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Is the Skills Debate Academic?

Is the Skills Debate Academic?

Employers are always on the lookout for prospective hires with skills for the job at hand, and have potential to grow into larger roles.

Unfortunately information is asymmetric, and it’s not easy to know ex ante who in our applicant pool are adequately-skilled, and who are insufficiently so. Some hires will fit well and do the job. Others won’t. That’s the risk we take.

Here’s something I’m starting to think about… isn’t hiring similar to investing?

It is hard to consistently generate alpha in markets. In fact, investment disclaimers tell us that ‘past history is not indicative of future performance’. Yet we do the very opposite for hiring!

Pedigree is not a precursor of performance.

I am starting to wonder if for hiring, instead of attempting to pick ‘alphas’, we can consider building a team of ‘betas’ that are coachable.

Hirers never truly know. There are no sure-wins. In professional football, not even ‘proven winners’ like Jose Mourinho could do the job at Tottenham Hotspur, while then-unproven upstarts like Mauricio Pochettino outperformed and brought 4 years of Champions League to North London.

Is Skills-based Hiring a myth?

LinkedIn recently announced “Skills Path“, a pilot skills-based hiring programme, supported by Singapore’s National Jobs Council.

The topic of skills-based hiring is not new and comes up every few years. In fact, I co-wrote an opinion piece on this topic 3 years ago:

LinkedIn’s announcement checks all the boxes. Unfortunately it doesn’t move the needle. There is a grand total of 8 companies under the programme offering a mere 6 job roles: customer service, data analyst, project manager, recruiter, supply chain coordinator and sales development.

To be fair, this initiative is a pilot. I fully support starting small, tracking the data, and if it looks like it works, scaling up only then.

As what I co-wrote above (and the LinkedIn initiative postures), the hope is for hirers to look past academic qualifications as a non-negotiable filtering tool for prospective candidates.

Otherwise, no matter what is said and done, incentives will drive behaviour, and every rational student will pursue the degree, because non-graduates continue to be disadvantaged at the hiring gate, and for career advancement.

incentives drive behaviour

Should we NOT try to pick winners?

Hiring well is crucial for every organisation. It’s also exceedingly-hard to do well, for reasons discussed above.

Which is why there’s so much money being spent on good hiring solutions, and much innovation in this space. The Singapore HRTech Market Map (brought to you by hrtech.sg & Adrian Tan) lists the different companies providing solutions for your organisation’s Talent Acquisition needs.

I wonder if we could take a different approach, and look further down the employee journey. I’m referring to the Talent Development area, where ArcLab has some track record (irony intended).

Since it’s so hard to bet on winners when hiring, could we adopt a more “portfolio” approach, especially if we are a large organisation. This means not optimising for the perfect ‘alpha’ candidate, since he/she does not exist. Rather, we do a few things to attract the ‘beta’ candidates:

  • Properly profile job requirements & packages. No ‘padding’, no ‘undercutting’
  • Set a minimum bar for the candidate. Everyone who meets this gets an interview (virtual or otherwise), which is more to assess team fit. Involve the team in the interview and give everyone an equal vote.
  • Suss out open-mindedness and ‘train-ability’. Look for evidences of picking up new skills and applying them.
  • Where possible, consider a work trial for demonstration of competency, softer skills and fit with potential colleagues.

Hiring a team of ‘betas’ means we don’t go all out to find Ivy League graduates. It means we put in place an exceptional learning & development programme, because we know that investing in our workforce gives our organisation the best chance of success.

Since people are the lifeblood of our organisations, we should put our money where our most important assets are, and invest in them, through training them to be the best professional that they can be.

The best part of this approach is, by hiring coachable people who have not yet been ‘proven winners’, we hire humble people, who are not afraid to admit they don’t know. They are then able to learn what’s needed to do their job so the organisation (and they) succeed. And when business requirements change, they change accordingly.

That means continuous, bite-sized training. Because no longer do we study for the first 10-20 years of our life and work for the rest. We study for a basic minimum, and keep learning as we work.

I submit to you that this is one good way for an organisation to succeed.

We’re building that sort of organisation at ArcLab, and helping many companies build theirs.

Can we help your organisation build yours?

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SUTD — Doing what it says on the box

SUTD — Doing what it says on the box

As a workplace learning edtech platform, ArcLab collaborates with our Institutes of Higher Learning (“IHL”), who nurture industry-ready students, e.g. I previously wrote about Singapore Polytechnic.

Today I’ll share about one of Singapore’s newer IHLs— Singapore University of Technology & Design (“SUTD”). Here are 3 SUTD stories we’ve privileged to be a part of.

SUTD: Where Tech & Design talent is nurtured | Pic: SUTD

“The Intern” — starring SUTD student Sylvia (& ArcLab)

In the depths of last April’s COVID-19 lockdown, I received an email from Sylvia, a mechanical engineering student from SUTD’s Engineering Product Development Pillar. Sylvia had just returned from her exchange programme in Silicon Valley.

