Commencement ceremonies have always been bitter-sweet events at USP. Even as we celebrate the academic accomplishments of each cohort of graduates, we say goodbye to them. There is an air of wistfulness, as we look forward to staying in touch with them as alumni, and to learn of any interesting, meaningful or impactful things that they may be pursuing.

Thankfully, there are many USP alumni who stay very much connected with one another and with the programme after graduation. For three USP alumni, they did not let graduation stop them from working on an idea that started during their days in USP. I sat down with one of the trio – Low Yee Loong (Statistics + USP, Class of 2013) – to find out what they are doing.

The Apprenticeship Collective (or TAC for short), is a non-profit group that organises in-school programmes for secondary school students to explore different professions under professional mentors. Started by Yee Loong, Marvin Kang (BIZ + USP, Class of 2012), and Wong Yi Fong (Geography + USP, Class of 2012), and run entirely on a volunteer basis, TAC partners schools with industry professionals to provide students a structured way to try their hands at various professions in a meaningful manner.

 

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Apprentices from Loyang View Secondary School aspiring to be Environmental Specialists learn about the different insects and plant species found in their school garden.

 

This exploration is done through a structured six-week programme that sees full-time professionals, from a wide range of professions such financial planning, songwriting, filmmaking, healthcare, teaching, law and even urban farming, mentoring a cosy group of students every Saturday. Yee Loong shared: “At their age, it’s difficult to bring the students into the industry. So instead, we bring the industry to them.”

“The goal behind it is really to expose youths to a diverse range of professions, and to let them explore these professions in a deeper manner,” said Yee Loong. “The idea behind the ‘apprenticeship’ is not in the traditional sense that we want these students to enter these professions, but rather that we want to let them try them [the professions] out in a sustained way.”

I was curious about what motivated them to do this, and Yee Loong shared that it all started back in USP. The three USP friends noticed that many of their peers were expressing doubts and apprehension about the discipline they were studying, and the professions they were entering. This got them thinking about providing youths with an avenue to explore professions earlier in life and to discover their passions.

Yee Loong said that the programmes available in USP played an important role in seeding the idea of TAC. As students, they participated in Builder’s Connect, an overseas development-work learning programme where USP students partner with, and study the works of International Charity Organisations or Non-Governmental Organisations. In fact, Marvin was one of the creators of Builder’s Connect. It inspired them to want to create some social impact in Singapore, to contribute to a better future for the younger generations. Yee Loong recalled numerous conversations the three of them had during their time in USP, and how these conversations carried on after they graduated, how the idea morphed and took shape, and how they piloted it at Peicai Secondary School.

Almost four years and nine runs later, TAC has mentored over 500 students from Loyang Secondary, Chong Boon Secondary, Bukit Panjang Government High and Xinmin Secondary. Students going through the programme benefit by having first-hand experience in "trying out" the various professions. For example, apprentices going through the law apprenticeship were introduced to the legal system and institutions in Singapore, and were given practical experience in legal argumentation. Apprentices in the urban farming apprenticeship, on the other hand, were given practical knowledge on farming and got their hands dirty with actual fieldwork as well. Through that process, apprentices discover more about themselves and their passions.

 

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Computer Programmer apprentices from Unity Secondary School are having fun with Google's Artificial Intelligence (AI) image recognition application.

 

“The great thing we see is that students who go through the programme end up being much more aware of what they want as a possible future career, and more importantly, why they want or do not want a particular profession,” Yee Loong said, “To us, that means we’ve given them insight into the profession, and gotten them to think about what they want.”

Most recently, TAC pulled off Day X, a mammoth one-day exhibition in June 2018 held at the Lifelong Learning Institute. Day X featured professionals from about 60 professions, through a “human library” format, each offering youth a bite-sized experience of their jobs. USP professor Dr Charles Burke was one of these professionals.

Said Yee Loong: “The format of what TAC does is constantly evolving. It’s very iterative and we consistently experiment with each run. We structure in feedback loops to get data on what we can change and improve – even during a run itself.”

For Yee Loong, being in USP was a key ingredient in the creation and development of TAC. “The inter-disciplinary nature of USP taught us to embrace differences between disciplines, which we bring into TAC when we feature different professions. Sitting in a USP class with 10 different people from 10 different disciplines, and you learn to think ‘How would others view this issue?’”

“Even the iterative process and experimental nature of TAC’s programmes can be attributed in part to us being from USP, where we learnt to be comfortable with change and to tinker while still keeping fundamental principles intact.”

To many students, Commencement signals the end of a chapter. TAC has however shown us that the ideas started in USP can continue to take shape, and flourish with the endearing friendships and network of USP alumni.

 

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Group photo of TAC mentors.
TAC founders: Low Yee Loong (back row, third from the left), Data Analyst at Grab; Marvin Kang (front row, centre), Deputy Director (Industry Division) at Ministry of Communications and Information; Wong Yi Fong (front row, first from right), Teacher at Unity Sec Sch.

 

Learn more about TAC here.

TAC in the news:
Helping students discover passion and pick right career (The Straits Times, Nov 2017)
- Teens rise to challenge of being reporters (The Straits Times, Feb 2017)