to have a sense of pride and purpose in the company they are working for. Employer Branding can help SMEs here.
The second important issue I foresee would be a growing concern for Speed of Progression in the careers of young people. In the past, people were used to getting promoted once every 5 or 6 years. Today, when a talent joins an organization and performs well, he expects to be promoted within 2-3 years. If a company wants to retain good talent, jobs need to be redesigned so each career step offers an expansive exposure that can add value in both training and monetary returns to the employee’s career, even at a junior level.
That leads me to the third issue - creating Development Opportunities for talent. Young people joining SMEs want to know this – “How can this company help me develop further and give me the right exposure?” When the talent leaves that company, he has to be a better version of himself compared to when he joined. Hence the organization has to cultivate growth.
In summary, SMEs would need to provide a sense of Pride, Purpose and Progression to retain talents.
What steps have you and your office taken to deal with these circumstances?
For Employer Branding, Speed of Progression, and Development Opportunities, SMEs will need to own and drive these. What we do at the school is to help cultivate a mindset change among our students. We highlight the importance of being able to apply what they’ve learnt and having the right attitude, as opposed to just having a diploma certificate as an end goal of a Polytechnic education.
It is hence vital for students to look out for opportunities to practice their skills and what they have learnt. This is what we are working to achieve internally, to shift the focus from academic achievement to acquiring real-world capabilities, skills and a starter mindset. Don’t wait for things to happen. Go create it.
What sort of skills would students and SMEs need to equip themselves with in the current manpower climate?
Emerging skills would be the most important. Data Analytics, Design Thinking, Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence and perhaps even Story Telling. Both SMEs and students have to cultivate at least an awareness of these emerging skills in order to remain relevant.
SMEs are increasingly becoming aware of the need for these skills. More and more, SMEs are beginning to realize that the old way of doing things simply does not work. They now know that they have to venture into new fields, and to change the way how business and work is done. In order to do that, they need new people, with new sets of skills to bring them forward.
What advice can you provide for SME owners who acknowledge that the world is changing, but lack the resources an MNC has to attract young talent?
SMEs must internally acknowledge that the future is coming and nobody can change or stop that. Then SMEs must ask themselves if their current business processes are able to handle the demand now and in the near future. If not, something needs to be changed. Once they have identified the areas of business that need changing, SMEs can ask themselves what solutions they can use to implement change. This is where new technology, talent and skills will come in, and perhaps even a change in the business model. This is where The FinLab’s Cycle 3 programme can be of great value in helping equip SMEs with the tools to self innovate and remain ahead of the curve.
Would you encourage students to work for SMEs? Why or why not?
I’ve always encouraged students to work in small companies as their first job. Startups and SMEs are great for fresh graduates because exposure is extremely important early in one’s career. Exposure to various functions of business will be higher for fresh graduates working in an startups and SMEs. The weight of their contributions will also be heavier compared to big companies. So my advice would be for fresh graduates to choose a job that can give them exposure through a wide range of experiences.
The second most important thing to look for when finding your first job, would be to follow a good mentor. If your first boss does not cut it, then find a good mentor elsewhere to guide you early on in your career. This is important because while exposure gives you a lot of experiences, it does not tell you how the industry is moving, nor does it tell you what is going to come. A good mentor can provide guidance and advice, and will help you make good career choices along your journey.