As ArcLab is a Mobile Learning SaaS platform… we wouldn’t have much (tbh zero) mechanical engineering work for Sylvia to do 😅 . But Sylvia’s CV showcased various interesting design projects, she had strong interest in technology design & development and aspires to be an entrepreneur that improves the lives of others. Sylvia also built & included an ArcLab module of herself in her email (talk about impressing a prospective employer!). We Zoom-terviewed , and took Sylvia on as a UX/UI Design + Business intern.

Sylvia worked on a variety of projects for ArcLab. To quote from her internship report: “(she) worked on many feature designs, created a marketing sales pack, designed public education modules, and came up a plan to increase product virality”.

We incorporated several of Sylvia’s UX/UI Designs, e.g.:

(i) Unscramble — ArcLab’s newest Assessment Screen, used to test learners as a question midway between MCQ & OEQ difficulty levels. Sylvia’s design was improved upon by Estee (more about her beneath) when she implemented it.

(ii) OEQ Auto-Grading— Saving L&D managers & trainers hours in grading time. ArcLab’s grading engine takes care of everything, with results displayed automatically in our Learner Analytics dashboard.

ArcLab’s vision is to Upskill the World’s Deskless Workforce through building the World’s Simplest Learning System.

In ArcLab, there is no room for complexity, as it would get in the way of learning. Hence, great design always needs to be weaved in with our tech — so it is fuss-free and seamless to ArcLab’s users and learners.

Sylvia’s education in engineering intersected well with her interest and learning in design — she is what SUTD says on the box.

Subject: Sylvia! | Pic: Sylvia!

“Hidden Figures” — starring SUTD graduate Estee (& ArcLab)

Estee is an SUTD Information Systems, Technology & Design Honours Graduate, who worked with ArcLab as a Software Engineer under the SGUnited Traineeship scheme.

Estee had impressive work ethic and quickly hit the ground running to build ArcLab features and fix challenging bugs. Ever thoughtful about good design to help the user adopt ArcLab, she took it upon herself to design and implement ArcLab features. Essentially she played the role of UX/UI designer AND developer, which made the features she built intuitively usable for ArcLab users & learners.

ArcLab features that Estee helped build and design included:

(i) Unscramble assessment screen described above.

(ii) An upgraded Form Screen which ArcLab customers used for visitor registration (very useful during COVID-19).

(iii) The ArcLab Learner Dashboard, built specially for Deskless Workers.

Estee augmented Sylvia’s original design by looking further into the unique requirements and problems faced by a Deskless Worker who would otherwise been forced to use a feature-rich but clunky alternative LMS made for desktop, on their phones.

So Estee designed the ArcLab Learner Dashboard from the ground up, taking into account the above, and making the UX seamless for the learner, as well as for the L&D Manager / Trainer building and assigning modules to staff.

Estee also applied her experience from working in larger teams at GovTech in her previous internships, and took great initiative to propose good product and project management processes for the ArcLab team which we had just started to build last year.

We lapped them up and eagerly took them on board, ever-learning as we build the ArcLab core team.

Estee’s education in (and love for) Tech & Design empowered her with a great toolkit as she put her skills to good use helping us build ArcLab — She is exactly what SUTD says on the box.

ArcLab is grateful for the opportunity to work with Sylvia and Estee. We credit them both in our alumni list, acknowledging their role in building (and imprinting SUTD’s DNA into) ArcLab’s early foundations. They were also pleasant young ladies whom the team enjoyed working with. We’re honoured they chose to spend time working with us.

ArcLab Team lunch @ 4Fingers. Spot Estee! | Pic: Me

“The Office” — starring SUTD OD & HR team (& ArcLab)

ArcLab also has the privilege to count SUTD as one of our platform’s customers. We first met the forward-thinking and energetic OD & HR team of Adeline & Sharon in late-2019, before COVID became a word.

Already thinking ahead of workplace trends of that time, the SUTD OD & HR team looked into ArcLab as a way to easily onboard new staff and educate them on different aspects of the excellent organisation that they were joining.

Adeline & Sharon pushed the boundaries of our platform (we love power users like them), and we listen to their feedback as we continue to build out the ArcLab platform.

Looking back at the early days of ArcLab in 2019, we are grateful for how Adeline & Sharon used ArcLab, and generously helped us on our early prototypes with feedback and suggestions (fun fact: we incorporated Folder Sharing into the ArcLab Learner Dashboard after a conversation with them).

I’m humbled to end this story by sharing Adeline’s review of ArcLab on G2. We’ll keep working to continue to earn her (and your) trust, by making ArcLab better and better.

We remain as always, in #Day1.

https://www.g2.com/products/arclab/reviews/arclab-review-4526275


We’re grateful for the privilege to serve Singapore University of Technology & Design, one of Singapore’s youngest universities, and be part of their stories.

