Graduate Stories | Progress is always worth celebrating

Success stories are well adored by mainstream media, but they are not the only milestones there are. Here at Hatch, we want to humanise the incremental, oftentimes uncomfortable journey we go through to become better versions of ourselves. Hear the story of Zhi Wei, one of our graduates of the Immersive+ program.

Our Stories
Wong Wing Lum

“Things that have shaped me are not anything good that [have] happened,” he said with a shrug.

Growing up, Koh Zhi Wei endured a complex relationship with his father. While a sanctuary for most, home was a place of turbulence for the 26-year-old. Verbal and oftentimes violent clashes frequently broke out between the father-son duo.

“He was always so harsh on me, I thought that he didn’t love me,” he said.

Yet, when it boiled down to the single, most defining moment of his life, only one freeze-frame came to mind: the sight of his father reduced to tears, as he bailed his son out of prison.

The moment was bewildering, for Zhi Wei had never once witnessed his father express any form of vulnerability towards his family.

“It hit me quite hard to know that he still loves me, so I wanted to change for the better for him.”

Entrepreneurship weaved into his DNA

At 26, Zhi Wei had already taken on three business endeavours. But his story does not recite a typical tale of burning passion that ignited his entrepreneurial ambitions. Motivations to become a go-getter started out purely on a practical end: for sustenance.

“It was just solely for income. Money was one of the reasons that caused us (his family) to fall apart, so I wanted to earn more money,” he said.

Opening a mobile phone retail shop was his first business venture. As he recalled the moment when he closed his first sales, it’s clear that it still brings him immense jubilation, though it happened over five years ago.

“I thought 哇有钱了 (translated: wow, there’s money),” he said. Albeit a modest victory, it did its magic in boosting his self-confidence. Shortly after, his business enjoyed a season of stability and success running its operations.

That said, it may come as a surprise that he made the decision to close its shutters just under a year later.

“When I started doing it, it’s no longer about the money already. I can’t sit there every day and wait for customers,” Zhi Wei said.

The repetitive nature of his work led him to think beyond profits alone. For the first time, he pondered about alternatives that have greater alignment with his interests.

Following the closing of that chapter, Zhi Wei embarked on some soul-searching career expedition, dabbling into a colourful portfolio of jobs. They include roles as a service staff in various food and beverage (F&B) establishments, a door-to-door salesman selling religious ornaments, and an e-commerce retailer.

By the time he took on his second business venture, he had garnered a greater wealth of knowledge in business know-how. Together with a friend, they started an online business selling analogue watches.

Unlike the mobile phone shop, the watch shop found a sweet intersection between business and passion. Admiring the intricacies of watch designs has always been Zhi Wei’s pastime hobby, but the cost was an impeding factor when it came down to the purchase.  

And he was not alone. Zhi Wei saw an opportunity in the market to create quality watches that don’t break the bank.

“We wanted to let everyone know that true value lies in what you believe in. You don’t have to make something expensive to give it value. Value is something you choose to give.”  

Taking the next leap of faith to upskill

Zhi Wei was first introduced to Hatch by his social worker from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). He wanted to take the opportunity to pick up digital marketing skills and improve the online presence of his watch business.

Prior to joining Immersive+, he was concerned that his truncated education background meant that he lacked a proper head start compared to his classmates. Having dropped out of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in 2014, Zhi Wei’s highest level of formal education was an N-Level Certificate.

“I was afraid that most of my classmates were diploma or degree holders, or people with experience,” he said.

Least did he expect that Immersive+ was Hatch’s flagship impact program, specially catered to young people from vulnerable and at-risk backgrounds to upskill in emerging fields of technology. Under the Immersive+ program, learners undergo a 10-week social-emotional learning and technical skills training in either Digital Marketing or User Interface, User Experience (UI/UX). Following graduation, they will be attached to 3-month work placements to materialise classroom teachings into practical industry skillsets.

The diversity of peers who have gone through similar life adversities played a pivotal role in helping Zhi Wei assimilate into the learning environment. There was a sense of unspoken solidarity and rapport between his classmates and the Hatch team. It has left an enduring impact on Zhi Wei, one that he still falls back on when he needs a supportive community to this day.

A little heart goes a long way

The conventional education system was all Zhi Wei knew. Back then, learning in the classroom was spurred by a fear of losing out and the pressure to fit inside society’s mould of an ideal student.

