In this edition of Groundup Features, we speak to Monica from CareerContact and find out how her interest in learning about the current education system in Singapore, sparked the idea of starting an initiative that encourages pre-university students to explore different and unconventional career pathways.
1. Hi Monica, thanks for joining us today! Please share with us more about yourself!
Hello! I’m Monica and I’m currently pursuing a Doctorate in Education Technology at Columbia University. I came back to Singapore in March this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak and co-founded CareerContact in April.
2. What inspired you to start CareerContact?
Kahhow, my co-founder, and I were sharing about our experiences in different areas, as he wanted to learn more about education technology (edtech) and I wanted to learn more about how the current Singaporean education system functions. During our conversation, he brought up the fact that many students have no clue about what their passions are and what they want to do after A ‘Levels. There is a tendency for them to apply to Law or Medicine because of the status quo, and typically so if their parents tell them to. However, we feel they’re not thinking deeply about how to weave what they are interested in, into the skillsets they want to build.
At the same time, COVID-19 happened, and home-based learning started. Many in-person career education talks scheduled by schools had to be cancelled and so the idea of hosting webinars to feature millennials in different innovative pathways, popped up! We did quite a few webinars in May and June and have now transitioned to about once a month. Each webinar focuses on a different theme and one of our big hit webinars was on healthcare (not necessarily being a doctor, but rather the diversity of roles and pathways in healthcare!) These webinars are open to both students and the public.
We received positive reviews from the students on feedback forms and they would share what they learn or what they were surprised to learn.
3. What's next on the pipeline for CareerContact?
Right now, we are working on something a little different besides webinars (which will still be happening!)
We realised that COVID-19 was hitting many small businesses, who are trying to digitise and are also low in manpower, which is very overwhelming for them. At the same time, we have untapped potential in pre-university students, those around 16 to 19. They are Generation Z and they have been looped into digital technology since they were young. We thought maybe we could work with small local enterprises to co-create challenge-based learning opportunities for these students, and pair them up with these enterprises to help them address and solve problems. We are looking to work with Junior Colleges and Polytechnics for this challenge-based learning pilot programme.
We also realised that some schools may not have full-time career counsellors and therefore, it is difficult for students to book a slot to meet them, even if they wanted to. Through this challenge-based learning opportunity, we want to encourage the students to take ownership in exploring their career interests and choices.
The pilot is slated to start in mid-November, so right now we are building up the curriculum and solidifying school and enterprise partnerships.
4. Was there a specific high point in your journey of founding CareerContact?
The “up” is really forming this community in our internal team.
I came back to Singapore in March and I felt rather demoralized (because of COVID-19) and I did not know what would happen to my doctoral studies and research. I thought I had my timeline all planned out. I was supposed to work with schools in New York to collect data, but suddenly all the schools closed. My living situation also changed drastically - my university went completely virtual over a weekend, I moved out of New York in 12 hours… so yeah, this whole thing felt pretty “crazy”.
This transition was very abrupt for me and I was quite lost about what to do in Singapore, but thankfully I met Kahhow (through LinkedIn actually!). He connected me to many people working on social impact issues people who are teachers, social entrepreneurs, volunteers etc. - I was pretty amazed with this growing landscape. I had this whole new community that I could lean back on! I made many new friends through this process.
I even invited these newfound friends to my birthday party this year and yeah, that’s how close we got through this process. So, I think that’s the high point of my volunteer journey.
5. What about some of the challenges you faced?
I think my initial challenge was finding school partnerships for our upcoming pilot. We started around August and for a month, reached out to many schools through connections and cold emails but we would not get any responses.
We wondered if no schools in Singapore were interested in partnering with us, but it turned out that the teachers just needed some time to respond to these emails or to forward it to their supervisors!
6. Any advice for those who are keen to start their own ground-up initiative?
It needs to be very passion-oriented and something that you might have a gut reaction to. For example, it might be due to personal experiences or something that your family or friends have gone through, something that hits you deep.
It’s also okay if your groundup changes its perspective or direction as it evolves. Just adapt to the current circumstances you are in.
7. What's a piece of advice you would tell your younger self?
I think I cared a lot about what people thought of me, which was not great because I knew I liked to do a lot of different things and some people were like, “Why is Monica doing that? She’s so weird.”
So to my 17-year-old self, I think I would say: take other people’s comments with a grain of salt. You know you best, and you do you. Back then, I cared quite a bit about what people thought of me, and said no to some opportunities that I should have totally said yes to and gone for it.
8. Lastly, how do you hope CareerContact builds a city of good?
I hope that CareerContact can encourage students to not be afraid of what is to come next. To be confident of choosing things that are not traditional and crafting their own path for themselves.
We also hope that the upcoming pilot can encourage more cross-collaboration between schools, and can be an avenue for students to explore topics / industries / roles that they might not have been aware of. For the enterprises, we hope this will be a positive experience for them to mentor and share their trade with pre-university students. For example, there may be some students who have never seen the behind-the-scenes of small businesses like hawker stalls or sole proprietor enterprises - I hope this will be eye-opening for them!
9. BONUS! A cheeky question from us. Crispy or soggy cereal?
I eat cereal without milk so it’s definitely crispy!