May SUTD continue to produce more Sylvias and more Estees — who are exactly what SUTD says on the box, and are instrumental in building impactful product that uplifts lives and livelihoods, as what ArcLab seeks to do — to Upskill the World’s Deskless Workforce.


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My Intern Experience @ ArcLab

My Intern Experience @ ArcLab

Editor’s Note: Joanna is our first marketing student intern from Singapore Polytechnic School of Business. Her internship period coincided with COVID-19’s escalation, so she had to work-from-home a mere 2 weeks after she started her stint with us. While some may have found it hard to work without closer guidance & supervision, Joanna took #WFH in her stride (read her thoughts here), adapted quickly and was productive for ArcLab very quickly. Here’s Joanna’s story:


Like every other intern on their first day in their new workplace, I was nervous and unsure of what to expect. Interning at ArcLab is nothing like I had imagined interning would be like — but in the best way possible.

Since ArcLab Upskills the World’s Deskless workforce through Nano Learning, I have condensed my entire internship journey into an ArcLab module.

Here is the longer version:

The atmosphere in the office was always welcoming, warm and lively. Both the interns and full-time staff were always willing to help one another out. However, sadly due to COVID-19, we had to start working from home just a few weeks after internship started. Despite not seeing everyone in the office face to face, we had weekly Zoom “stand-ups” to update one another on new projects we were working on and its progress throughout the week.

I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work on several projects, and help ArcLab create & distribute new content to educate prospective users on how digital & mobile learning can help their organisations.

Being new to the Marketing/ EduTech industry, I definitely learnt a lot from the 5 short months that I have been here so far (with the help and guidance of Nicholas, who intern-ed in the preceding 4 months and extended for an additional 4 months to overlap with my stint, as well as James, my supervisor).

The first project I had been tasked with was co-writing a “Guide to Nano Learning” ebook with the Learning Design team. Being someone that loves to write and design, I thoroughly enjoyed this entire project- seeing how it progressed over the weeks, and eventually how it came into completion. You can download it at: https://www.arclab.io

One thing about interning at ArcLab is the endless number of hands-on experiences. James is always open to any suggestions that I have, saying that “as long as the idea is supported with research and reasoning”. This could mean proposing a certain way of doing things, or even coming up with new content for ArcLab. In terms of new content, I was able to help co-create 3 new ArcLab Nano Learning series: 1. “Split Teams & Remote Work” to help organisations ease staff into WFH arrangements with the COVID-19 onset, and multi-lingual training modules for “Domestic Workers” and “Migrant Workers”.

For me, proposing a new ArcLab module series and creating modules was always a fun process. Although it involved a great deal of research, it was always interesting to read up on new topics and take a break from the more routine aspects of work. Under James’ guidance, I also had the chance to design ArcLab’s “COVID-19” solutions page (which listed all the efforts ArcLab undertook to help companies during the COVID-19 situation), a “Solutions” page, as well as a “Product” page on ArcLab’s website. Through this experience, I was able to pick up basic elements of web design and Photoshop and learnt how to create beautiful GIFs.

New ArcLab webpages

Working at ArcLab has also given me vast insight into the marketing science that helps B2B to grow. I helped design and create ArcLab monthly subscription newsletters, plan our content strategy and manage ArcLab’s social media accounts, write ArcLab blog posts, as well as help improve and revamp ArcLab’s website.

In school, we mainly focus on B2C marketing, which I came to learn was a stark contrast to how B2B marketing is. For example, B2C marketing relies heavily on social media such as Instagram to promote their brand to consumers, as compared to B2B marketing where brands are more heavily reliant on LinkedIn social media.

Another aspect of B2B marketing is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Having minimal prior knowledge in these areas as well, working on both SEO and SEM helped me gain deeper understanding in the “technical” aspects of marketing. A key takeaway that I had from experimenting with SEO and SEM is that, it has no one fixed method — it requires several rounds of trial and error to find the optimal method which is best suited for your company and its target audience.

Conclusion

I’m very grateful for the chance to intern at ArcLab, as it has been an experience filled with countless number of opportunities, and gaining new exposure to several aspects of B2B marketing that I did not have the chance to learn in school. While the current COVID-19 situation has not been the most to intern in (having to work from home), it taught me a lot about discipline, and the importance of regular communication.

With more and more organisations coming to recognise the convenience and benefits brought about by Nano Learning (Mobile Learning) due to the recent COVID-19, it is no doubt that Nano Learning is here to stay even after this pandemic.

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#WFH as an ArcLab Intern

WFH as an ArcLab Intern

Editor’s note: ArcLab is privileged to work closely with Singapore Polytechnic (“SP”). In March 2020, we welcomed Joanna from SP’s School of Business to intern with ArcLab till Aug 2020. Alas, Singapore moved into #CircuitBreaker mode which meant Joanna had to #WorkfromHome after just 1 1/2 weeks.