From his personal experiences, teacher-student relationships were more rigid and transactional. With success benchmarked on a set of standardised grading systems, it was easy to label who is a “good” or “bad” student based on tangible metrics.

“I expected it (Hatch) to be like a school, but it was totally different.”

There was a steadfast sincerity that translated from Hatch trainers to students which “went beyond what he would expect from a typical training course”.  Trainers often put in the extra legwork to ensure Zhi Wei and his peers understood the classroom teachings.

“It felt very personal. The trainers here care about us and will follow up with you like a friend, ” he said.

This ignited a newfound interest in learning for Zhi Wei which he had never experienced before in mainstream schools.

“When I come to Hatch, I always feel it is the right place (to be),” he said.

More than just a Digital Marketing course

Knowledge & Skill

For Zhi Wei, the course exceeded the realm of digital marketing. It also equipped him with skill sets in strategic thinking and execution of marketing strategies across offline avenues too.

He found himself increasingly attuned to the minute details of why brands make certain marketing decisions. Translating this to his own analogue watch business has strengthened its marketing effectiveness and reduced operational costs, he said.

Hatch Immersive Digital Marketing Classes
Immersive and on-the-ground learning

What caught Zhi Wei by surprise the most was the openness of seasoned industry practitioners to share tips and tricks of their trade. Collective wisdom that Hatch trainers have personally accumulated over the years of practice were unselfishly imparted with the students.

“It’s like a secret menu given to us, so it’s very memorable to me, “ he said.

Not everyone is willing to share this kind of knowledge, he said. Their earnestness convinced Zhi Wei of his commitment to further his personal and professional growth in Digital Marketing.

Career preparation & exposure

Immersive+ also factors in an element of career immersion and training to provide a realistic glimpse of what to expect in the working world. Part of this includes workplace exposures through company sharings and visits.

Zhi Wei and his classmates were given an exclusive tour at the Asia Pacific headquarters of Google, Facebook and Microsoft, among others.

The goal of company visits was to inspire. In particular, to share the narratives of those who may not have the necessary formal education or technical background to enter these high-growth companies but have nonetheless, risen through.

“These kinds of chances normally apply to students in schools, but for me, I’ve never really studied much so I’m very thankful to have this opportunity.”  

Career preparation classes also taught Zhi Wei how to properly approach a professional CV and resume. Through its interactive workshops, he picked up on appropriate workplace etiquette and job-winning interview techniques.  

“Last time, I don’t even know how to write a proper resume. I’ll just copy from my friends. Now, if I go out and work, it helps me a lot. All the skills I learnt at Hatch will really apply to my life.”

Job opportunities and networking

The 10-week Immersive+ training culminates in a Demo Day. Students get to showcase their capstone project and progress to friends, family and prospective employers from Hatch’s industry network.

Hatch Demo Day
Zhi Wei presenting his Capstone project to a prospective employer

Zhi Wei’s performance left an impression on the founder of CruMedia, where he landed a Digital Marketing internship and was ultimately offered an opportunity to convert to a full-time position.

“Hatch was sincere in helping me train in Digital marketing, to help me find a job, and to experience something new,” he said in Mandarin.

Biggest lesson from the Hatch experience?

Before joining Hatch, Zhi Wei grappled with the weight of the world’s expectations on his shoulders.

His biggest critics took one glance before boxing him up to a life destined for trouble. He wrestled between both extremes: the freedom to express his identity and the yearning to be accepted for who he is.

“I always thought that you should always be true to who you are and be who you are. After Hatch, I learnt that while being true to who you are, you must know how to put the right impression (across) to people,” he said.

The world doesn’t revolve around you, he added.

On the same thread, he also found peace in being comfortable in his own skin. It’s more important to be accountable to yourself because you cannot control how others might perceive you, he added.

Though it was a short 10 weeks under Hatch’s roof, Zhi Wei was invigorated by the experience.  

“Actually, this world is not so dark. There are a lot of things to explore,” he said.

New beginnings for the aspiring entrepreneur

From ‘restaurant hopping’ over the past five years, Zhi Wei has developed an interest in culinary arts. Now, he has his sights set on planting his flag in the F&B industry next, starting with his own hawker vendor specialising in affordable Japanese cuisine.

When asked what keeps him grounded in the face of challenges, it came full circle back to his family.

The profound encounter with his father those years ago still serves as a constant reminder to take progression as it comes, one step at a time, in Zhi Wei’s pursuit of excellence.  

“I hope that we can have new beginnings, that my dad and mom won’t have to worry for me anymore,” he said.