Nur Syazana Binte Salim had 2020 mapped out. She was going to graduate and find a part-time job in the hospitality sector to gain more work experience during her gap year. Unfortunately, COVID-19 derailed her plans.

After three years of hard work, frequent all-nighters and finishing with a stellar GPA, polytechnic graduate Nur Syazana Binte Salim was excited to don her cap and gown and receive her diploma at her school’s graduation ceremony in May.

Alas, as the number of people infected with COVID-19 in Singapore kept increasing in January and February, more measures were implemented to keep people safe, including cancelling large gatherings and events.

The 20-year-old, who graduated with a diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management, says, “I was disappointed. For me, (the graduation ceremony) was a milestone to celebrate my hard work in polytechnic, together with my friends and dedicated lecturers. In a way, I don’t have closure.”

Soon after, Syazana was hit with another setback. She was hoping to find a part-time job, but was unlikely to get one in the hospitality sector, as the tourism industry had effectively been shut down by COVID-19.

She witnessed first-hand how the coronavirus brought the hospitality industry to a standstill.

In February this year, she completed a 24-week internship at Novotel & Mercure Singapore on Stevens, where she worked at the hotel’s front desk. She recalls that just two months before, the hotel was filled with tourists on their Christmas and New Year holidays, but by the time she left, the buzz had noticeably died down.

She says, “The situation kept evolving, and it was very overwhelming at first. Guests kept coming to the reception area to find out what safety precautions the hotel was taking.”

With hotels functioning at lower capacity, Syazana knew that she was not going to get a part-time job at the hotel where she did her internship—something she was disheartened about as she was eager to gain more industry experience before heading to university next year.

Her love for the hospitality industry was borne out of her passion for helping others. In secondary school, Syazana was part of the student council’s planning team for events such as orientation programmes and open houses. “I enjoy working with people and helping them. I feel like I’m able to connect with others.”

With no professional network to tap on, Syazana was at a loss about what to do next.

Hope eventually came to her in the form of an email. It was from her school informing her about the SGUnited Traineeships programme. She did some research and found out that the scheme would provide the 2019/2020 graduates from Institutes of Technical Education, polytechnics, universities and other private education institutes with traineeship opportunities.

Syazana applied for two jobs outside of her specialisation because they appealed to her passion for serving people. While waiting for the results, she brushes up on her interview skills with online classes.

When applications opened online on 1 June, she submitted her resume for two roles with the National Youth Council: a community collaborator trainee under the events and volunteer department, and a programme architect trainee, where she would be involved in planning and implementation of the Youth Corps Singapore Leaders Programme.

Even though the jobs are not in the hotels and resorts industry, she saw an opportunity to gain experience, improve her skillset and build her network. “Salary was not even the main factor when I applied for these positions. The jobs involve helping the community and organising events. That intrigued me, so I signed up.”

Syazana’s mother, Madam Sainab Binte Mahuan, 48, is glad that her daughter is exploring different options, since it might be a while before the badly-affected hospitality sector picks up again.

The mother of two is able to empathise, having stepped out of her comfort zone herself by returning to the workforce after a decade of being a homemaker.

Madam Sainab Binte Mahuan was worried about her daughter’s job prospects, but encouraged her to keep an open mind and have a positive attitude when it came to finding a job.

Madam Sainab, who works as a part-time caregiver at a student care centre, says, “I told her that she has to keep an open mind and explore something else. The priority now is to get a company that is willing to give you a chance to contribute and gain experience.”

Even though her graduation ceremony was cancelled, Syazana and her friends celebrated in their own way, including sending each other congratulatory texts and customised teddy bears.

Determined not to dwell on how the coronavirus has disrupted her plans for 2020, Syazana is making the best of the situation with support from her friends and family. Although her graduation ceremony was cancelled, she and her friends marked the occasion by sending each other congratulatory text messages. Her friends even went the extra mile and surprised her with a graduation teddy bear. Later this year, she and her family intend to take studio portraits to commemorate her achievement.

She says, “I just have to adapt as COVID-19 has changed our lifestyles. I’m building on my skills and expanding my knowledge so that when we come out of this, I’ll be ready for the workforce.”

Recent and new graduates can access opportunities to develop industry-relevant skills and build professional networks through the SGUnited Traineeships programme. To support recent and new graduates to boost their employability, the Government will increase the number of traineeships from 8,000 to 21,000.

The Government will also be introducing the SGUnited Mid-Career Traineeships Programme to provide a further 4,000 traineeships for mid-career unemployed locals.

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