Here’s Joanna’s story, and what she built to help organisations get staff ready for Remote Work Arrangements.


By now, majority would be familiar with the telecommuting lifestyle following the Circuit Breaker measures implemented by the Singapore government just last month. I was privileged enough to be able to intern from home as well. Being my first time working from home, it definitely took time adjusting to a different lifestyle and I thought I would share my experience so far…

Photo by Nolan Issac on Unsplash

Since we are on the topic of lifestyle changes, a significant change for me was not having to wake up as early as before Circuit Breaker to get ready for work. I think this is something many people can resonate with. Whether you are a working adult or an intern, showing up for work on time means having to wake up 1, 2 or even 3 hours earlier! You could be taking a longer time than necessary choosing an outfit for work, making breakfast, or even having to drop your kids off at school before rushing to work.

However, with the new Circuit Breaker measures in place, time taken to get ready for work online is significantly reduced. You no longer have to worry about getting your children to school on time. You can even be working in your PJs and enjoying that cup of coffee while answering to work emails. Working from home now means being able to get an extra hour of sleep! Of course, with every benefit there is a downside.

Working from home also taught me a lot about how productivity and discipline go hand in hand. With no one (manager, supervisor, or even colleagues) constantly keeping you in check, it can be hard saying no to distractions. It could be constantly wanting to crawl back into bed, or making rounds to your fridge looking for a quick bite. What I found helpful for me was writing down a to-do list for the week (and although this may not be the first time hearing such an advice, it really does help!) — and once I was done with a task, I would have the satisfaction of crossing it off the list.

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

With an increasing reliance on technology, I realised how we often take it for granted, because without it we would hardly be able to get any work done, let alone communicate with our friends and colleagues (even more so during this period). At ArcLab, we use Slack and Zoom to communicate with each other. We even have scheduled weekly Zoom call meetings to update each other on the progress of our work and how our weekend has been.

Speaking of technology…

Split Teams & Remote Work modules

A main project that I have been working on was creating modules for Nano Learning modules for ArcLab’s new “Split Teams & Remote Work” (or WFH) series. The series was created in line with the WFH measures implemented by companies, to help both employers and employees alike adapt to the new work arrangements. If you have yet to check it out or have a few minutes to spare in between your day, you can do so here!

With the hustle and bustle of work, it’s very rare that we find time to learn something new, or pick up a new hobby. We probably steer clear of this as well due to our perception that learning = lengthy = time consuming.

ArcLab Nano Learning modules (such as the WFH series) has thus been made targeted, specific and short so that you can slot learning into your busy schedule, without taking up too much of your time!

My WFH experience has been a fulfilling one so far, and I certainly hope yours has been too! Press on, the Circuit Breaker is almost coming to an end, and we would soon be a step closer to resuming our lives as normal.

#StayHomeStaySafe #NanoLearning

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A New Adventure: Journey as an ArcLab Intern

A New Adventure: Journey as an ArcLab Intern

Editor’s note: In mid-2019, we received an internship request from a Temasek Polytechnic (“TP”) student. We’d never worked with TP before and weren’t sure what to expect. But we took the chance anyway. Nicholas started his stint knowing not very much about tech, startups or B2B marketing. By the end of it, he was managing all our online collateral, mailers, social media and produced 2 ArcLab videos.

Here’s Nicholas’ story — suitably, he put it in an ArcLab module, embracing what is known in #StartupWorld as ‘dogfood-ing’.


My whole journey was put into an ArcLab module.

As simple as it seems, that was my entire 4 months of intern into a short module. Imagine how learning can be made easier and simpler with nano learning, built with ArcLab.

Anyway, here’s the full blog…


With little to no experience in the ‘Adult World’, it was definitely challenging having to adapt to a new lifestyle; working in an office and commutes to work with the bustling crowd. Being a Digital Marketing Student, I wanted to showcase my skills as a marketer and successfully ‘market’ a product well. Interning at ArcLab gave me this opportunity and I was able to accomplish it. Here’s my journey in ArcLab as a Digital Marketing Intern…

On my first day, I came to the office with butterflies in my stomach, not expectant of anything. Questions of “What even is Nano Learning?” to “What if I’m not living up to expectations” flooded my mind. Thankfully, I was given tasks that I was familiar with and subjects that were already learnt in school.

My first major ‘project’ was Content Auditing. I was tasked to audit ArcLab’s pages (LinkedIn, blog, website) and assess the current score of the pages. From scoring the pages’ impression counts and bounce rates to scoring its clickthrough rates (CTR).

Content auditing was relatively straightforward and I was done with it quickly. Immediately, I moved on to the next and also, the most arduous task, SEO.

I was tasked to tweak the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for ArcLab’s website. SEO was relatively foreign to me even though I had learnt it before. Could it be because I failed to pay attention during class? Or it could just be the onerous and intricate topic by itself. Regardless, I gave it a go and had to do more research to back up my findings.

