Speech by Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade And Industry, at the Young Sikh Association’s (YSA) Graduates Tea Reception
24 October 2020
A really warm afternoon to all of our distinguished guests, to all our graduates from the Sikh community, and to all the proud parents that are tuning in today. It's a very important day to all of you, but it's also a very different day because of the situation that we're seeing at the moment.
I wanted to start off with the term “graduate”. The word “graduate” in the original Latin refers to a term that means “a step”, or “a step towards”. And I thought that this is quite an important concept – because as you are all graduating, you are stepping into a new world that the likes of your other graduates before you have not seen before.
But this step is also important in many different regards. You are stepping into this new world, and you can also choose to do a few things. You can choose to step back because of the major issues that are facing this world at the moment and are facing you and your families at the moment. You can choose to step out in faith and in courage, and you can choose to step up because your community, your country, your friends, your family need you. So, it is with this concept that I want to frame my speech.
Addressing the challenges and opportunities of a changing world
Now COVID-19 has indeed given us a lot to ponder. Even today, we are looking at zero cases in the community, but 10 imported cases. But if you look around our region, if you look around Malaysia, you look around Indonesia, you look around Europe, you look around in the US, the situation is not as it is in Singapore. All over the world, people are facing spikes, double spikes, triple spikes in their COVID numbers. The situation is bad on the COVID front, the life front and the livelihood front. For example, even in Ireland, they are about to close for six weeks. And I think the prime minister had also said that they expect about 150,000 jobs to be lost in the next few days.
It is clear that lives and livelihoods are being affected. There are about 220,000 deaths in the US due to COVID-19 already. But it's a very different picture in Singapore at the moment because we have managed to at least stabilise the situation. But even with that, there are issues with regard to your lives, your livelihood, your job prospects. And as you graduate and step into this world, I wanted to share a few things.
Number one, it's okay to feel fearful because it is a new world, and many of you have expressed that you feel fearful for two things. The first is on jobs. Are you able to get jobs? What holds for you in the future? I think that's really relevant and it's okay to feel insecure in that regard.
But the second is that you feel that these are new stressors in your lives. Mental wellbeing is a big issue not just among the youth, but also in your friends, families, and people who are seniors, for whom COVID has been a very stressful time. We can do two things. We can step back and say, "Oh, let this hit us," and we wait until a solution is upon us, or we can step out and see what we can do, and we can step up to face it head on.
And YSA and the Sikh community have shown us the way. Sarabjeet Singh, for example, during the COVID-19 crisis, he's stepped up. He's stepped up to deliver necessary supplies, and not just to the Sikh community, but to the wider Singapore community. For instance, YSA has also partnered with the Catholic Welfare Services to distribute masks and essential supplies during the circuit breaker period.
These are recent examples. But I remember there was an issue last year with regard to a misinterpretation or misunderstanding caused by a social media influencer. Sarabjeet and the YSA team invited the influencer to the central Sikh temple saying "Come and look, and come and see what the Sikh community represents. Come and join us to learn more."
These are just examples of the Sikh community and the YSA stepping out and stepping up and taking responsibilities during times of crisis and also during times of peace – by bringing different groups of people together and enlarging the common space. And that's the second important point – we can step up and work side-by-side to build community together.
Working towards a better future with youths
There are also many different ways in which government is supporting youths during this period. And I wanted to share just a few examples, not just on the mental wellbeing side, but also on the jobs side.
Let me start with the mental wellbeing side. We are setting up a youth mental wellbeing network. It's already, in fact, been set up. Feel free to join us because we want it to be ground-up, but we also want to provide government support especially on issues such as job stress, familial responsibilities, and even the online space, I think that's where we can provide support for your ideas. We're also having a national mental wellbeing taskforce that's being set up as well. We recognise this problem at the national level, at the youth level, and also on the ground.
On the jobs front, there are multiple ways in which the government is also stepping up and stepping out. How? There is the SGUnited Job and Skills Package. For fresh graduates specifically, there is also the SGUnited Traineeship Programme, and I met a few of the youth who have already signed up for it. The government has approved about 20,000 company-hosted traineeship placements thus far and about 1,000 youths have signed up for this programme.
Why is it important? It's important because in many different countries across the world, the youth, because of the COVID-19 crisis, are deprived of work opportunities. But this SGUnited Traineeship Programme allows you to develop your skills and acquire the necessary experience. And then when this thing blows over, you have the requisite skills and experience to take on these jobs. This is very important.
At MCCY and the National Youth Council (NYC), we're doing a couple of different things. We're going to launch YouthTech. We are opening registrations in end-October to send about 1,000 youths out to community and social sector organisations, equip them with digital skills so that they can help the sector to digitalise.
We have also launched the Youth Corps Internship Scheme, and are working with institutes of higher learning (IHLs) to facilitate on-the-job training internship opportunities for IHL students. And we have about 160 placements in about 50 organisations already.
And then, if you don’t know where to start, there's Youthopia. What Youthopia does is to pull together resources to help you to connect with jobs, skilling opportunities, and resources on mental wellbeing and the likes. There are many things that the Government is doing, but all of us, YSA and many other organisations, have to come together to support our youths.
There's a Sikh term called chardikala, which I understand is about how one can stay resilient and optimistic in times of darkness. And the deeper that darkness, the brighter the light that we can shine. The youth community here in YSA has shown us the way forward. During this time, I urge all of you as new graduates to also step out, and step up. Don't step back. Harness this value and be the graduates that you want to be today.
So without further ado, I just wanted to say a big congratulations today again to all of you. You've made your parents very proud, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.