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Counselling for Confidence

01 May 2017

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Counsellor Ambiga Krishnasamy (left) and Aida Anis (right), who found the confidence to pursue the course of her choice.

Despite initial doubts of her job prospects, Aida Anis has her career all mapped out now, to focus on a future of design.

Every time Aida Anis told friends and family about what she was studying at the polytechnic, she received quizzical looks. Some were even sceptical about her job prospects, as they were not sure what work she could do. 

This caused her to start doubting and losing confidence in her decision to pursue a diploma in Design for User Experience, or DDUX, a fairly new course at Republic Polytechnic that teaches students to design cutting-edge user interfaces – from websites to workspaces – for optimal experience. 

She also began to lose interest in studying just a few months into her first year. “I went to one of my facilitators and told him that I cannot do this course. ‘What if I can’t get a job?’” she recalls asking, as she was shaken by the negative comments.

Worried that she might choose to drop out of the course, he suggested she seek advice at the polytechnic’s education and career guidance (ECG) office.

There, she met counsellor Ambiga Krishnasamy who did a variety of tests to figure out Aida’s personality and the type of jobs that suited her, as well as gave her pep talks on what she ought to focus on for the future.

After several sessions over a few months, Aida began to realise that she had made the right choice in choosing this course. It was in sync with her inherent artistic streak, and there was no lack of work; jobs such as website designing abound in this digital age.

It was good news for Anis who is, in her own words, “an avid user of the Internet and cares about how websites work”.

In fact, she discovered that DDUX graduates can join leading global technology companies with strong design cultures such as Apple, Google or Samsung. They can be web or product designers, creative consultants and information architects.

Her school project, to help then-Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) improve its website navigation, also gave her a further boost. She spent a month studying its site and recommended improvements to its navigation bar as well as adding videos and relevant images to certain pages.

“I noticed that WDA did make some changes to their website,” she smiles, clearly proud of her work.

Her turnaround, from despondence to optimism, is all due to career counselling.

Counselling is taboo

When Anis first met Ambiga, she was a shadow of her former bubbly self. She was constantly looking down and did not really answer questions, says the counsellor. 

“What you are seeing is a totally different Anis,” says Ambiga. “I spent a lot of time with her, empowering her, telling her what she could look forward to in her career and future.”

Today, Anis is a cheerful and confident 18-year-old, breaking out into frequent peals of laughter during the interview.

Yet, not everyone is keen on attending counselling which is still considered “taboo” in Asia, says Ambiga. 

“In the US, going for counselling is like going to the supermarket. Not in Asia, although it is slowly picking up,” she adds.

“Many people think there is something psychologically wrong with people who go for counselling. But that is a wrong perception. It’s not about what’s wrong, but how to make it right.”

Since the ECG Office at the polytechnic opened a year ago (Oct 2015), Ambiga has counselled over 130 students. There are typically two types of cases.

The first are the doubters, usually students like Anis who are in their first year.

“We see a lot of students who are having this dilemma: ‘Am I in the right place? Have I made the right choice? Can I succeed?’,” she says. “They are very confused, so they come and see us for assurance that they made the right choice.”

“Some students feel that they are in certain courses because they have no choice. They say, ‘bo pian’ (Hokkien for no choice), so we have to motivate them,” she adds.

The second group are the unprepared job applicants. They are unsure about what to do at job interviews and how get their dream job. So she prepares them by advising them how to answer questions and even what to wear through “mock” interview sessions.

“Some students dress too casually. Some don’t even bother turning up for internship job interviews,” she says. “They aren’t sure how to pitch themselves to prospective employers, or how to network.”

Some may also want more information on the labour market, including data on starting salaries.

Whatever their requests, she finds fulfillment in guiding students like Anis whose outlook has improved and mood uplifted with counseling.

Anis, in turn, has discovered more about herself and in the process, figured out some of her life goals. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without all this help,” she says.

Multiple interests; singular focus

The second-year student hopes to one day combine her drawing skills with what she is learning now – website designing – to produce an animation site.

Her love for drawing, she shared with a giggle, started from her childhood love of watching Disney movies. She remains especially fond of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Mulan and The Little Mermaid – all featuring a female lead.

Building on that childhood hobby was a course teaching drawing techniques at the polytechnic, and she is now experimenting with different drawing styles.

Anis reveals that she probably inherited her artistic streak from her mother, a home baker who recently opened a bakery selling her own creative interpretations of Malay kueh like the Ondeh Ondeh cake and Batik-motif rolls.

She also shared about her interest in Capoeira, a form of Brazilian martial arts that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music.

She joined the polytechnic’s Capoeira group last year, and it has helped her improve not just her physical stamina and flexibility – she can now do splits – but also her self-esteem.

“It made me confident and clearer on what I can do. It also taught me to persevere and focus on my movement and not be so worried about what other people think. This helps my self-confidence,” she says.

From wanting to leave the course, she is now looking forward to her internship this year and perhaps even getting a degree.

“I would love to go to the university, doing something in design or art-related. But I’ll probably have a better idea after my internship,” she says.

ECG Counselling

This service is available in MOE schools, polytechnics or the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Through counselling, workshops and other activities, counsellors help students explore their strengths and interests, in relation to their aspirations. Counsellors will also guide students and parents in planning and making informed decisions for education and career pathways. 

The ECG office aims to work with teachers to provide resources, and with government, community and industry partners, it will monitor industry developments and design strategic programmes for students and teachers.