Young Professionals At Play

Erik Hertzman represented everything a young professional should be. Clean-cut, well-spoken, knowledgeable and just so politically correct and diplomatic that I felt I was interviewing a Scandinavian politician. He got straight down to business as soon as we sat down for lunch asking what was needed of him, how he could help and educate while I tried to maintain a straight face in a pathetic attempt to behave as polished as him. I was used to such formalities from older business people but not from someone who looked like he was in his late 20s…very impressive.

So we started with the first order of business (no pun intended) and he began with much propensity that it was remarkably easy to gauge the amount of commitment he had in Young Professionals, a branch organization of the Swedish Business Association of Singapore (SBAS). The main focus of the organization is helping to bridge a gap through the facilitation of functions between the general business associations in Singapore and the young professionals, preferably below the age of 35 years old from Scandinavia, individuals working for a Scandinavian company as well as those with a direct or indirect interest in Scandinavia. 

Young Professionals began in 2000 – 2001 when it was noticed there was a need for a link for young Scandinavians who were seeking an internship, a job and even friends in Singapore. It was to become the gateway to the Scandinavian-Singapore business community where one could exchange information and experiences with other professionals of the same age group.
 
Formerly headed by their Cecilia Skroder, Young Professionals now has a committee of eight members including Erik who is their Vice-President and the recently appointed Joakim Axelsson as their new president. Most of the committee members, like majority of individuals in the organization are young professionals from Scandinavia as well. Each committee member is in charge of a department with professional or personal interest and expertise such as International Affairs, Marketing, Student Marketing, Sports and Event Management.

Besides aligning themselves with the SBAS, Young Professionals also aims to tie in with the local universities to work with exchange students, especially from Scandinavia who may want to stay, work and experience life in Singapore but not really having a clue on where, how to start and most importantly, can they adapt quickly to the working style of Singapore?

“It depends greatly on individual companies,” said Erik, “In Singapore, they must understand that all the different working habits from various nations come together, which is probably why newcomers must learn quickly to be as flexible as most Singaporeans are.”

Young Professionals helps with preparation by arranging visits to a series of companies for a selection of students at Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University. This aids the students in gathering contacts necessary for their master thesis, internships or future jobs. Proven to be a hit after visiting companies such as Tetra Pak and SKF, the activity will continue with new companies every semester.

Scandinavians however, are not the only nationality with an interest in Young Professionals. The membership extends to all sorts including British, French, German, Americans, Canadians and Singaporeans with interest in Scandinavian history, culture, language and politics. Not only are they welcomed with open arms, they are invited to share their country’s customs and lifestyle.
 
Take Mercury Zhu from China for example, she started out as an exchange student in Uppsala University. Being fond of the culture of Scandinavia and not wanting to lose touch, it was no wonder that she later became the student contact for National University of Singapore at Young Professionals for two years.

“Young Professionals was a great platform for me to socialize with people with Scandinavian backgrounds.” Mercury recalls warmly. “As a student contact, I participated in committee meetings and successfully organized exciting events. As a member, there were several SBAS networking sessions and interacted with senior executives from large Scandinavian companies. There were even employment opportunities from the student event ‘YPLink’ after graduation.”

Future plans for Young Professionals include involving more nationalities and raising awareness about the Nordic culture in Singapore striving to blend both the local and Scandinavian societies together.
 
“It doesn’t take much for one to come into Singapore and make friends with fellow Scandinavians. That’s easy”, chuckled Erik, “It’s a lot harder to make friends with the locals so that’s where we come in to help both parties get acquainted.”

According to Erik,  there is a healthy number of Singaporeans that are keen to find out more about Scandinavia and what else the country offered besides roaring Vikings complete with long braided beards, wielding their axes like mere toys to which I admit, as an ignorant and an extremely imaginative local, was what I expecting to see initially.

Though Young Professional’s main purpose is to bring people together, they do it through less formal means with networking nights in laidback and amiable settings with Nordic angles such as Midsummer parties, Easter and Lucia – a festival celebrated by Swedes in December. Sometimes, taking a less traditional approach would be when Young Professional’s internal sports department organizes sporting events such as wakeboarding and marathon sessions. Sometimes, even Beach Volleyball tournaments are held at Sentosa for members to partake in.

The only challenge that the committee members at Young Professionals would occasionally face when trying to bring people together through as many events as possible would be time constraints, an element as rare as land is in Singapore. Fortunately there is always as much effort put in by the members as the committee to make an event possible.

“Only because our events are pure fun and business opportunities arise every so often…”he grinned cheekily and proceeded to educate me on one of their favourite annual festivals, “The Crayfish Party” otherwise known as kräftskiva in Sweden. Celebrating the crayfish premiere in August, I am told that “a huge amount of these critters will be eaten and a larger amount of beer to drink.”

So where does Young Professionals get their ‘critters’ from, I wondered and pictured a group of Scandinavians sitting by the Singapore River with their poles.

Erik reading my mind added, “Courtesy of Ikea of course. We buy heaps of crayfish, and arrange to have a feast in a nice and suitable outdoor location. It is not surprising that two to three hundred people attend…Last year’s party was held at East Coast Beach. Once we’re done eating, drinking and drinking some more, most of us would usually move on to a club for more partying.”

Scandinavians, as I found out are apparently quite the drinkers. With that information, I tried to probe further with a simple question, “So what usually happens when people have drunk more than enough at the events?”

With a wry smile and a glimmer of mischievous secrecy in his eyes, Erik ended the interview on a rather agreeable note.

“Whatever happens at a Young Professionals’ event…stays at a Young Professionals’ event.”

I know better than to inquire further.

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