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A fresh graduate's script for success

14 Jan 2021

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The pandemic was a plot twist that budding director Ong Shu Yang hadn’t foreseen, but he worked his way to a happy outcome thanks to the SGUnited Traineeship. Here’s his story.

Film enthusiast Ong Shu Yang was eager to kickstart his directing career after he graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts’ Bachelor in Film programme in April 2020. Unfortunately, there was an unexpected plot twist – the COVID-19 pandemic.

As news of the worsening economy hit the headlines, the 26-year-old, who majored in film directing, feared that he might have to wait until next year to find a job.

But his pessimism proved to be unfounded. Of the 10 job applications that he sent out over the next few months, mostly via LinkedIn and Cult Jobs, a job site for the creative arts, he was contacted by five media companies for interviews.

His first step proved to be a misstep.  Shu Yang was an introvert, and in his nervousness, did not prepare for the interview. “The interviewer, who happened to the founder and CEO of the company, wasn’t impressed,” he says.

Ultimately none of the interviews resulted in an offer.

The LASALLE graduate learnt from his mistakes though. After three months, he bagged a one-year writing position with alice, a media production agency, under the SG United Traineeship (SGUT) programme.

Working in the real world

The SGUT programme is a government initiative to help recent graduates develop their professional skills through traineeships while earning a monthly training allowance. These work stints last up to a year. As of December 2020, more than 20,000 companies were offering this programme, and more than 4,700 graduates – like Shu Yang – had signed up.

For Shu Yang, the traineeship feels like a full-time job.

“I research, write and produce scripts for our clients’ new content series. I work on proposal decks, liaise with different teams to fulfil client briefs. I do not think it is any different from a full-time job. My colleagues don’t treat me any differently,” he says.

And while this is a writing position, Shu Yang also gets to co-direct some projects. This allowed him to not only apply the skills learnt at LASALLE in the real world, but also pick up interviewing and client management techniques. “To succeed as a filmmaker, you need these skillsets, so it has been very good exposure for me,” says Shu Yang.

Continuing to upskill

From July to September last year, while he was applying for jobs, Shu Yang was also involved in an initiative called the ProducersLab. Offered jointly by IMDA and LASALLE, this was a free, three-month programme for working graduates who wanted an in-depth look at a producer’s role in the film industry. Aimed at those with at least three years of work experience, Shu Yang was the only fresh graduate accepted into the course of 12 participants.

Participants sat through online lectures twice a week, conducted by Los Angeles-based producer, Cynthia Hsiung, and Academy Award-winning British producer and educator Lord David Puttnam. They also participated in masterclasses by successful local producers, who covered topics such as financing, budgeting, and how to manage large-scale productions.

The main assignment of the programme was to develop an original TV series pitch. “This gave me the chance to work with senior professionals, and I was able to learn from their guidance,” says Shu Yang.

Looking back on the year, Shu Yang says that despite the economic downturn and his initial pessimism about finding a job, he has picked up many new skills in his current traineeship and from the ProducersLab programme.

This year, Shu Yang hopes to enrol in a programme called WritersLab, which focusses on the craft and business of scriptwriting. He believes these skills will come in useful when an opportunity in directing arises.

“As a fresh graduate, I’m very fortunate to be able to learn these new skills, especially during a pandemic,” says Shu Yang. “If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this experience, it’s to not dwell too deeply on setbacks. The most important thing is to not be stagnant and to always keep looking ahead, and keep learning.”

He also urges graduates to be open to different kinds of opportunities to build experience. “You may not be able to clinch your dream job initially. But through gaining industry experience, you will put yourself in a better position to attain success in the future.”

For a list of available SGUT positions, click here: https://go.gov.sg/sgut-mcf-listings  

And for more tips, advice, opportunities and resources to get started on your career, visit GradGoWhere (https://gradgowhere.sg), a specially created portal for young graduates.