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Discovering the Meaning Behind Work

On a global level, millennials have often been recognised as being the purpose-driven generation. Comprised of individuals born between 1981 and 1996, these young men and women have been known to look for jobs that offer a strong sense of meaning in lieu of a big pay cheque.

Singaporean millennials are no different. A recent survey conducted by the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and The Straits Times newspaper notes that more than 41% of 19-year-olds polled say that having a meaningful job is a top priority. This was more than twice as popular as the next highest consideration — salary prospects.

While what constitutes as meaningful can be subjective and may differ from one student to the next, the statistic should be taken as a clarion call for businesses to make work more meaningful in order to attract millennials. After all, the Brooking Institute estimates that millennials will make up close to 75% of the world’s workforce by 2025[1] – only five years from now.

Universities are already taking notice of this growing preference for purpose by millennials. This has resulted in schools offering a wide range of pedagogical approaches and subjects geared towards addressing social issues confronting the world today.

At SUSS, this steadfast drive to provide students with a meaningful education is expressed clearly in the university’s 3H’s (Head, Heart, Habit) education approach. Graduates who pass through the gates of the university are given an education which will:

  • Strengthen knowledge in their ‘Heads’, helping them gain professional competencies,

  • Enrich their ‘Hearts’ with a strong social awareness of the needs of society, and

  • Instil ‘Habits’ with a strong passion for lifelong learning.

In line with that guiding principle, the school has also offered undergraduates a mandatory 24-week work attachment and community engagement programme. Both of these initiatives are integral to the university’s curriculum.

The combination of these two initiatives goes a long way toward empowering students to further develop themselves and enabling them to act on their sense of social responsibility to contribute to society.

Align academic needs with societal issues

It is this blend of industry needs and academia which proves to be a winning combination for graduate Melissa Lim, 25, who read Human Resource (HR) Management with a Minor in Analytics at the S R Nathan School of Human Development at SUSS.

Melissa enthused, “Our curriculum and pedagogy allowed us to get a head start in learning more about our industries, [while imbuing us] with a worldview that understood the deeper roots of social issues.”

In September 2019, Melissa got the chance to play the role of a student moderator at the inaugural SUSS Ministerial Forum. The event was graced by Guest-of-Honour, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who deliberated wide-ranging topics from education to financial literacy with the university students and faculty members in attendance.

Much like the SUSS and ST survey findings, Melissa found herself gravitating towards the meaningful concept of HR Management during her gap year after graduating from her Polytechnic studies. “That was when I found out that I liked the ‘people’ side of business,” Melissa noted.

Her studies at SUSS have only served to sharpen her keen insight into the changes happening in the HR landscape, such as the fact that basic HR operations in many companies today are being outsourced. “This means HR professionals now have more opportunities to think strategically,” she said.

For instance, increasingly, more HR professionals are partnering with businesses to help them see the value of their employees as human capital, instead of seeing them as a cost-centre to the company.

But such knowledge and insight about the nature of the HR business landscape will only truly make a difference if students are given actual opportunities to apply it. To this end, Melissa considers herself lucky to be the first batch of full-time students to be given the opportunity to go overseas for her internship.

Building student’s ‘heartware’

With assistance from the University’s Career Development Office, Melissa interned with the Tianjin office of Wilmar International.

During her internship, which lasted six weeks, Melissa did not just gather a deeper understanding of the integral role of the HR department, but also learned how business operations evolve along with the existing market conditions in the agricultural industry.

At the same time, outside of building up her experience in professional activities, Melissa also participated in the company’s corporate culture activities. “For the charity activity, I went to one of the primary schools built by Wilmar to help conduct a lesson and facilitate activities such as singing carols and playing games with a primary school class,” she shared.

This balance between imbuing knowledge and heightening awareness for social issues has also helped Melissa better appreciate the importance of HR management. “Successful businesses can only thrive if they understand the value of their employees,” she said.

Looking back on her experience during the school’s industry attachment programme, Melissa pointed out, “I almost gave up the opportunity to intern at Wilmar in Tianjin because I was afraid of the language barrier. But the Career Development Office encouraged me to take the plunge.”

Melissa added that the experience has helped her become adaptable and to develop grit: “The spirit of giving back has also followed me through my education at SUSS. I look forward to finding and exploring opportunities at work or even outside to give back to the community.”



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