There’s more than one career path in life – and The Astronaut Collective’s Marvin Kang is helping youths understand just that

What career advice should you give to your child?

Marvin Kang is on a mission to help youths in Singapore explore the endless possibilities when it comes to finding a meaningful career

by : Charmaine Tai

What if you could explore a different career? Would you still choose to be in your current industry or would you opt for something else? And what would life down that path look like?

For most of us, our career is shaped and influenced by those who surround and nurture us, especially during our formative years.

Which makes it crucial that today’s youths – tomorrow’s leaders – are exposed to the vast number of career options and opportunities that the world affords.

Singaporean Marvin Kang has set his heart on doing just that. His non-profit organisation, The Astronauts Collective (TAC), introduces students to different professions and helps them understand what a particular career path can look like – through the help of volunteers in said fields. Never mind that these students may not end up pursuing that track when their turn comes. What matters is knowing that there are plentiful options available, and, when presented with the perks and perils, the students will be able to make informed decisions, and subsequently find meaningful careers.

You took a year of no-pay leave at your civil service job to focus on TAC’s mission. What is TAC’s goal this year?

Marvin Kang (MK): One key goal would be to increase our capacity by 10 times to serve more youths. Since its founding in 2014, my co-founders and I have been volunteers with day jobs – we only had time to work on TAC at night, and on weekends. Given our limited capacity to plan and run programmes, we had to turn down many schools that wanted to work with us.

We are also making plans to reach more youths who are less engaged and motivated. They are often the ones who need the most support in career exploration, but do not end up participating in our programmes for a variety of reasons. We have developed dedicated programmes for students in the Normal Technical stream, and are in discussions with various organisations to support the youths they serve.

We run programmes to help youths discover causes that resonate with them and the diverse careers that can contribute to such causes.

How do you teach the younger folk that there’s no one right job or career for them?

MK: We help youths generate more options and pathways than what they know about or are considering. Our programmes focus on career exploration – instead of career matching – where we nudge them to try careers that they may either be unfamiliar with or find uninteresting. We also run programmes to help youths discover causes that resonate with them, and the diverse careers that can contribute to such a cause. For example, a youth who finds that contributing to a healthy world is meaningful can consider careers spanning medicine, fitness and even developing health applications.

We are open and candid with the students on the practicalities in life. We actively avoid telling them to pursue their dream at all costs or to ignore the issue of pay, which can be a very irresponsible thing to say if they’re in trying circumstances. Instead, we help them unpack different career motivations they may have.

What's the most valuable lesson you've learnt through TAC?

MK: Volunteering isn’t just for students and retirees who may have more time. In fact, most young working adults I’ve spoken to do want to give back to society, despite their busy careers and family lives. The key to volunteer engagement is being able to design and provide a range of opportunities with varying involvement levels that can cater to folks at different life and career stages. For example, while a new parent may not be able to volunteer every week, he or she would agree to volunteer for one-off programmes or those with flexible schedules.

What does ‘a better tomorrow’ mean to you?

MK: It’s when society celebrates diverse notions of success. Especially in terms of careers, there are still a lot of societal expectations of what a good job is. Many of us end up deferring to these notions of success and getting stuck in approved pathways, only to realise years later that we do not find meaning in what we do. One good thing that emerged through the COVID-19 situation is that it gave many of us the chance to rethink what truly matters to us.

The Astronaut Collective