#YOYO: You’re only a youth once

13 Jan 2019

By Wong Wing Lum


Being a youth -- defined by the United Nations as between the ages of 15 and 24 -- is a time of growth and exploration, as youthhood allows someone to swim against the tide if they want to because the stakes are not too high.

However, more students are being pushed along with the currents as they feel compelled to take on internships before entering the workforce when they graduate. They are spending their university semester breaks learning the ropes of jobs they are interested in, and to get a head start in their future careers, showed a 2017 survey conducted by local career-development platform Glints.

Of the 1,000 millennials interviewed, 78 per cent have actively searched for work-related opportunities outside of school. These range from industry-led competitions to full-time internships.

Of this percentage, eight in 10 said they were willing to sacrifice personal leisure time to take part in these career-building opportunities.

NTU students are among the youth in Singapore who are trying to build their careers. One example is Nanyang Business School final-year undergraduate Ang Jun Keat, who has spent every summer holiday since his matriculation doing a three-month-long internship.

The 23-year-old said: “I want to make use of the three-month school break to develop myself professionally and summer internships are the way to go.”

Ang said that having multiple internship experiences help to beef up his resume as it showcases his prior work experience to prospective employers.

With an increasingly well-educated population, traditional indicators of employability such as holding a degree or diploma, or having good grades, may no longer be enough for job-seekers to secure their desired positions.

The growing trend of students hunting for internships could be a cultural microcosm of our society, which is often referred to as kiasu, a colloquial term which roughly translates to someone being “afraid to lose out”.

While students’ concerns about losing out are valid, especially in Singapore’s competitive job market, students should try to enjoy their youth while they still can. They can spend their free time travelling and discovering new cultures, since they have the luxury of time and energy, unlike many working adults.

Fit for travel

There is no better time than one’s youth to travel around the world and gain new perspectives.

Youthhood often means good physical health and young bodies can naturally handle physically demanding tasks, such as long hikes and extreme sports.

Furthermore, as youths tend to have a lower disposable income than working adults, they are also more motivated to spend less and thus have a higher threshold for travelling discomforts. A 2017 Nielsen report on millennial travellers showed that millennials tend to take a more budgeted approach to their travels and accommodations.

It is also not as physically taxing for a young person to spend the night in an airport to save on accommodation, or opt for cheaper and longer bus rides to avoid pricey train tickets.

Youths should therefore travel more while they have the physical ability, as well as the luxury of time, to do so, since they do not have a full-time job or the responsibility of caring for a family yet.

Breaking the creature of habit

They can also take risks and explore unconventional experiences that are not necessarily related to their future jobs, such as spending a year abroad to volunteer in a village or working on a long-term social project.

Even if these pursuits may seem economically unrewarding for future job prospects, youths can explore these alternative options as a means to learn more about themselves and the world around them.

It is healthy for a person to take risks when he is young, as he will probably find comfort in what is familiar to him when he grows older and therefore be more risk-averse.

According to a 2016 study published in scientific journal Current Biology, declining dopamine levels in older people might explain their reluctance to take risks.

Meanwhile, a 2017 study in Scientific Reports showed that young people are more likely to display a tolerance to uncertainty during risky decision-making.

As such, there is no better time for youths to step out of their comfort zones and take the chance to be exposed to different experiences, as the inertia to take risks increases with age.

Growing up too fast

While internships are building blocks to future careers, they usually offer a limited set of experiences because individuals tend to be confined to specific roles.

In youths’ pursuit to secure a stable future, they might lose sight of the little things that matter in the long run, such as invaluable life experiences.

In 2016, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware wrote a book titled Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. Patients she encountered regretted overworking themselves, as they felt that they had sacrificed quality time that could have been spent with loved ones.

While spending summer holidays on internship could make the future job-seeking process easier, students should consider how they want to remember their lives in their final moments before entering working adulthood.