On 17 July 2020, Victor sat down with Jonathan Chang to talk about what grounds Hatch, the decisions that have led to what it is today, and what to expect for its future. The following is a summary of the interview transcript with Victor.
Jonathan: What’s so unique about your platform?
Victor: Fundamentally, we believe that these young people can do a lot better than the typical like semi-skilled jobs that they tend to go into say like in the logistics, or F&B sector. If you give young people the right resources and right environment, they can do very well.
At that point, what was happening was that for young people who do not have strong paper qualifications, it is almost impossible for them to enter into digital and design related jobs. What we wanted to provide at that point was kind of a feasible path for those who are interested to have this environment to upskill, and also to have a process whereby they can enter into these jobs.
Why UI/UX and Digital Marketing
Jonathan: Why in particular that you're focusing on digital marketing and UI and UX design?
Victor: These two sectors are growing sectors that provide really good jobs that more employers would want to hire. There’s also that part on believing that every young person should have access to every option, in whichever area they're interested in. We see that this group of young people like this digital part and we were extremely motivated to just try out whether this could work.
Jonathan: How did you come up with this focus?
Victor: It is a job market-driven decision. As much as we do training, the job employment part has to be at the front of our minds. Because we are ultimately selling a dream to these young people. Before I approach them, I need to know for a fact that there is a job waiting for them at the end.
In terms of what led to this focus, we collected data from job hiring platforms: We looked at what the jobs are, and on a number basis what jobs are there and the percentage of each sector. The Info-comm Media sector takes up a significant number of jobs.
We also look at what other job listings that were repeatedly posted by companies and observed that UI UX design and digital marketing jobs were repeatedly posted. It seems like companies may not be able to find the right talent. Those are kind of the hypotheses that we had first going in.
On Managing Partnerships and Relations
Jonathan: How did you manage the partnerships with the different companies and organizations?
Victor: We had to make sure that the jobs part work. We actually started with companies and shortlisting a few different jobs. Companies we spoke to at the start were our friends in the start-up space who were also founders and co-founders.
We looked into what is it in the job description, which involves breaking down the skills that are required. For the first few programs, we ran courses to match skills beyond the technical aspects. This was also from having upfront and honest conversations with these founders about what is it in a candidate that makes you want to hire this person. What is it in a candidate that makes you want to keep this person and to grow this person?
What we heard and this is not surprising to many people is that actually the hard skills part is not that important when it comes down to how well someone does on the job. There are a lot of times it boils down to soft skills. Particularly for fast-growing companies – they need people who are driven, they need people who are hungry. We knew that we wanted to run a program that was extremely practical in training both hard and soft skills, especially such as workplace communication or how to be open-minded. For instance, you may have gone in as a UIUX role but if your supervisor asked you to try out something new, what is the right attitude to do that?
It was with these little tweaks that allowed us to find this good match for a curriculum that meets the different companies' goals and eventually that helped a lot in translating into the successes in matching.
Jonathan: Let’s say that your graduates have been equipped with the right hard and soft skills for the job, and they work in a company that unfortunately has a very toxic culture. Do you provide the type of support to your corporate partners on how to deal with it?
Victor: Workplace culture has real implications on whether somebody stays on a job whether somebody enjoys the job and whether somebody grows on the job. Firstly, for hiring companies, we do set certain agreements on how this hiring process will go. In the beginning, we realised that in Singapore, there’s this implied or quite explicit hierarchy of the different qualifications.
For us, when we match our students, we start talking about how they may not have the strongest qualifications. The power dynamics switch a lot and companies kind of know that these graduates will not have good opportunities elsewhere.
At the start, there were some companies who come in and say “Can I have these people work for me for free?”. When we didn’t have companies at the very beginning, it was enticing to just take the easy way out and get them a job. But I’m glad that I didn’t do it because it eventually translates into whether the candidate will convert to a full-time position and whether the candidate will really grow in the job or not.
If I had agreed to this like free internship agreement, I don't think Hatch would have gotten so far, because like students at some point they're going to realise that actually there are not very good jobs at the end of it and they're going to stop coming to us. And on the companies’ end, they are not going to get the right talent anymore
Which is why it’s important for us to set these boundaries with companies. Eventually, it becomes a self-selecting process. It’ll be the companies who care a lot about the employees that do come on board with us.
So, I see the role of Hatch as kind of like this person who manages the different stakeholders. We know that for a fact that if the students are well prepared, and if the companies are nurturing, there is a huge potential in this employment relationship. It is important for us to help to communicate to both sides, what the needs are and then manage the relationship from there.
On Hatch’s Business Model
Jonathan: How’s your business model right now and are you thinking of changing it or are there different avenues you’re exploring?
Victor: To us, what's most important is that we run an organization that is sustainable, and at the same time, able to address on the problem that we start out to, to solve which is youths feeling like they do not have access to the right opportunities feeling like they're stuck on the job. The model right now has been something that we’re quite happy with.