Ultimately, the long-dreaded research ended and I came up with web titles and alt texts for ArcLabs home and showcase page. The challenging part about SEO is not just the research and execution but rather understanding Google’s algorithms and proper keywords usage in order to rank higher in Google.

(and also the constant fear of whether your page would someday rank higher)

Keywords such as “nano learning” and “mobile learning” were important as this gives the website a boost in SEO. Thus, in order to understand SEO better, I made sure I studied guides on Google and be more profound in SEO.

one of the alt text captions I had to construct

My third major task involved a speck more creativity, and it was definitely one that I enjoyed working on. Ever since I had an interest in photography, it sparked the passion of film-making and photography in me. I enjoyed the filmings and editings of short films for my past school projects, not to mention taking photographs and short videos whenever I go on a trip. It definitely grew the passion in me and I always seek to learn new ways to produce nicer and better quality work. For this task, I had to create a short basic promo video that will introduce the new features for ArcLab. However, this time round there is no filming required and I edited a short infographic video with images that explain the new features. Although it wasn’t relatively a film-making experience, editing a short video was equally as enjoyable for me. Watch it here!:

A couple of weeks later, I was tasked with a new company promo video. This time, with a more professional touch. The shooting experience was interesting as I got to experience how professional shoots were done. Although it wasn’t a long shoot, it was definitely an eye-opening experience. Do check out the video on ArcLab’s channels when it’s ready!

The last ‘big’ project that I worked on was the tweaking of ArcLab’s website. I was tasked to overhaul the showcase page and pricing page by having the pages look less sophisticated and better looking. It was challenging at first as I was unfamiliar with the website builder ArcLab was using, and it was a little less user-friendly compared to other website builders. Despite the issues, I made it look to the best that I could. Finally, I managed to construct a simpler and slightly more aesthetically pleasing page layout. Now, we are able to better showcase different ways ArcLab users are training their workforce through bite-sized nano learning modules like these.

Learning is made so lengthy nowadays, articles and textbooks are pages worth. Who even has the attention span to absorb everything that was written? I, too, when in school, can only absorb so much in a 2-hour long tutorial. With shorter modules and more targeted learning, information can then be absorbed effectively and ArcLab empowers bite-sized learning to be done on demand. With ArcLab’s modules, deskless workers/learners are able to learn and train without the need to be there physically.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

My intern journey was definitely fruitful and I learnt many new and intriguing things. From lunchtime talks on career and football to attending events and shows with James, it was definitely a brand-new experience for me. I must say I have fully experienced the “Adult World” and achieved my goals. Interning at ArcLab gave me the opportunity to work in a Start-up and B2B company, which without a doubt, opened up my view to the market and industry. It is not the usual B2C company where “I sell, you buy” but the whole unfamiliar and foreign B2B industry. Interning has taught me things that school would not have and my experience here has been worthwhile. This has been a great journey and it has equipped me with the skills and knowledge that I will need for my future endeavours.

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Many paths to success — The story of Bing

Many paths to success — The story of Bing

A short story of Bing — who helped us as we built ArcLab’s L&D mobile learning platform, and what we can learn from him.


With training and education at our platform’s core, ArcLab is honoured to work with Institutes of Higher Learning (“IHL”). One important IHL partner we support is Singapore Polytechnic (“SP”):

  1. We support SP School of Business — lecturers & students from their Dip. Human Resource Management with Psychology —who work on our ‘live’ HRTech L&D platform.
  2. We collaborate with SP School of Computing (“SoC”), offering internships to SP students to give them real-world experience, as they support ArcLab’s development under our CTO Steven’s guidance.

Our SP SoC interns proved to be adept coders and were of great help in ArcLab’s product development. Kudos to their lecturers for making them industry-ready — teaching coding skills and software engineering, while instilling in them the mindset of continuous learning (our firm’s raison d’etre), and perseverance & creativity while problem solving.

ArcLab 2019 interns at EduTECH Asia 2019 | Claire, Bing & Nicholas (missing Luke — at uni, Francis — serving the nation). NOT that 2nd guy from the right 😎

We’ve had the pleasure to work with Claire Liew, Francis Yeo and Chin Bing Huang from SP, and others we credit here.

They bring enthusiasm, vigour, hard work, and lower the office average age 😅.

On the ArcLab blog — I’ve written before about how we should make the opportunity for everyone to do well a reality — here, here and here.

Today, let me share the real-life example of Bing.

The Story of Bing

I first met Bing in late-2016, before ArcLab even existed.

I was then running a game-based learning firm serving schools, but I’d started to research problems organisations faced in scaling workforce training, as knowledge cycles kept shortening. This was before Digital Disruption had taken hold of the public consciousness.

Kris, Cedric and Ruiwen (My then-colleagues and intern 👋) and I met several companies to understand the problems they faced.

