18.35 Activism - Young Activists
Emerging Stronger in the Face of Adversity

Just recently, we had the privilege to interview Shermin Ho, Specialist, IT Business Partner @ iNova Pharmaceuticals.

She was badly hit by COVID-19 and was retrenched from her previous job. Considering that she is pregnant, it was a tough time for her. But her resilience and dedication won over. She used all her resources and professional network to get a job - and she did successfully. Her story on resilience is what she hopes to share with her son in the future as she believes the best learnings can be learnt during adversities.

Shermin has an extensive professional experience including technology consulting and sales engineering. Right now, she is working as an IT business partner at iNOVA Pharmaceuticals where she helps her clients to work on and improve their systems. From having a client-facing role, she now works with internal stakeholders - sales, marketing, quality assurance, regulatory, and supply chain teams.

She naturally loves working with people. In fact, even outside of her job, she would take the opportunity to join professional networks to get to know people who work in the industry. She’s also fond of joining a several ground-up groups for female in technology as well and is active in that space. In addition, Shermin enjoys helping the youth discover their potentials, Through interactions with the youth, she learnt so much from them and it helps to hone her soft skills.

Shermin is also sociable and enjoys group fitness activities such as yoga and zumba.

In our interview, she shared her experiences working in a male dominated technology industry. She also gave advice and tips for those who had lost their job recently during the pandemic and for fresh graduates who are looking for employment.

Adjusting to a New Job Role

In today’s age, we will see that there is a shift in client engagement. Everyone’s meeting their clients online instead of onsite. You would need to be "extra organised'  by making sure you book their time well ahead in advance and understand what type of work can be done online and offline.

In addition, working from home has its own challenges as well. Not everyone is readily available to have a meeting. For example, some mothers or wives will have to prepare food or run errands. These small things must be considered, and time management plays a huge role. Fortunately, her job is IT-based so most of the issues they face can be completed online. But it’s different for jobs that are operational-based or for those who are in essential roles - where they are required to be onsite all the time.

Working in a Male Dominated Industry

There are pros and cons to working in a male-dominated industry. She shared back then, her stakeholders were always surprised to see her as she was the only female to join the company as a Sales Engineer.

While she did enjoy some of the attention, there were instances where she and her team needed to accommodate and adapt.For example, in the first few months with the company, she was not accustomed to her team lead’s use of rough language. She later recognized that this was not uncommon in a high-pressure work environment. Thankfully over time, her team lead was able to adjust and tone down his language knowing that there was a female in the team, and that in turn created a more respectful culture within the office

With that said, being a female, does have its advantages. Because it was a breath of fresh air to have a female colleague for a change, the team was quick to warm up and that helped her to build rapport within a shorter span of time.

Losing a Job During the Pandemic

In Shermin’s case, she was very active in looking for a new job. Knowing that a baby is on the way, she needed to take action as quickly as possible. She put herself out there, updated her LinkedIn, looked at different portals, and tapped her professional networks.

Looking back, she is grateful that she had built her professional network over the years. In fact, some of them had offered to help her unconditionally. She also created her own support group with her previous colleagues who had also been retrenched. This is so they could help one another find a job.

Her advice for most job hunters right now is to take little steps such as brushing your resume or improving your LinkedIn profile. This is better than modifying it at the last minute when you are actually looking for a job.

Likewise, always explore opportunities to upskill yourself - be it in the area of soft skills or hard skills so you can remain relevant. Singaporeans are generally fortunate because there are many training schemes and funding support available for workers.

She added, to ensure skills relevancy, you could also consider visiting job portals to see what are some of the jobs available out there. Even if you’re not looking, you can just read through the job description and check if your skills sets remain relevant to what the employers are looking for.

If you had recently lost your job due to the pandemic, you might have many questions for yourself. For instance, you might ask yourself “why me” despite the many years of good work and services rendered to the company.

Shermin’s advice - a lot of times it’s not about you – it's about the economy and the timing when the pandemic hits.

Talking to Young NTUC Career Guides

Shermin believes that sometimes, people just need to talk to someone. She recommends talking to Young NTUC career guides to have a different perspective, and at the same time, explore what you can do to advance your career.