The first thing is to offer market competitive service. Whether we are impact driven or not, fundamentally, if we offer training and job matching service, it must be something that people will come to regardless of our social mission. It’s very important in helping us to build up kind of a scale, to do well enough to even start of doing good. With that in mind, we actually have the capacity and resources to start thinking about the next thing that we care a lot about, which is accessibility.
For the service that we run – end-to-end training and job matching – especially when we are looking at bringing people who start out without any prior qualifications, it’s extremely resource-intensive. Those who have similar services actually charge a huge premium on this service because it’s not only about the training, but also a guarantee that if you meet with certain milestones, there is a job at the end.
It’s important to us that we don’t end up pricing out the very people we want to address. That’s why we make sure that we have accessibility nets such as direct financial assistance in place for those who fall into lower income brackets.
We also have a specially customised programme for young people who fall under the care MSF or different social sector organisations. If they are referred through the program they go through a fully sponsored program, and they even get a stipend in the process. This helps to address some of their needs, for instance, those who are unable to afford the opportunity cost of not working. Even so, I wouldn’t say that we are completely accessible because I do see that there are students who are still unable to come. And those are the areas where we want to continue improving on.
With this model in place, it has made us more competitive in the matching space. Playing the role of a recruitment agency, we help companies find the right talent. Because of the students that we work with, those who have never thought about entering the digital and design space to being with, we have talents that other recruitment agencies don’t have. And if the company does find the right talent who stays on the job, the company pays us a certain commission for this.
On Hatch’s Alumni
Jonathan: You must have a pretty loyal and strong alumni network. How does that impact your growth and scalability, and creating your brand?
Victor: We have alumni that come back at every new graduation to talk to recent graduates. I think this has helped us in creating a good community of learners. Upskilling is a lifelong journey, and this group of graduates continues to help each other out and to support each other after the program ends.
Another part is that they have a lot of common experiences to relate to, and there is a stronger bond than say, typical alumni of any group or institution. On the impact level, it really translates beyond them when we start to see that they earn more income. The perception that society has on them is that they are going to spend it on cigarettes, but that’s untrue on so many levels and we start to see that they give a part of their income to their family or help to pay for school fees of their younger siblings.
I think you have to put yourself in the shoes of our students. Imagine that you put in all the hard work and acquire the skills, and that you’re a good contributing employee now but because of what you were in the past, you get labeled in a certain way. It really damages a person’s self-esteem.
As a society, I hope that we start to see beyond these kinds of generalisations and look at each other just as individuals with different life experiences. For many of them, it’s not about getting second chances – this is the first chance they got. You can say that Singapore’s education system granted access to opportunities too. But fundamentally, at every stage they were disadvantaged in some way. Do they have the opportunity to go to school? Of course. Do they have the same opportunity? That’s a lot harder to say.
On Expansion Plans
Jonathan: Have you ever thought about expanding the type of job offerings, or expanding Hatch to other countries in Southeast Asia and so forth?
Victor: Something that’s exciting is that the space that we are in is in demand. It’s difficult to attach a value of upskilling, but in a way everybody needs it. And there’s not really an end to it because everybody has a way to become even better. To us, it’s more a strategic level on what is best to expand and grow.
Within Singapore, the most immediate area we are looking into is reaching out to a younger group to help them see the value in themselves. In the current classes that we have, we have many students who dropped out of school. This is usually due to circumstances. After going through the program, they are in good positions now. We are hoping to bring the alumni back to secondary schools and to help inspire younger groups.
Beyond that, we are still extremely sensitive to the job market. If we were to open up a new track, it has to be fully validated that there is a good amount of jobs out there. In terms of overseas, I haven’t thought that far yet. We do see that there is significant growth in the demand for these skills, across different countries. With the expertise we have, there is a lot of potential to expand into Southeast Asian countries.
Jonathan: How do you balance business and impact?
Victor: In Hatch, business and impact is not a two-tier trade-off. On the training side, we started out with the most challenging group to upskill and match jobs to. Right now, these graduates serve as extremely powerful use cases, and there are groups who can relate to these alumni and the narrative of upskilling and its accessibility. Once people start to see that these are real people and relate to their lived experiences, they start to believe in themselves as well.
Although we started with a pure impact goal, this is something that we are going to continue to do looking into new impact groups. The principle is simple – you give anybody the right resources, the right time, the right environment, and people are going to get better.
In our recruitment agency role, we are defined in two things. Firstly, the quality of jobs given to us to match jobseekers and the quality of talent that we can provide to match to these companies. Because we work with such diverse groups of people who would not have otherwise gone to any other recruitment agencies, we can go to companies and say that we have a driven and motivated group that may not have come from traditional pathways. This makes us more competitive on a business level. So as much as all of our decisions were motivated to achieve impact, it has turned out quite well on the business end.
On Victor’s Personal Beliefs
Jonathan: What are your personal values that sparked the whole idea of creating Hatch and h
Victor: At the end of the day, when things get tough it's always the values and principles that keep us going. Fundamentally for myself and my cofounders, we all believe that young people should have access to good opportunities. As we grow, we start to enable this and these opportunities to be real. Personally, it has something to do with being Asian, we see that education and upskilling is important, and this subconsciously strongly embedded in the way that we think.