I had this idea to reverse-engineer the training process, then mainly face-to-face and requiring significant logistical coordination, with difficulty gathering data to help the organisation’s further training. Imagine the additional efforts needed for organisations with distributed workforces (think multi-boutique retailers, chain restaurants etc.), and how technology could reduce these pain points.

Leveraging the ubiquity of smartphones, we could deliver bite-sized training modules directly to staffs’ mobile phones! I didn’t code AT ALL then, so we needed someone who could.

Enter Bing — Final-year SP student, whose project ‘Happy Wheel’ ( navigational application with checkpoints annotating obstacles for the disabled or wheelchair bound users navigating from point-to-point) had just won in IMDA’s Data-Driven Innovation Challenge.

Bing was a quiet fellow, but had a mind like a sponge, absorbing all the information we fed him — problems we were looking to solve, first-iteration feature designs and wireframes, and a data dump of EVERYTHING.

Early ArcLab Ver 0.1 (Built by Bing, Kris, Cedric, Hei Wai, Ruiwen, Zainul, James)
Ver 0.1 Design Pillar: SIMPLE learning module creation. We still do this today.
Ver 0.1 didn’t have 5 million users. But it’s important to dream big 😉

We had no-one to guide him technically at that time (we were all designers, though Kris had working coding knowledge), but Bing simply took in all our functional design and UI/UX, and single-handedly architected and coded what would later become ArcLab Ver 0.1 — in all of SIX WEEKS.

What Bing built with us was a PoC we could now bring back to the companies we first interviewed, and they became our first beta users.

The amazing thing about Bing was how calm and organised he was. What I admire most about him was his clarity of thought, his ability to break complex requirements into simple pieces, to pick off, build and put together. He didn’t over-engineer, but because he architected properly, there was method to what he built.

(*N/B: When we later co-founded ArcLab in 2018, our CTO Steven remarked that Bing’s original code was well thought-out, with elements worth keeping even as we continued to scale and evolve the platform).

Many paths to success — The way of Bing

Bing enlisted soon after helping us with this Ver 0.1. But I’m forever grateful to this young man, for helping us lay the foundations of what would later become ArcLab.

So Bing had taken a slightly longer academic route than his peers. Before entering SP, he’d spent two years at the Institute of Technical Education (“ITE”) where others matriculated to SP directly after ‘O’-Levels. Where others might have ‘given up’, Bing became a top ITE students. He also did well at SP, as you know.

But what was more amazing was his thirst for knowledge and continuous drive to improve.

Bing participated in many industry hackathons, working backwards from problem statements to code a technical solution. So he constantly honed his skills, which are way better than his peers who may perform better academically, but couldn’t code as well.

As an employer, I much prefer Bing’s approach — to hone skill rather than optimise grades.

Bing also started me on my own coding journey. I got onto the Codecademy platform and started to do coding exercises and learn the basics of Javascript and Python (Note I’ve no ambition to be a professional programmer, but I wanted to at least read code, think like a developer and work with a technical team — which I (hopefully) was able to do when we co-founded ArcLab). Even when Bing was serving National Service, we kept in touch and he helped me out when I ran into learning roadblocks.

ArcLab got the privilege to work with Bing officially after he completed National Service. Bing worked with us in mid-2019 with Luke Tan and Claire (his SP junior). They were Steven’s “power dev team” as we responded to user feedback to build features for ArcLab (now an actual business with customers) to serve users’ L&D needs.

To me, Bing embodies this “Many Paths to Success” statement that has been much bandied about.

At the policy level, I think the right things are being done in Singapore so different academic routes can still lead to employability and viable livelihoods. At the societal level, we have someways to go; there are still many employers who use academic qualifications and grades as a non-negotiable filter (though these are slowly changing).

At our firm level, ArcLab is playing our part in this transformation journey by helping organisations continuously train staff, through ArcLab’s on-demand, bite-sized, mobile learning modules.

But it is at the individual level that I think most work needs to be done. Too many give up when they meet their first failure; they settle into a sub-optimal pathway when perhaps more perseverance would have helped them break through.

We can all learn from Bing. Never giving up, learning and doing. Building what’s useful, always improving.

Bing is now a freshman at Singapore Management University. I am so happy he continues to improve his knowledge, and eager for the chance to work together again in the future.

2019 Assemble! | Francis (leftmost), Claire, Bing & Luke (in white). Our CTO Steven’s 2nd from the right.

Join us! Be like Bing.

ArcLab has just opened our 2020 call-for-interns — across various disciplines.

We’re organisationally-flat so your voice always gets heard and you get to run with your proposals from start-to-finish.

For our tech interns — you also get the benefit of working with our CTO Steven, who’s held senior software engineering roles in PayPal, and previously built & sold his startup Spickify to Rocket Internet! One more HUGE plus: You get to ship ‘live’ code into production, working in consultation with Steven — invaluable experience in your programming journey (whereas (we heard) interns in other companies may only do bug-testing or buy coffee…).