Shermin on her experience as a Young NTUC Career Guide

1.    What made you decide to volunteer as a career guide with Young NTUC?

When I was in university, as an undergraduate, I had a lot of questions. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was trying many things, I wanted to talk to many people and seek for their advice. I truly valued the time that they attended to me and also the insights that they shared.

For me, it’s about paying it forward. So, mentorship to me is about coming into full circle. Hence, I joined Young NTUC as a career guide where I get to share a little bit of what I have learnt over the past 6 years.

2.    What opportunity has Young NTUC given after you started volunteering?

I participated in Young Changers programme where Young NTUC had collaborated with National Youth Council. This programme encouraged young Singaporeans to come up with ground up ideas or anything that they wanted to improve for Singapore.

3.    How did Young NTUC help you?

As a volunteer in Young NTUC, it helped me bridge the gap between me and the people which serves as a confidence-booster when I go for interviews because I know that my skill sets are still needed.

4.    Do you have any success stories of how you have helped fellow mentees?

I have been mentoring Benjamin, who had just graduated from a university and he was working in a steel manufacturing industry. He didn’t really enjoy what he was doing, and that brought him to approach Young NTUC’s career guide portal, which he eventually led him to me as he wanted to venture into the tech industry.

I shared with him about my career journey and made him drew up this model and vent diagrams to sum up the things that he was most passionate about.  In doing so, I wanted him to gain clarity about his interest.

I also introduced to him the 5Cs model to help him reflect on his own career aspirations.

I’m very happy to say that now, he has decided to leave his job in the steel industry and joined an SGunited Traineeship programme on cloud computing in the banking industry. He is currently embarking on this 3-months traineeship where there is also a potential for him to land a permanent role if he does well in future. I'm very proud of him. He has figured out what to do for his career path.

5.    Do you see any similarities between you and him or your other mentees?

Yes, it was very similar to how I was before. I was clueless then till I met some seniors who were able to give me good advices. They gave me some frameworks for me to refer and that guided my decisions. It helped me narrowed down my career path that I have chosen for myself today and is still on it! We’re very fortunate to meet these mentors in our life.

6.    What is your biggest takeaway from the mentees?

I really enjoyed the mentorship process because I always get little snippets of reminders of what I used to be, and I always learn something from my mentees. Whatever my mentees shared with me have been very valuable and interesting for me to learn as well.

7.    What is your advice for youths, especially in these trying times?  

I think for the younger people now, they are very fixated on getting perfect grades. I think a lot of Singaporeans now are perfectionists. We have this mindset from our parents that in order to succeed in life, we need to get good grades. But I realised while aiming to do that, I have given up a lot of opportunities along the way.

Times are unpredictable and it’s more complex compared to last time. It’s not about grades anymore but the essentials and timeless skills sets. For example, being adaptable and resilient, especially in this pandemic.  

Our landscape is now more diverse and it's not like what our parents or the generation before us have experienced.  Many things have become obsolete after we graduated, and we have to learn on the go. It’s not just about upskilling anymore, but multiskilling and deep skilling now.

It's important that youths don’t only focus on grades as schools are only able to provide you the relevance at the point of time.

You need to unlearn some things and know how to relearn new skills. Don’t be complacent that one piece of certificate can last you through your career lifetime.

Advice for those who would like to shift to Tech Industry

Technology is needed in every industry.

For people who are transiting into the tech industry,  always leverage on your domain knowledge, and take a check if what you have learnt is applicable in today’s market. Whether your background is in sales, operation or even marketing, all of these roles will become digital roles in the future. It will be a steep learning curve at the start, but in time with more experience it will help to shape your perspectives and make you relevant.

Technology is a tool. If you have that domain knowledge, then you’ll be the one using this tool to your advantage.

Advice for the Fresh Graduates

Have that growth mindset. There’s a lot of free and accessible resources out there now to help. If you want, you can also embark on any of these traineeship programmes or upskilling programmes to equip yourself with the correct skills sets. There’s nothing to stop you from learning more in today’s market.

Back during our parents’ time, they need to go all the way to the library to borrow a thick book to learn something new. But these days, everything is so easily available online.

There is no excuse not to upskill. There are also a lot of peer support communities that you can join and learn together. Help is always there, if you look for it.