Learning digital skills while solving problems of SMEs in Singapore

Can pre-university students play a role in accelerating the digitization of small and medium enterprises in Singapore and Southeast Asia?

K. Lee
K. Lee
Nov 21, 2020 · 6 min read
Prototyping the CareerContact model for exposure to digital skills and career explorations

The core team of CareerContact spent a few months planning our product. We reflected upon our own past experiences as pre-university students, spoke to recent alumni, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from predominantly Singapore but also in the region, and interviewed students from various schools before arriving at the following structure:

Setup for our pilot program

Pivoting from career exposure webinars targeted at pre-university students, the launch of the digital skills pilot marked a significant shift in product offerings of CareerContact and was inspired in large part by the following:

The 12 webinars we conducted were valuable data points to learn about what students were interested in, what they wanted to learn and which sectors they preferred. It affirmed a strong bias towards careers such finance, law and medicine. There were also multiple requests for internships and programmes beyond career exposure webinars. As the space for online talks continues to become saturated, the increasing need for a way for students to acquire and apply knowledge was something that resonated with the CareerContact Team.

The CareerContact Team reached out to teachers, recent alumni and students from universities, junior colleges, polytechnics and secondary schools to better understand the needs and wants of the youth today. Zoom calls, WhatsApp and Telegram messages, as well as informal chats, helped to clarify and provide insights about potential users as well as the current provisions in schools.

An aspect that stood out in our discussions was the idea of problem-based learning as a pedagogical tool. Studies like Problem-Based Learning: An Overview of its Process and Impact on Learning (Goh, Yew 2016) are consistent with accounts of students and our own experiences as learners — long term knowledge retention and application is better enabled when there is some autonomy given to learners for small group collaboration to solve a problem.

Creating authentic learning situations instead of sharing experiences and hypothetical situations then became an angle that the CareerContact Team started to explore.

As we looked for enterprise partners, we were initially inclined towards Multinational Corporations, Big Tech companies, and more prominent local startups such as Love Bonito, Carousell and Ninjavan. After all, they were visible with good brand recognition and needed no introduction (they were even invited for lunch with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier this year).

Yet, as we began chatting with companies, it became increasingly apparent that the relationship between such established companies and students would not be symmetrical — students would be taking more than what they could give. Turns out, several companies we spoke to raised quality control issues, already having reservations to taking on university students, let alone pre-university ones.

If we wanted to establish a more mutually beneficial relationship between students and enterprises, we would have to look somewhere else. This is when we decided to approach Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs):

Infographic from Ecosystm, a new age Technology Research and Advisory Firm that brings together tech buyers, vendors and analysts into one integrated platform. Comprising 99% of all businesses, there are no lack of SMEs to speak to.

This seemed like the natural choice in part because I personally grew up with SMEs. My dad is a sole proprietor of a business and my siblings were all involved in various aspects of the business, having to watch the shop after school and distribute flyers into mailboxes of HDB flats when the business was still in its infancy. We subsequently built a website and managed the digital presence of the business. Surely it cannot be the only SME that might be struggling with digitization.

The CareerContact team went to speak to SMEs to do needs analysis to try to better understand what SMEs need in terms of digital transformation.

Our chat with Charmaine (Enactus UNIMAS), Asyraf and Mr Qaiyum (StartUp Borneo) on 6 Oct 2020 — we learnt about their digitization efforts for street-side food stores as well as their discussions with Kuching City Council among other areas of discussion.

We spoke to over 40 SMEs and there were recurring requests for assistance with digital marketing, especially social media marketing. Apart from content strategy, another popular request was for website redesign or maintenance. At this point, we found better alignment between our target groups and had greater clarity about the problem we want to solve.

The Double Diamond Design Process we used as a framework.

Now that we had done discover and define, we finally arrived at two specific problems/ “how might we” statements:

1 How might we expose students to digital skills?

2 How might we help Small and Medium Enterprises in Singapore (and Southeast Asia) to digitize?

We recognized the reservations on student competencies based on interviews with over 40 SMEs, including StaffAny, Toriyard, Guang’s Fresh Mart, and more. Many companies were hesitant about whether students could deliver what they needed. This obliged the CareerContact Team to actively curate challenges that were suitably pitched for beginners as well as deliberately tailor the curriculum such that they would be better prepared to solve enterprise problems.

Our SME partners whom we are particularly thankful for their support — PeraPera, Coffee Break, Tribe Tours, Guang’s Fresh Mart, Hon Kah Trading and Floral Horizon.

Finding ways to get students up to speed quick so that they had a baseline level of knowledge to propose solutions to enterprise problems was no easy feat. We consulted software engineers like Ruimin as well as other young professionals in the industry to ensure that whatever is taught is relevant and effective.

The solution that the team eventually arrived at after many rounds of iteration was a 7-week digital skills program with the following timeline:

Timeline for our pilot program

The first week was set aside purely for acquiring broad-based exposure to digital skills including User Experience Research (Design Thinking), User Interface Principles and Design, tools for No-Code Web Development as well as an introduction to Digital Marketing.

Some of the many tools that students were exposed to within their first week of digital skills fundamentals. What is not pictured is also the learning curve within the team to develop our own learning management system as well as workflows to manage learning analytics.

After many rounds of refinement, user research, user testing, and planning, a week ago, we finally commenced our pilot program for pre-university students!

LEFT: Zoom photo taken during Kick-off for CareerContact Pilot on 13 Nov 2020; RIGHT: Zoom photo taken after Skills Demo Day on 21 Nov 2020

For the pilot, we ruled out coding intensive challenges, focusing more on content strategy, design, marketing as well as no-code environments where students do not have to feel pressured to master a coding language in a short span of time.

Even with these parameters, whether pre-university students can indeed deliver solutions that satisfy the needs of SMEs in Singapore is a question that has yet to be answered — we will have a clearer sense by 23 Dec 2020. CareerContact Mentors are committed to enabling the learning of students while also striving to meet the needs of local SMEs in Singapore. We wish our students all the best in this exciting journey ahead.

CareerContact is an ed-tech platform designed to bridge the gap between school and work. We help students develop digital skills and connect them with SMEs in Southeast Asia. Whether you’re a student, educator or enterprise, feel free to reach out to us at CareerContact.cc or join us at CareerContact.app.

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This article is written as a sample for students who might have been redirected from an earlier writing prompt:

  • How are you feeling as compared to a week ago?
  • What are up to 3 key takeaways* you have acquired from skills week (UI, UX, web development and digital marketing)
  • How did those takeaways help to shape the product that you presented?
  • How do you plan to use what you have learned in the weeks to come and beyond?

CareerContact

Bridge the gap between school and work

CareerContact

CareerContact is an edtech platform which prepares students for the digital economy by exposing them to fundamental digital skills through challenges curated with small and medium enterprises. careercontact.app

K. Lee

Written by

K. Lee

Educator interested in data science, dance and full stack development

CareerContact

CareerContact is an edtech platform which prepares students for the digital economy by exposing them to fundamental digital skills through challenges curated with small and medium enterprises. careercontact.app