So if you’re a student excited about solving real-world problems and having a positive impact on improving the skills, lives and livelihoods of millions of deskless workers, please apply to ArcLab, and be part of our mission.

(… And I may yet write about you too 😊)


ArcLab’s L&D Mobile Learning SaaS platform empowers organisations everywhere to create effective training that improves staff performance. It’s free to create. Get started today.

Categories
Who

On Lifelong Learning | Speaking at an SUSS event

On Lifelong Learning | Speaking at an SUSS event

I had the privilege to speak at a Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) event for entrepreneur-alumni. It was great to meet fellow entrepreneurs and learn of the businesses they run; I wish them well as they grow their ventures and serve their users.

SUSS was renamed from SIM University (UniSIM) in 2017 as part of its restructuring into Singapore’s 6th Autonomous University. SUSS retains a focus on lifelong learning and continuous education 👏, as UniSIM did by providing part-time education to working adults who formed a significant part of its then-student population.

My father was one of these adult learners / part-time students who earned his diploma and degree while working. Part of the recently-honoured Merdeka Generation, my father and many of his peers who came of age in the 1960s/70s entered the workforce early (after ‘O’-Levels or less) to support their families, even though many had wished to continue their education if financial resources had permitted.

Today, my missus is also a part-time student — working while training to be an early childhood educator, and rushing home after school to cook dinner for the family and take care of the home.

I have utmost respect for our part-time students, seeing first-hand how my father and missus juggle work responsibilities, family commitments and schoolwork. They show tremendous perseverance and a desire to continuously improve. Adult learners and part-time students deserve as much help and support as we can give.

Back in 2013, I’d proposed for Singapore’s Central Provident Fund (CPF) Education Scheme (a loan scheme where CPF Members used an approved amount of their own CPF Ordinary Account savings to pay tuition fees for their diploma/degree — to be repaid after graduation) to be opened up to Part-Time students — levelling the playing field for them as they upgraded their skills and qualifications.

My reasoning was simple and intuitive:

Giving part-time students access to the scheme does not require government funds. It merely allows them the same opportunity as their full-time peers to unlock their own funds to finance their education.

Upgrading their skills helps them increase their incomes and puts them in a better position to repay their CPF Education Scheme loans, no different from full-time students.

We would then be taking another step towards an equal-opportunity society, and give a greater proportion of our population the ability to upgrade themselves and improve their productivity, which is one of the key goals of our nation.

The Ministries of Manpower and Education replied negatively. While I acknowledge their point that there were many other avenues of financial assistance available to part-time students, they skirted my main point on Level Playing Fields for part-time students and full-time students. You can read their full reply 😐:

https://www.mom.gov.sg/newsroom/press-replies/2013/cpfs-primary-purpose-is-for-retirement


In the six years since, it is now even more imperative that we embrace lifelong learning — in today’s Age of Digital Disruption

To be fair to the Singapore Government, official support for Continuous Education and Learning (CET) has scaled significantly in the past six years. While Singapore has always championed lifelong learning and skills upgrading, this has been made even more explicit now.

The Government set up SkillsFuture, a national lifelong learning movement to provide Singaporeans with the (quote) “opportunity to develop ourselves to the fullest, achieving skills competency and mastery”.

There is now even more support for Singaporeans to upgrade ourselves. SkillsFuture subsidises many training courses for adult learners, and Singaporeans above 25 years were given $500 in SkillsFuture credits to be applied towards training courses. SkillsFuture also engages employers and works with educational institutions and training partners to “ensure students and working adults have access to high quality, industry-relevant training throughout life”.

For Employers— there are now a myriad of initiatives encouraging companies to imbibe learning in the workplace, and continuously upskill staff capabilities. Though more needs to be done to shift mindsets away from academic qualifications towards Skills-Based Hiring.

From the Training Provision perspective, training and education needs to evolve to fit the schedules and needs of busy adults:

No longer can workforce training continue to be solely classroom-based, which is time-consuming and often not possible for labour-intensive businesses.


This is the raison d’etre of ArcLab, our learning & development SaaS platform that empowers organisations to create ON-DEMAND, BITE-SIZED, MOBILE training that improves workforce performance.

ArcLab is a more effective way to onboard, motivate and train the modern workforce. Designing the product from the perspective of busy schedules (and shortened attention spans) of the modern workforce, learning modules created in ArcLab are:

  • Bite-Sized
  • Fully-interactive and Gamified
  • Rich-media centric — Embedding video, rich media for greater engagement
  • Assessment focused — Testing knowledge retention and understanding
  • Data driven — Learner analytics providing insight to the manager and organisation

ArcLab ensures effective training can be done anytime, anywhere. This saves organisations training cost and provides them with valuable staff data, and enables workers to upskill more effectively, in less time.

