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NATIONAL DAY: VOICES FROM THE FUTURE

As the future beckons, fears mingle with hope

Getting an internship and a job are no longer givens for fresh graduates

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From left: Tan Jia Hui, Kimberly Chan, Syarafana Muhammad Shafeeq, Adeline Tan and Chin Yong Chang.

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We were promised a secure economic future, but are instead saddled with debt, says Chin Yong Chang.

This week, as Singapore soaks in National Day celebrations, BT asks five of its interns to pen their thoughts on Singapore and their hopes and aspirations. While not representative of the whole spectrum of the millennial generation, they offer a glimpse into the anxieties, dreams and attitudes of a group of young Singaporeans who will take the nation into the future.

STUDY hard, find a good job, work hard, and you'll be set for life. That's what I was told growing up. But as I near the end of my undergraduate studies, it's becoming clear things aren't quite so straightforward.

In today's very different world, young adults like me often find it difficult to secure internships and employment upon graduation. Even those who do will find themselves swimming in dangerously choppy water.

But here, the "Singaporeans first" dictum seems to offer some comfort. My friends from the local universities seem to be able to find work with relative success.

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One friend interned for three months in Hewlett-Packard's Singapore office, another did a stint at DSO National Laboratories, and yet another did multiple short internships in several illustrious law firms.

The going may not always be easy - the friend in the law firm had to translate piles of documents from Bahasa Indonesia to English despite not speaking the language; another intern had to pencil page numbers onto a 3,000-page document - but an internship is still an internship.

In the UK, where I am pursuing my undergraduate studies, anecdotal evidence suggests that students there don't have it so good. Take the legal sector, a hot favourite among my friends. It is common practice for students to compete for places for what are known as "insight days" - a day when students are invited into the firm to get a taste of what goes on. It's only a day-long "'tour" - as I call it - yet places for these are so highly contested that having attended one is significant enough for it to appear on your CV. The same applies to so-called "spring weeks" at banks and financial institutions.

Burdened by debt

And in newsrooms there, the environment has become so tough that unpaid internships are becoming the norm.

This isn't to say good internships do not exist. But for these, candidates will fight tooth and nail to land a spot. For instance, a summer internship at Bloomberg's London newsroom receives hundreds if not thousands of applications - for just eight places. And of these, only about half will eventually be hired.

For graduates fortunate enough to land a stable job in a decent company, other hurdles - both financial and non-financial - await.

Many students, especially those in the US or Britain, will start their careers with large sums of student debt. Even if they had taken up a "father- mother scholarship", there is still significant non-financial "debt".

From a macro perspective, today's young generation is also burdened with collective debt. A Bloomberg columnist recently noted that a significant proportion of current economic growth is being built on borrowed money. Total outstanding world debt now stands at 325 per cent of global GDP. All this money's got to be repaid somehow by people of my generation or the next.

Changing demographics worsen the situation as fewer able-bodied workers have to support an increasingly older population.

In some sense, today's youths cannot be faulted for feeling slightly cheated. We were promised a secure economic future, but are instead saddled with debt whose fruits will largely not be enjoyed by our generation.

Being Singaporean, though, offers some silver lining. Our constant battle-cry is about job creation. And being a net creditor nation, it has also escaped the debt trap.

Singapore may not be perfect, but fiscal responsibility and forward planning are among the blessings we can count for ourselves.

The writer is a third-year student at UK's Durham University reading sociology with economics, and will graduate in June 2018

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