Since ArcLab’s founding last year, we have had the privilege to support the work of Institutes of Higher Learning like Singapore Polytechnic, training providers like Business Academia, and organisations like hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group and luxury watch retailer The Hour Glass, to name a few (hopefully SUSS soon too 😊).

We are grateful for the faith and support they have shown in us in our earliest days, and will continue to work hard to fulfil our mission to support Lifelong Learning. ArcLab is still young, and there is a lot more that we are building and working on — taking in feedback from our users to improve our platform’s andragogy and technology – to help organisations everywhere train their workforces effectively.


I’ll end back at the SUSS Alumni event I spoke at. It was a brilliantly-organised event; there was plenty of discussions and I learnt lots from speaking with the folks in attendance.

For my sharing per se, I did not have any deep insight or academic study to share. Instead I shared the mistakes I’d made in my entrepreneurship journey (Section 9 of this Adrian Tan interview). Because mistakes are the most valuable lessons that the school of life teaches us (and I’ve made plenty, as a portfolio manager, an entrepreneur, a person), and I hoped this was of value to my fellow entrepreneurs.

My thanks once again to SUSS — Evelyn, Eileen, Ellen and Nicole, for the kind invitation to speak at your event. 🙏

Categories
Who

The story of a Teacher

The story of a Teacher

I first met Mr Liang when I was in Primary 5 (6th grade by K-12 standards). It has been *a few* years since, so my memory of Mr Liang has faded with time. But I remember a few things:

Mr Liang, or 梁老师 as we addressed him half the time, was our form teacher and taught us Chinese and Mathematics. This was an atypical combination since in Singapore, Math was taught in English.

So we had this stern-looking man who walked into class every day, and taught us in 2 different languages.

That was amazing because as I understood it, Mr Liang went to a Chinese-medium school. So the Math concepts and terminology he learnt in school was entirely in Chinese. Yet here he was, decades later, imparting knowledge to us in English (decent, by the way).

I also remember how much ‘off-curriculum’ material he introduced to us, with such passion.

All while his ‘KPI’ in Singapore’s exam-focussed system, must still have been to get us past the exams… so it would have been perfectly rational to have “kept to the syllabus”.


In the 2 years Mr Liang spent with our class, among other things, he transported us to ancient China, and through his eyes we saw the Great Wall being constructed, the unification of the Warring States, the advancement of Chinese society.

We flew with him to witness the beginnings of the universe, as he put the magic into science — introducing us to Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”.

We stood with him at the top of the Mayan / Incan monuments, seeing images of large animals carved into corn-fields, and wondering if they were made by extra-terrestrials.

He also got us to learn, among other things: 唐诗三百首 (300 Tang poems), regaled us with stories of the Arabic origin of the numeral system, sparked our imagination with theories of time-travel, Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions… and many others too numerous to list here.

We were all of 11 years old.

In a pre-internet, pre-Google, pre-Youtube, pre-iPhone world, Mr Liang opened our eyes to a brave new world, way bigger than the classroom.

Pre-dating social media, smartphones & digital cameras, this is my only picture of 梁老师 Mr Liang. I have no idea what he was holding in his hand. Was it a precursor of a smartphone? | Photo: James

I have had many teachers in my life, and each left an impact.

But I’ll always remember — this teacher of mine, who with his stories, his passion for knowledge, instilled the love of learning, to read and be intellectually curious, to keep finding out more about the world around us, and working to make things better.

“老梁” (as he was affectionately known) taught us to always 跑在时间前面, to run ahead of time, so that our surroundings and those around us would not make us irrelevant. That we should always work hard, think different, do better, rise higher.

Words that would not be out-of-place today, as our lives, jobs and workplaces are getting disrupted by technology at an ever-increasing pace. In a way, Mr Liang lived it himself, as a Chinese-educated student who later mastered English, at a level that was more-than-competent.

Mr Liang walked the talk. He led the way.


Today, increasing amounts of the content we learn in class are at the tip of our fingers. They are a Google search, a Siri question away.

Yet our teachers, our educators— they continue to be invaluable to our lives. Second only to parents, our teachers are the shapers of our lives and our children’s lives from the earliest years.

The best educators inspire us, guide us, nurture us. They impart more than just content and knowledge. They help us make meaning, join the dots, draw our own dots, our own lines, create our own knowledge.

They teach us that most important skill — HOW TO LEARN.

So how can we better support our educators, in the classroom, in the workplace? For there are many Mr Liangs among them. There are various angles, and I’d write more in a future post.


I’ve long-forgotten the academic subject matter that Mr Liang taught us (though not his specialty “mee goreng” for when we strayed off-course), but his love of the pursuit of knowledge has stayed with me all these years.

I hope that in some small way I have put this love of learning into what I do, through my academic years, my previous career in public service and financial markets, and now our work to empower organisations to create better training.

It would be great to see Mr Liang again. But even if I don’t have this privilege, I will always be grateful for having once been his student.

Happy Teacher’s Day to all our educators.